The heritage of Jack Trice and Johnny Orr

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Two football seasons from now marks the 125th anniversary of the very first hardscrabble Ames football team to be bestowed with the Cyclones nickname, one that is older than the Iowa State moniker. As the oldest surviving varsity sport on campus, the football team drives the overall identity of athletics, as shown by the new Cyclone logo reveal during the Texas game last week.

The heritage of Iowa State University stretches back from generation to generation over American history, to a time before the Civil War. The trials and tribulations of the athletic teams serve as shorthand in our memories, the nectar of success sweetened by the lows, yet something tangible with the current identity appears missing.

The answer lies within two statues.

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In Hilton Coliseum stands a fist pump frozen in time, a statue commemorating the true birth of basketball greatness with Johnny Orr. The original Cyclone school logo from this period, in use for roughly a dozen years, famously oversaw nearly all of Johnny Orr’s years as the progenitor of Hilton Magic, culminating with Fred Hoiberg’s initial stint as the Mayor of Ames.

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It also served as the helmet logo for four football seasons from 1983 to 1986, a period that saw typical football and a minor recruiting scandal that resulted in a temporary loss of just four scholarships.

As seen in previous stories, the updated Orr Cyclone by professional designer and alumnus Friendan.Design is the closest thing Iowa State has ever had to a timeless look and lends well to fresh, yet timeless branding possibilities, including my Storm Cyclones football helmet concept that caught the attention of many, including those within the football program.

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When Coach Matt Campbell arrived in Ames, he quickly made clear his desire to shake up some dowdy brand elements, by pushing concepts including the return of a Cyclone logo that some within the school felt was already sufficiently covered by the unpopular Cy Head logo, despite being just about the only major school without a nickname logo, (as pointed out last year).

The reveal during the Texas game represents clear and tangible internal progress in loosening up branding and marketing possibilities, but did the new logo hit the target?

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Designed by Joe Bosack & Co., a brand consulting agency previously tapped for the current mascot logos, this logo has a few immediate issues. (To be fair, every designer is only as good as their client and its impossible to say what constraints were placed upon the agency.) When considering a timeless design, it all starts with the line, a simple mark on a surface. Ancient art is replete with simple outlines and shapes that resonate to this day, easy for the human eye to recognize.

The primary logo has three colors, including two red shades for contrast that don’t read legibly, and relies on a very thin yellow border as the outline. All fans could see during the Texas game was a big red smear on a red helmet, the nuances of design lost. The edgy lines remind me of the dated mid-1990s Iowa State basketball shorts and the old oval ABC Sports logo.

On merchandise rolled out the same day, the design appeared best on white or gray backgrounds. If a primary logo needs to move away from school colors to read in a legible manner, that’s a problem. Also, a solid version of the mark appeared, but with the same reliance on very thin lines.

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The I-State logo initially suffered from a reliance on excessive bevels for a contemporary look, but recent efforts have evolved towards a stencil or solid color design, which appears much more iconic and timeless. The new Cyclone just looks like an inverted Hershey Kiss.

Change is usually met with some resistance, but feedback this time has largely been negative. The official Iowa State Facebook account had hundreds of negative comments and only a handful of positive. In a Twitter poll, I put up a simple image of the new Cyclone and the updated Orr Cyclone and simply asked which one people preferred. Hundreds of votes later, 86% were in favor of the Orr Cyclone.

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After some inquiries this past weekend, it appears many in the football program favored the Orr Cyclone redesign making an appearance on football helmets, but unfortunately had to adhere to the final decision of others who felt the new logo would be a better direction.

It seems pretty clear below which version appears more iconic and timeless.

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In the past, athletic director Jamie Pollard openly shared with alumni that the department felt the Orr Cyclone evoked memories of bad football teams with a small portion of the fan base and they had no desire to go through the travails of adding another secondary logo, thus giving the perception of Iowa State always changing their brand.

Do the facts support this? Let’s look at some numbers via Winsipedia:

Overall Iowa State winning % (1892-2017) = .442

Original Cyclone helmet logo winning % (1983-1986) = .409

Current I-State helmet logo winning % (2008-2017) = .336

It’s also worth noting the current I-State logo was inspired by a logo from the 1970s basketball uniforms, the exact same era that saw the worst basketball team in school history, the 1975-76 team that finished 3-24.

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This makes the new Cyclone logo all the more puzzling. Hopefully, internal resistance to the updated Orr Cyclone will continue to melt away, given how much history is behind it when compared to the I-State logo. It remains the best option for Iowa State to properly honor its heritage and get off the endless spinning wheel of new secondary logo after new secondary logo with no real tradition behind them.

For now, this new Cyclone logo should serve as a retail mark, not quite making the leap to official nickname logo status, joining the many tornado variations seen on clothing and marketing materials. There is precedent for this as many football teams have used alternate logos on helmets that don’t become part of official school branding, but are found on merchandise.

Sometimes a design transcends time, just like a story familiar to many of you …

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South of Hilton Coliseum stands the modest statue of a black pioneer, head bowed in contemplation of the letter that made him famous. Jack Trice’s story remains the most enduring and important piece of Iowa State history and transcends the bounds of sport, spilling over into what it means to be human. Many are rightfully proud of the football stadium being named after him, but the accompanying details seem lacking.

In the earliest days of Kagavi, before I became a crack Jack Trice historian, I asked Iowa State athletic department if they knew what his number was and no one could give me an answer. Along the way, I found people like author Steven Jones who suspected his number was 37 from newspaper accounts, but it was the discovery at Simpson College of perhaps the only surviving game program from Jack’s single full game at Iowa State that confirmed the case.

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Since then, multiple people including influential former Iowa State professor and historian Tom Emmerson who was one of the first to highlight Jack’s legacy in 1957, have asked the athletic department for Jack’s number 37 to be retired or honored. In a recent book, “Moments of Impact” by Jaime Schultz, she wrote that Pollard declined these requests to honor Jack further by noting how many parts of the stadium were named after him, essentially enough was enough.

In April 2016, I wrote a story asking Iowa State to elect Jack to the Athletics Hall of Fame, noting that they have honored people who didn’t even attend or play sports for Iowa State, so they certainly could find room for the pioneer of racial integration in sports, a player that may have been the finest to ever step on the field in Ames. This has not occurred yet.

This summer when I was reviewing the new football media guide, I saw a new section of compiled historical jersey numbers worn by players. For some odd reason, this ended with the year 1924, meaning that the last entry of players who wore number 37 was Tawzer in 1924. Surely there was space for just one more line in the guide to slide in an acknowledgement of Jack’s number, which still hasn’t formally been acknowledged in any way?

As Coach Matt Campbell continually preaches, the details matter.

By simply halting Jack’s honors with just the stadium name, Iowa State is willingly giving up the ability to take his story on the road for half of the football season. Many other teams use helmet stickers or patches to commemorate significant parts of their heritage. Look no further than Iowa and their ANF stickers, in use for decades, for how impactful a simple sticker can be. When reviewing ideas, I couldn’t stop looking at various East Tech scarab designs from Jack’s time there and two caught my eye, eventually leading to my new design of a proposed Trice Oval memorial sticker.

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This proposed design recalls the shared gold color between East Tech and Iowa State, the triumphs of Cleveland and the sacrifice in Ames. The stylized block T evokes vintage Iowa State logos and the ancient scarab also represents rebirth, perfectly appropriate for this enduring tale.

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Don’t stop with Jack Trice either.

More throwbacks and vintage logos should be introduced into the rotation and help strengthen the connections between the past and present. Let’s solidify the heritage connection of Storm Gray as a neutral color in the current branding package by taking one game to honor the original Cyclones team of 1895 and their school colors of silver, gold, and black. The helmets and uniforms could be auctioned off afterwards.

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To some, Iowa State may represent just a job or a way to pay the bills, but to thousands of alumni, it’s far more. By properly honoring two iconic figures in Cyclone sports history through design, Iowa State University can take a strong step forward, with a clear and cohesive timeless brand that advertises the Cyclone difference to the world.

Heritage matters.

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Website update soon

Currently working on a website update to reflect the continuing evolution of Kagavi. In the meantime, the existing SHOP page has been removed and will return later with a new vision. Just whistle your way past that intentionally broken link.

I will be streamlining the site to make it even quicker to load and experimenting with various ideas such as new fonts and more. Please excuse the dust if some things unintentionally break.

More later!

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CYCLONE SOUP: CY JAM 2

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(Originally published at SB Nation’s Wide Right Natty Lite.)

The Iowa State basketball season officially starts this Friday with preseason All-American Monte Morris and a bevy of talented seniors looking to make some noise in the Big 12.  A couple of years ago, I created a Cyclone version of NBA JAM, imaginatively called CY JAM, and it was a smash hit, selling thousands of fake copies. Fans were able to play as some of Iowa State’s most iconic players of the past century and fan favorites from recent teams, plus the Spirited! duo of Cy and Clone.

Now for the anticipated sequel.

CY JAM 2 adds even more Iowa State legends, plus a bunch of secret players accessible only by password. NBA JAM had music legends, politicians, football players, and more, so CY JAM 2 dug into Cyclone history to find some of the most skilled players with special powers and a will to win. Let’s look at the sixteen players of CY JAM 2.

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CYCLONE SOUP: Big 12 meets Public Enemy

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(Originally published at SB Nation’s Wide Right Natty Lite.)

Last month, the Big 12 announced there would be no expansion and the issue was tabled until schools could find a tranquilizer gun large enough to take down David Boren. Despite actual results with teams and revenue, the Big 12 has struggled to reverse public perception of continually wobbling on the verge. With their immediate future established, the next big movement will likely be in the mid-2020s when the next set of media contracts expire.

In the meantime, the Big 12 should strongly consider veering off in a risky direction and establishing a contrarian brand as the future of college football. The anthem for this change should be Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” which was first released in conjunction with Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing. Chuck D and Flavor Flav’s lyrics spoke of the inherent adversity faced by the black community.

As a marshmallow fluff who grew up on the mean streets of Ames, I can identify with the struggles espoused by the song and want to make a difference. Thus, I am appointing myself the new Big 12 commissioner and immediately issuing three proclamations to push back against the corrupt, hypocritical aspects of college football.

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CYCLONE SOUP: Farmageddon needs a trophy

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(Originally published at SB Nation’s Wide Right Natty Lite.)

Conference realignment has ripped apart nearly all of Iowa State’s historical football rivalries. One of the few surviving schools is Kansas State, which Iowa State started playing in 1916, and this fall will mark the 100th consecutive edition of the game. Both schools are some of the very earliest agricultural institutions in the entire nation, established by the Morrill Act in 1862. They are also the sole remaining conference rival that was an opponent during Jack Trice’s two years in Ames.

There still isn’t a trophy marking the game that many have dubbed Farmageddon in recent years. Part of that probably has to do with the long and distinguished history of losing by both teams. With the Big 12 eroding by the minute, the schools should take some steps to solidify this rivalry and start playing for a Farmageddon trophy.

College football is best when upholding fun, goofy traditions and the best trophies follow some simple rules.

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CYCLONE SOUP: Time to fix the Cy logo

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(Originally published at SB Nation’s Wide Right Natty Lite.)

Change is difficult. It can take years for new logos to gain acceptance, to worm their way into the warm memories of yore. The I-STATE logo, which never met a bevel it didn’t love, took some time to become established as the primary athletic mark, but is now widely accepted by Iowa State fans. The current walking Cy logo that was released after the I-STATE logo has struggled to reach the same level of acceptance.

It probably has something to do with how irritated Cy looks, like he’s walking out of Jack Trice Stadium after watching Iowa clobber Iowa State, only to find a parking ticket on his windshield.

Years after this modern iteration of Cy was released, most fans still refuse to embrace the design. On Twitter last week, I asked Iowa State fans whether they preferred the new version of Cy or the old versions of Cy. Hundreds of votes later, 80% voted in favor of the old versions. I’m no statistician, but that can’t be a good sign for the current logo.

It wasn’t always this bad.

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CYCLONE SOUP: 2016, an Orwellian parody

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(Originally published at SB Nation’s Wide Right Natty Lite.)

The story began with the great football purges early this millennia. Traditions were destroyed and unlikely alliances formed. Members were absorbed into larger groups and became more powerful. Others teetered. A constant state of war existed, year after year, never resolving. A smaller collection of members known as The Conference saw Big Bob arrive to take control. He was their savior.

Stuck between two great powers, the members of The Conference were told Big Bob was a welcome contrast to previous leadership that had allowed discord to fester. He informed them it had always been BIG undermining and constantly attacking, never anyone else. The SEC was a friend. Big Bob and the Striped Police protected the conference members from the enemy, BIG.

Big Bob was always watching the members, because he loved them. He was troubled still, for the real struggle laid within The Conference.

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CYCLONE SOUP: Greatest players who never were

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(Originally published at SB Nation’s Wide Right Natty Lite.)

In the current era, Iowa State usually cannot compete with top schools for elite football recruits, probably because those schools have a bankroll that would make Pablo Escobar’s accountant blush. Despite this handicap, Iowa State has turned out talented players and there have been a few times that the nation’s best picked Iowa State over traditional powers. While every fan can name the stars, some of those players failed to reach their potential and have faded from memory.

Let’s look at three of them and consider what might have been.

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CYCLONE SOUP: Did Iowa State almost join the Big Ten?

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(Originally published at SB Nation’s Wide Right Natty Lite.)

Conference expansion has been a thing from the earliest days of football and after World War II, the Big Ten dangled a vacant spot to schools throughout the Midwest. One of the names most popularly mentioned was Iowa State. To see how close they really came, let’s skip back another half-century.

During the heady days of Iowa State football, back when men were real men with wooly mustaches and spittoons, back when long fluffy hair was considered suitable head protection, back when successful games ended with just a touch of gangrene and crunchy ribs healed by whiskey and cocaine, the football team was good, actually really good.

Counting up all of the totally legitimate and not at all questionable games against teams such as Des Moines Y, Fort Dodge, Rush Medical, and Omaha Light Guards, the first sixteen years of independence through the 1907 season yielded a cumulative record of 75-38-6.

By comparison, those slackers in South Bend only won 79 in the same time period.

The Cyclones were a strong bunch of independents who didn’t need no man or conference, but expansion came dit-dah-ditting over the telegraph wire anyway.

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Choosing Jack Trice yellow or classic gold

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In April, we asked Iowa State University to honor Jack Trice by retiring his number or jersey and presented five planks for adding his legacy to the Iowa State brand. These stories pulled from centuries of influences and suggested simple steps that could provide a guiding touch for the century to come and beyond. One of the proposed additions was a chevron design inspired by Jack Trice’s uniform, as well as timeless symbols and petroglyphs from many millennia ago. Another proposal was the return of the missing Cyclone logo.

Along with these additions, Iowa State needs to finally decide between yellow or classic gold as the true representation of their school colors and the tale begins with Jack Trice.

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