Fans of the Iowa State Cyclones have witnessed some tremendous basketball feats over the years, but the most celebrated aspect of their history is actually the arena where the team plays its home games, James H. Hilton Coliseum. Ever since ISU knocked off a heavily favored Missouri team in 1989, the phrase “Hilton Magic” has been used to explain the unexpected, incredible and other-worldly triumphs of the hoops team.
When they aren’t battling in-state rivals Iowa for the lead in the all-encompassing Cy-Hawk Series, Iowa State competes in the always-tough Big 12 Conference. While more than 40 years separate the school’s first and second NCAA tournament appearances, the Cyclones have never been considered an afterthought, thanks in large part to their storied home and the electric atmosphere associated with it. In addition to being the site where they shocked Mizzou, Hilton Coliseum has played host to a number of exciting Cyclones moments, including a perfect 18-0 homestand in 1999-2000, which also served as the start of a three-year run that would stretch to 39 home victories in a row before being snapped in 2002.
Fans in Ames have seen top-level play from guards such as Jeff Hornacek and Jamaal Tinsley, but neither player left a mark quite like Fred Hoiberg. From 1992 to 1995, “The Mayor” scored 1,993 points and guided ISU to three NCAA tournament appearances. Hoiberg’s regal nickname stems partly from the fact that he grew up in town, but also because in ‘93, he received several write-in votes in the Ames mayoral race. In 2010, the local product came home when he accepted the head basketball coaching position. Under Hoiberg’s watch, Iowa State qualified for the Big Dance in 2012, ‘13, ‘14, and ‘15.
Unbridled enthusiasm for the Cyclones isn’t solely limited to the hardwood, either. The ISU football program has a proud history that is more than 100 years old. In fact, some of the most celebrated traditions associated with the university are pigskin related. Big moments on the gridiron are punctuated by big-time sounds, whether it be the firing of the school cannon after touchdowns or the ringing of the Victory Bell after, well, victories.
Fierce competition seemingly brings out the best in Iowa State, as the school’s long-simmering rivalry with Iowa University was revived in 1977 in the wake of the Cyclones appearing in bowl games in ‘71 and ‘72. When the Big 12 began to emerge as a premier football conference in the 2000s, ISU rose to the occasion and qualified for the postseason eight times in the first twelve years.
Through it all, Iowa State has developed an unwavering belief that they can beat anyone, in any sport. It’s a leap of faith that has fueled the university’s sports teams for countless years. You can call it magic if you want, or you can simply call it school pride. Either way, opponents know that a duel with the Cyclones is going to be a fight to the bitter end.