Has anyone tried to call either Iowa or Wyoming this week? Not the universities, the states . If so, is anybody home?
From the looks hereabouts of the hotels, motels, shopping malls, tourist attractions, restaurants and saloons, not to mention Revolucion Boulevard in Tijuana, both states have moved en masse to the San Diego area for the Holiday Bowl.
There are probably 27 presidential candidates wandering around Iowa wondering where everyone went. There may not be a two-legged creature at all in Wyoming, where such beings are minorities in the first place.
A football game between the universities of Iowa and Wyoming is a different sort of occasion. It moves states rather than communities.
At the Kiwanis Club Kickoff Luncheon Tuesday, for example, Wyoming was represented by its governor and U.S. senators, and Iowa was represented by its governor. If Iowa's senators are not on their way, they have lost touch with their constituency.
With the exception of Iowa State, the University of Iowa is the only game in the state. And the folks at the university talk as if Iowa State does not exist.
There is no other game in Wyoming, except for maybe a fairgrounds rodeo or two.
Athletically, these states would seem to have much in common. It goes beyond athletics, of course.
In fact, tonight's game might be called the Beef Bowl.
When the politicians got around to making their pregame bets, they must have gotten confused. This was not to be a case of betting avocados against cornflakes.
Mark Sullivan, Wyoming's governor, suggested that he would bet beef on his Cowboys. And Terry Branstad, Iowa's governor, found that to be somewhat of a coincidence because he intended to bet beef on his Hawkeyes.
"We have a bet," Branstad told the luncheon crowd. "I'm betting Iowa corn-fed beef against Wyoming sagebrush-fed beef."
And therein lies a major difference between these states. Iowa raises its cattle (and presumably its football players) on farms and Wyoming raises its cattle on ranches. It's Iowa's farmlands vs. Wyoming's wide-open spaces. You expect Iowa's governor to step out of a Bartles & Jaymes commercial . . . and Wyoming's governor to be a Cartwright.
Wyoming probably has half a million residents, but the problem is finding them. It's hard enough to find a town. They think a convenience store is anything within 50 miles.
Cattle outnumber people by something like 4 to 1, and there is apparently a reason for that. Alan Simpson, one of the U.S. senators, told of an old-timer who was once asked why Wyoming had so many cows, and he said: " 'Cause we prefer 'em."
Not that Wyoming isn't hospitable to people . . . at least its people are. The weather is often another story.
I arrived in Wyoming one gorgeous July day and marveled at the weather to a gas station attendant.
"Been like this all summer?" I asked.
"Yep," he said. "All day."
Simpson told of a day last week in Cody when it was really cold.
"It was so cold," he said, "that I saw a lawyer going down the street with his hands in his own pockets."
Wyoming, to be sure, is the only major university that is occasionally accessible only by dog sled. I once stayed in Cheyenne the night before a San Diego State football game in Laramie, a mere hour away, but couldn't make the trip the next morning. Feeling a bit like Jim Bridger, I backtracked to Colorado and found a navigable mountain pass.
Among Western Athletic Conference teams, a trip to Laramie for a long time had been like Butch Cassidy going to some outback town where Don Knotts was sheriff. It was a long trip, but the yokels were easy pickings.
It's changed. A trip to Laramie for a football or basketball game is like stepping into the O.K. Corral with a squirt gun. It's a long way to go to get drilled, and that's what happens up there these days. You could skip the trip and mail in the result, though it would probably have to go by the original Federal Express . . . by pony.
With the football team in a bowl game and the basketball team ranked fifth in the nation, Wyoming athletics is threatening to warm the natives to a frenzy.
Iowa's fans have grown accustomed to success. The 1980s have been kind to the Hawkeyes in football and basketball. Coach Hayden Fry has now taken the Hawkeyes to seven consecutive bowl games.
Indeed, the governor, Branstad, noted: "All the years I've been governor, the Hawkeyes have gone to a bowl game. Hayden, we thank you, my family thanks you, and the entire state of Iowa thanks you."
Fry, for his part, takes his responsibility seriously. He treats bowl games like Armageddon. He had better, especially since the governor seemingly has built bowl appearances into his platform.
When Iowa's football players come to town, they are protected from needless distractions. If the media, for example, want to talk to the players and see if they are human beings or robocops, they can catch them between the plane and the bus on one day or between the locker room and the bus on another. Interviewing an Iowa player is like interviewing a guy between the courtroom and prison bus.
It would appear, thus, that Iowa football may be hurting a bit when it comes to public relations. It may not be coincidental, then, that Iowa, in its own way, is probably more isolated than Wyoming in all of its geographical remoteness.
Iowa's people dig in and take care of one another. They are hardy and self-sustaining. They don't really need others because the land is good to them, and they know how to work it. An aloof football team is befitting such a state.
Appropriately, when it's time to go on vacation, many folks drive to Wyoming. Iowa's a good state to drive through .