Remember when as a child, you would return to school from a vacation and have to write an essay on “What I did on my vacation?” This is kind of a takeoff on that assignment from many years ago.

“Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother’s House We Go.” Yes, we went over some rivers and through some woods, but not to grandmother’s house. Reed and I traveled to the Iowa State versus Kansas State football game.

Perfect trip in most respects. It was our annual last away game of the ISU season to watch football. We hold season tickets and have gotten to know Coach Matt Campbell for his generosity of becoming one of our Charlie’s Angels and helping us raise funds for research for cystic fibrosis. We have also come to know a couple of the coaches and their wives. New friendships in the making.

And we have become familiar with a few of the players and their parents. It’s been a good year for the Cyclones for the most part. And it’s been a fun team to watch.

Anyway, smooth trip to Manhattan, Kansas. Beautiful late November weather. The sky could not have gotten any bluer than it was. The Bill Snyder Family Stadium is a nice facility and their fans were some of the best we have spent time with. The stadium was full, 50,000 last Saturday. Not all Kansas State fans, there were many Iowa State fans there too.

I think you know what is coming.

Good game right down to the wire. Then things started to fall apart. At the end of the game, ISU was ahead, not much time left on the clock, but looked pretty darn promising. Then it all started to happen. We were introduced to a new game referred to by Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register as “Pick Up the Yellow Flag” game.

I enjoy reading Randy Peterson. He writes like I think. Pretty much common sense and telling a story along the way. You see, this football game between two very good teams with very similar records became a game among the Big 12 Conference football referees that were supposed to be officiating Saturday. As Randy described — right to the point — one ref would throw the yellow flag, and then we would wait to see which one of the other refs would pick it up the quickest. This happened three times against Kansas, then the flag would get picked up and no penalty. What the heck? What just happened, again and again and again.

It became a joke. Penalty…or wait…no penalty.

This eventually led to a win slipping away from ISU. Missed calls should not happen, not this many, which Kansas State clearly benefited from and ISU watched as the game was taken away from them by the refs.

I could go into everything that went wrong, but like Coach Campbell said after the game, “It is what it is.” He is a very humble man. He knows his football. He grew up with football. He was born, raised and confirmed with football. He was as disappointed as his players and the fans. But this essay is about the way that the Kansas State fans handled their win after the game.

Reed and I were walking through the tailgate section of the Kansas State fans after the game to get to our car. We walked silently, still kind of in that zone where we just could not believe what had just happened. At first we were ranting and raving like the other ISU fans around us, but as the game continued and we watched it slip away via the refs, we all just stood there and looked at each other. Another “what the heck just happened”? So, like I was saying, we walked, not talking and then it started.

First, a couple of fans said to us, “Safe travels home.” We acknowledged them, thanking them for that.

Then a couple more fans slipped in next to us and walked with us. The conversation went like this:

“We are sure sorry for what just happened to your team. You lost the game because of the refs. We didn’t win this game by our team’s actions on the field. It was the refs that gave us this game.”

Wow! Never had that kind of a message from an opposing fan after a game that they just won.

Next couple of Kansas State fans, same statement. And that happened many times all the way to our car.

From the stadium, we needed to get something to eat. We stopped at a restaurant to eat. Sitting quietly at our table, we had about six different people approach us. We still had on our ISU cardinal and gold sweatshirts, so we stuck out like a sore thumb in the sea of Kansas State fans. Again, same message from their fans. Happy that they had won, but understood how they won and felt badly about it.

Another Wow.

Then Sunday morning, checking out of our hotel, the desk clerk asked if we were Iowa State fans. Not sure if it was the ISU sweatshirts or that we were from Iowa.

Yes, of course, ever true to ISU.

She went on to say that was all the talk Sunday morning and she was sure sorry that the refs had taken that game away from us.

Nice lady, but didn’t bring the win to our side.

I guess my theory is that it was a good game. A 20-19 loss isn’t the end of the world. Our team played pretty darn good football. I don’t feel that we were outcoached or even outplayed. It’s just hard to beat a pack of refs too. For whatever reason they made or didn’t make the calls that they should have I will never know. And at this point it’s a done deal.

I have a son that played college football. It’s a very stressful thing for a mom. It’s a very emotional thing for a mom. They play their best most of the time and they play their hearts out. You could see that on this ISU team this year. They were coached by one of the best and they were such fun to watch get better and better.

So now what? Practice starts again on Friday. The team will be getting ready for a bowl game that will be announced this weekend. They deserve it.

They Choose Greatness. Even before this team set foot inside of Jack Trice Stadium, I stood on the field one day a couple years ago and then told Coach Campbell that I could feel the greatness coming off that gridiron and that whomever comes to ISU to play football for him was choosing greatness.

Remember how it has been said that it’s not if you win or lose the game, it’s how it is played that counts. I guess that would be a good analogy for the 20-19 loss against Kansas State.

It is what it is.