AMES, IOWA — Even from indoors, it looked bitterly cold.
Fall is over in Ames, Iowa, and winter has taken hold. The landscape was a picture of gray and brown. The only colors were splashes of gold, red, and the green row of pine trees at the edge of the stadium, and it looked like the last place that anyone would want to watch a football game, much less tailgate.
Iowa State fans have accepted the cold, even the 35-degree temperature and 15 mile-per-hour winds that gusted on Saturday afternoon. Shivering has become a part of their football culture. Mary Brown, who works security at the stadium, said that every season there are two or three games where the temperature is about 30 degrees.
Brown was prepared for the cold. She looked like a jacket with a face, a black cap on her head and her hood pulled tight. Her breath escaped in a stream of fog in the icy air as she described her passion for Iowa State football.
“No, it (the cold) doesn’t bother me,” Brown said. “It’s tradition, so I don’t mind.”
Brown said the cold has come to be an integral part of Iowa State football. By November of each year, she said, fans and stadium employees are prepared for what’s to come. It’s almost as if they have embraced it, in their remarkably open and windy stadium where there’s no buffer from the cold.
“Oh, it’s going to fill up,” Brown said. “It’s part of the tradition that you suffer a little bit.”
The concept of a tradition of suffering seemed a little ridiculous to Tommie Casey and Kevin Touchette, who said that tailgating should be about having fun, not whining about the cold. The MU alumni drove to the game from Minnesota, and Touchette said he was surprised by the amount of people outside before the game.
Touchette was also in awe of the cold-weather gear that many Iowa State fans were wearing. Sure, there were the expected red and gold hats and scarves, the Iowa State letter jackets and Cyclone sweatshirts with their hoods pulled up, but some fans took bundling up to another level. There were hats shaped like animal heads, feather boas functioning as scarves, and even a neon-colored snowsuit. They might have looked comical, but they also looked warm.
Leah Ryan, a junior at Iowa State and a member of the dance team, agreed that dressing for the cold isn’t always the most attractive option. The dance team, which wears skirts in warmer weather, wears red sweatsuits during colder games. Ryan, who was wearing tights, leggings, sweatpants, two pairs of socks, a long-sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt and a jacket, said that only her face ever gets cold.
“We look like marshmallows,” she said, laughing and gesturing at her puffy layers.
Like Brown, Ryan is proud of Iowa State fans and their dedication to the team. She said there have been several games this season where it’s been pouring rain, but that didn’t deter the Cyclones' faithful. Faith, dedication – those seem to be the key words for Iowa State’s fans.
“For true spirits, they’ll keep coming out, even to tailgate,” Brown said.
For the crowd, tailgating was just the first obstacle. As the cloudy sky darkened, the winds calmed a bit, but fans heading into the stadium knew that even a slight breeze can turn into a chilling wind inside Jack Trice Memorial Stadium.
“I’m worried about the wind,” Touchette said. “Come find me at halftime. I heard it’s like a wind tunnel.”
For Ryan, the cheerleaders and the players, kickoff means activity. Running and jumping and cheering are enough to keep most people on the field warm, Ryan said. But fans were in for a long night, waiting in the stands in their cold metal seats.
Sure, it’s a tradition of suffering, but repeating that philosophy only makes the fans sound dedicated. It isn’t going to keep anyone warm.