Iowans, Professor Harold Hill discovered in The Music Man, are so by-damn stubborn they can stand touching noses for a week at a time and never see eye to eye. They also bicker, bicker, bicker, which might explain why until last Saturday the University of Iowa and Iowa State had not shared a football field in more than four decades. Other states can swing it—Michigan plays Michigan State, Washington plays Washington State, and so on through Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arizona and more—but not Iowa. And just because past games approached the Civil War in intensity.
Over the years if Iowa suggested a renewal of the series, Iowa State didn't want it, and if State did, Iowa did not. Stubborn. But last week, keeping a date that had been arranged nearly a decade ago, the two teams finally met, and Iowa's underdog Hawkeyes won 12-10.
It was a game that should do nothing to scare future opponents of either team, but tell that to any of the nearly 60,000 frantic fans in jam-packed Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City and you might find yourself hustled to the outskirts of town. As predicted, the game was tough—but there were no flagrant fouls. When it was over, Iowa fans tore down one of the goalposts while State fans watched—but there were no skirmishes. And only a few minor ones in the long, noisy night that followed. Part of the halftime show was devoted to a plea for unity "across this great state of ours," and unity there seemed to be.
But then there seemed to be statewide unity after the teams met for the first time in 1894, a game won by Iowa State 16-8. In fact, it was not until 1897 that trouble occurred. Iowa was leading 10-6 when one Foster Parker bolted 40 yards for a State touchdown. On the play, the Hawkeyes contended, State committed a flagrant foul, but there was no flag. Irate, the Iowa team stalked off the field, forfeiting the game 6-0.
September 25, 1977
That set the tone for future intrastate battles. An Iowa player was warned before a subsequent game that he would be nailed and, sure enough, he was swarmed under and hurt while signaling for a fair catch. An Iowa State player was discovered to be winding up a six-year career having played two seasons at Grinnell College, handily located midway between Ames and Iowa City. After one game, the Iowa State Register complained that "quite the worst thing of the entire season was the use Iowa made of an earsplitting steam whistle during the game. This contrivance seriously interfered with the visitor's signals. Even more disgusting was the continual exhibition of this noisemaking device whenever the loyal rooters of Ames sought to encourage their team by good wholesome cheering."
Postgame bitterness across the state became so intense that a recommendation was made to the State Board of Education following a 1915-16 survey of the two schools under the direction of the U.S. Commissioner of Education. It advised: "The annual football game between the college and the university is the occasion for the revival of feuds, charges and countercharges, the reassertion of differences and criticisms, which, at best, have had only poor reasons for existence." The series was broken off in 1920, renewed in 1933-34 and then dropped for the next 42 years.
During the hiatus it was Iowa State that most often pressed for a revival. Iowa remained firmly opposed. It was, after all, top dog in the state. As an academic institution it had a better pedigree, being older and offering degrees in law, medicine and journalism. Iowa State was primarily an agriculture and engineering school. And Iowa had more football prestige, too. The Hawkeyes won the Big Ten title in 1956 and 1958, went to the Rose Bowl both seasons and won there, too. Iowa State usually was finishing far down in the Big Eight.
The picture has changed in recent years, however. Iowa has not had a winning season since 1961, helped not at all by a schedule laced with USC, UCLA, Penn State and Notre Dame. Most of those games were the legacy of the former athletic director, Forest Evashevski, the man who had coached Iowa to those two Rose Bowl triumphs. "Evy wanted to make sure he was Iowa's last winning football coach," says one Hawkeye fan. Iowa State, for its part, went to bowl games after the 1971 and 1972 seasons and finished 8-3 last Year.
It was Evashevski, at odds with Iowa's Athletic Council in the late 1960s, who brought about the renewal of the series under slightly cloudy circumstances. With his counterpart at Iowa State, Clay Stapleton, he convinced the councils of both schools that it was time to take another crack at it, that the intrastate game could be good for Iowa. At first they agreed to a two-game series in 1977-78, but one morning in 1969 members of the councils were surprised to read in their newspapers that there was a second contract calling for four more games through 1982. In the furor that followed, Evashevski quit. His successor, Bump Elliott, eventually signed the contracts for the combined six-game series.
Now the bickering really began. At first all six games were scheduled for Iowa City, because Kinnick Stadium holds 58,500 and Iowa State's Clyde Williams Field in Ames seated only some 34,000. Build a larger place and we'll give you a home game, Iowa said. State did, opening for business in 50,000-seat Cyclone Field in 1975. O.K., said Iowa, you can have the 1981 game. No good, countered State. We want three games just like you. Iowa refused. Rollie Knight, chairman of Iowa State's Athletic Council, said, "Iowa is arrogant and selfish." He suggested canceling the series after this year's game.
No way. According to an Iowa newspaper poll, 500,000 fans would have purchased tickets to last Saturday's game if they had been available. That's nearly 20% of the state's population. The game was being televised regionally, the Hawkeyes' first such appearance since 1971. Both teams had won their openers and both had lost their starting quarterbacks. In fact, Iowa had lost two, forcing Coach Bob Commings to use a freshman against Northwestern. The freshman, Bob Commings Jr., threw two touchdown passes in a 24-0 win. Commings Sr. promptly named Commings Jr. as his starting quarterback for the big game. In turn, Iowa State Coach Earle Bruce announced he was reporting Commings to the NCAA. "His quarterback has been living with him," Bruce said. "That's a recruiting violation."
By Friday every motel room as far away as Cedar Rapids, 25 miles north of Iowa City, was booked. Restaurants were overflowing. In the bar of one of them taped highlights of the Northwestern victory were being shown. The newspapers fed readers a torrent of trivia: lineups, fight songs, what the two coaches were doing during the last Iowa-Iowa State game (both were infants) and interviews with families who had children at both schools (State Athletic Director Lou McCullough had two sons attending Iowa). There were scare stories: young Bobby Commings was hurt in practice. Untrue. Iowa Placekicker Scott Schilling severed his Achilles tendon when a golf cart tipped over on him. True, and it nearly cost Iowa the ball game.
During one 2½-minute burst in the first quarter there was as much excitement as the pregame hoopla promised. Both teams sounded each other out, gained nothing noteworthy and punted. Twice apiece. But the third time Iowa punted, Tom Buck fielded the ball on his 37, survived an almost instantaneous hit, found his way to the right sideline and his blockers and went the distance. Extra point good, 7-0 State.
But on the second play following the kickoff, Commings handed off to Tailback Dennis Mosley, who bolted 77 yards to a touchdown. But not the tying TD. Punter Dave Holsclaw, placekicking because of Schilling's injury, missed the extra point. State held on to its lead, 7-6.
Not for long. When State fumbled following the kickoff, Iowa recovered and scored on two smashes by Jon Lazar, the second covering 10 yards. Trying for two points, Iowa failed and led 12-7.
That, for all intents, was the game. State added a field goal early in the second quarter, and then both teams engaged in a punting duel—there were 21 in all. Iowa made only one first down in the second half, but State wasn't going anywhere, either. The Cyclones did get one last chance late in the game when they took over just inside mid-field and made two first downs to make it first and 10 on the Iowa 27. But three running plays gained nothing, and the field-goal attempt was short.
After the game was over, walking arm in arm through the huge milling crowd were two students, one from Iowa, the other from Iowa State. Arm in arm because the State guy had a cardboard box over his head and couldn't see. A losing bet. "Step right up and see a deflated Cyclone fan," the Iowa student kept shouting. Under the box, the State student seemed to be taking it pretty well. Maybe Iowans aren't so by-damn stubborn after all.