IOWA CITY, Iowa - It was halftime at Kinnick Stadium. And eternally optimistic Iowa football fans were convinced they had found their savior.

His name was Hayden Fry, who had left North Texas State in December of 1978 to take over a Hawkeye program that hadn’t had a winning season since 1961.

On the day he was introduced as coach. Fry started making promises.

“We’ll have laterals, the Statue of Liberty, motion, open formations and the spread,” Fry said, music to the ears of a dormant program.

That hyperbole took a life of its own for the next nine months, sprinkled in with a lifetime of Fry one-liners. It created optimism and hope that someone was in place to walk in Forest Evashevski’s shoes.

Fry had his team take the field in uniforms that resembled the Pittsburgh Steelers. He joked that they’d look good...at least until the ball was snapped. And then Sept. 8, 1979 arrived, Fry’s official debut in the season opener against Indiana.

It got off to a spectacular start. The Hoosiers were favored by a field goal. But Iowa tailback Dennis Mosley, who had scored one touchdown in 96 carries the season before, had four rushing touchdowns on Iowa’s first four possessions of the game.

Quarterback Phil Suess, who had never played in his first three seasons in the program, was efficient and effective. And the defense was playing at a high level, creating all kinds of problems for Indiana quarterback Tim Clifford. Holy Rose Bowl, could this really be happening? The Kinnick Stadium scoreboard read Iowa 26, Indiana 3.

Fans who headed down at halftime to visit the concession stand, the rest rooms or stretch their legs, couldn’t believe what they had witnessed. This victory-started fanbase had found its black-and-gold appetite. The buzz was palpable. The same could be said inside the Iowa locker room.

“We really played well the first two quarters and led 26-3 at halftime,” Fry said in “Hayden Fry, a High Porch Picnic,” a book he wrote with former Iowa sports information director George Wine. “When we got to the dressing room, the players were celebrating like the game was over, and I

knew we were in trouble. We tried to convince them there were 30 minutes left to play, but we couldn’t get that across to them. They weren’t accustomed to 23-point halftime leads.” Iowa hadn’t scored at least 26 points in any of its 11 games the previous season, and did it just twice in 1976 and once in both 1974 and 1975. That’s one reason why fans were so giddy at halftime.

“It was the first game I had coached at Kinnick Stadium, and I’ll never forget the fans’ reaction when we came out and lined up in a spread formation,” Fry said in his book. “We got a standing ovation. When we completed a pass we got another one. That appreciation didn’t go unnoticed to my coaches and me.”

Indiana Coach Lee Corso took a much different halftime approach with his team. “I told our players they had two choices,” Corso said. “I said we could go out and embarrass ourselves, or we could go out and pull off one of the greatest comebacks in recent years at Indiana.”

Fry’s sense that his team was in trouble at halftime proved to be correct. Indiana rallied and won in dramatic fashion, 30-26. Clifford threw a game-winning 66-yard touchdown pass to running back Lonnie Johnson with 58 seconds remaining. There was a breakdown in secondary coverage for the Hawkeyes. Two defenders followed wide receiver Steve Corso, the coach’s

son, across the middle. No one picked up Johnson coming out of the backfield. Johnson caught the ball near midfield and raced untouched down to the sideline to the end zone. “My good friend Lee Corso was Indiana’s coach at the time,” Fry said. “After the game he said, “Coach, you have a five-year contract. I needed this win more than you did!’ ” The mood in Iowa’s locker room was nothing like it had been at halftime. “I was concerned about how our players would handle success for a full 60 minutes, because these guys have never experienced it before,” Fry said afterwards.

Iowa’s offense hit a wall the second half, and the defensive execution was also lacking. The Hawkeyes outgained Indiana in the first half, 292-147. The Hoosiers racked up 332 yards to 97 for Iowa the second half and outscored their hosts, 27-0.

“I wish I was the Good Lord or a magician so I’d have the vocabulary to explain it,” Fry said. “From a coaching standpoint, the second half was like a nightmare. After executing so well during the first half, things just seemed to fall apart. We had a lot to do with our defeat, but I haven’t lost faith in these guys at all. We had a perfect first half with the exception of a couple of plays. In the second half, we just couldn’t execute.”

Corso was quick to give Iowa credit after the game.

“They had a tremendous game plan and in the first half they did everything perfect and played solid defense,” Corso said. “I told my team, “They can’t play that good the whole game.’ Mosley finished with 143 yards in 20 carries, and Suess completed 17 of 30 passes for 227 yards. Mosley’s four touchdowns still stands as a school record, one he shares with 10 other Hawkeyes. Tavian Banks did it twice.

Iowa had the daunting task of facing No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 7 Nebraska the following two weeks. The Hawkeyes lost in Norman, 21-6. And Fry was fuming when he sensed his team was getting a lot of pats on the back for being competitive.

“First we get our asses kicked, then we get complimented,” Fry said. “I just told the team that if I see one single man with a smile on his face, I’m going to bust him in the mouth. Losing is losing and we didn’t play well. These kids have been babied and pampered so much when they lose that it makes me sick. Losing and looking good is a bunch of crap.”

Nebraska rallied for a 24-21 victory at Kinnick Stadium the following week. Fry got his first victory as Iowa’s coach in his fourth game, a 30-14 triumph over Iowa State. That 1979 team finished 5-6. That loss to Indiana denied the Hawkeyes their first winning season since 1961. The streak ended two years later, when the 1981 Hawkeyes finished 8-4 and returned to the Rose Bowl. And Iowa fans had found their savior.