No longer will Father Gene Benda, one of many enthusiastic boosters of the Iowa football team, be able to use the old underdog ploy. He pulled out all the stops in his invocation at the Johnson County I-Club booster breakfast the day before last Saturday's Ohio State game. "God in heaven," Father Benda began, "we all remember David and Goliath. We remember Daniel and the lions. And we remember how Samson slew the Philistines. Father, given those examples, we hope we're not asking too much for Your assistance in helping our Hawkeyes beat the Buckeyes tomorrow."
Amen. The next afternoon in Kinnick Stadium, the Hawkeyes did indeed beat the Buckeyes. It was no David over Goliath, but rather a victory of one football giant over another, as the good Father and the rest of the college sports world now know. The 20-14 win propelled Iowa, which is 3-0, to the No. 5 spot in SI's poll, a lofty height indeed for a team that hasn't cracked anybody's Top Five since 1960.
It also brought to an end one of college football's longest inferiority complexes: The Hawkeyes had most recently defeated Ohio State in 1962. In their last 10 meetings, between 1971 and 1980, Iowa hadn't come closer to the Buckeyes than three touchdowns, and the cumulative score over that span was Ohio State 379, Iowa 85. Even in the seasons when the teams didn't meet, the Hawkeyes were made to feel inferior. For example, because of scheduling quirks, Iowa didn't play the Buckeyes in 1981 and 1982, years that Ohio State fell one win short of making the Rose Bowl. The message from Columbus, Ohio reached Iowa City loud and clear: You would've been that one win we needed.
The lack of respect the Hawkeyes were getting provided a ready psychological ploy for Iowa Coach Hayden Fry. Did he use it? "Only about a hundred times," said Fry before the game. Which isn't surprising because Fry doesn't miss many tricks. Since arriving in Iowa City from North Texas State in 1979, he has redesigned the Hawkeyes' uniforms to resemble the Pittsburgh Steelers'—"We needed to look like a proven winner," says Fry—and lowered the status of Herky the Hawk, Iowa's longtime mascot, in favor of the newly created and more aggressive-looking Tiger Hawk. More important, in both 1981 and '82 he guided the Hawkeyes to 8-4 records; they had last finished better than .500 in consecutive years in 1960 and '61. Best of all, in '81 and '82 Fry gave Iowa's loyal and patient fans two bowl teams. Two seasons ago the Hawkeyes lost 28-0 to Washington in the Rose Bowl, and last year they beat Tennessee 28-22 in the Peach. Yes, Fry has picked up the Hawkeyes and shaken them a little, just as his second cousin, Lyndon Baines Johnson, used to do with his daughter's beagles.
October 2, 1983
Consequently, Fry, 54, a native Texan who looks something like a pistol-packing sheriff, is more popular around Iowa City than a farm subsidy program. About 800 members of the Johnson County I-Club came to that breakfast on Friday at the Highlander Inn in Iowa City to hear him speak. The proceedings began at 6:30, but folks started gathering at four to get seats. Now that's loyalty. When Fry walked into the banquet room with his wife, Shirley, he got a standing ovation. When he was introduced, he got a standing ovation. When he finished speaking, he got a standing ovation.
Even Fry's faux pas somehow become bons mots. For instance, on press day in August he was asked whether college players should receive salaries in addition to scholarships. He answered yes, noting how times had changed since his playing days at Baylor, when "you could find a little dumplin' to do your wash and then take her out to eat." Fry didn't give the comment a second thought, but the University of Iowa Chapter of Associated Professional and Faculty Women did. The organization asked university President James O. Freedman to censure Fry for "making demeaning and offending remarks which perpetuate the secondary status of women." Fry apologized, but ultimately the backlash against the women's group was stronger than its protest. The pin most favored by women at Friday's I-Club breakfast read I'M A HAWKEYE DUMPLIN'.
Fry has brought an interesting what-the-hell approach to offense that was sorely needed in Iowa City. Against Ohio State, his quarterback, Chuck Long, was still rolling out and throwing passes with the clock winding down and a 20-14 lead. Before that, a risky long pass thrown against a stiff wind won the game. "I knew you were all going to string me up if that pass had been intercepted," Fry told the press, "but everything today turned out Hawkeye."
Didn't it, though. Leading 13-7 with 4:30 remaining, Iowa faced a third-and-six at its own 27. The Buckeyes had been successful to that point in stopping the Hawkeyes' top receiver, Split End Dave Moritz, with double coverage. But with time running out and his team needing a big defensive play, Ohio State Corner-back Garcia Lane had blitzed on the previous play. Fry thought the Buckeyes would blitz again, so he called for a long pass either to Moritz, who now would be single-covered by the other corner, Shaun Gayle, or to Ronnie Harmon, who also would be getting one-on-one coverage. Lane blitzed, Harmon was covered and Moritz ran by Gayle. He took Long's throw and ran a serpentine route to the goal line to elude the faster Gayle. The 73-yard TD gave Iowa a 20-7 lead. Ohio State came back to score two minutes later on a 67-yard drive, but an interception by Hawkeye Safety Devon Mitchell with 22 seconds to go snuffed out the Buckeyes' last threat.
The touchdown pass, Long's second of the afternoon, was the decisive strike as he won his mini-battle with Ohio State Quarterback Mike Tomczak. They entered the game ranked first (Tomczak) and third (Long) in the country in passing efficiency, thanks largely to excellent performances the previous week. Tomczak had completed 15 of 25 throws for two touchdowns in Ohio State's 24-14 win at Oklahoma, while Long had merely broken a school record by throwing for 345 yards in Iowa's 42-34 victory at Penn State. Furthermore, their careers bear striking similarities. Both had played high school football in suburban Chicago. Both had become starters last season as sophomores, and both had stumbled during the year and were temporarily benched. Both then came on strong at the end of 1982.
Though he can throw long or short, Long is hardly a classic drop-back passer because he often delivers the ball in what he calls "a three-quarters motion," that is, not completely overhand, not completely sidearm. It's somewhat of a slingshot style, making him perhaps the David element in Father Benda's invocation. "Maybe it came from being a baseball pitcher," says Long. "I never overpowered people to get them out. I was more of a junkballer." There's nothing junky about his preparation, though. Before spring practice of his freshman year, he actually studied films of previous Iowa spring practices to pick up his own team's defensive tendencies. "That's who I'm going to be playing against," Long said. The extra work helped him win the starting job for '82.
He was equally heady against the Buckeyes. Noticing on the first series that Ohio State was double-covering Moritz and Harmon, Long went 23 yards down the middle to his wide-open tight end, Mike Hufford, who hadn't caught a pass in Iowa's first two victories. That gain led to a 25-yard Tom Nichol field goal and a 3-0 lead seven minutes into the game. Then, with Iowa trailing 7-3 early in the third period, Long used his head again. First, he found Hufford unattended and completed a 16-yarder to him that gave the Hawkeyes a first down at the Buckeye 18. On second down from the 16, he caught Ohio State in an alignment that seemed to indicate the Buckeyes would again ignore Hufford. At the line Long called for a "Y Middle," a simple route that sent Hufford straight down the field. "As soon as I looked up and saw what coverage they were in, I knew it was a touchdown if Chuck got the ball to me," said Hufford. He did, it was, and Iowa led 10-7.
Long didn't get much out of his running backs (89 yards), primarily because Iowa's leading rusher going into the game, Owen Gill, was bothered by a sore shoulder and finished with only 22 yards on 11 carries. Though Ohio State deserves much of the credit for shutting down Iowa's ground game, Gill wasn't healthy enough to live up to the nickname, Baby Bull, that his teammates had given him in recognition of his hard running. However, Gill's absence did point to a depth uncharacteristic of the Hawkeyes. They still have Eddie Phillips at tailback, who's merely the leading career rusher (1,697 yards on 355 carries) among current Big Ten backs, and Norm Granger, whose key 16-yard run preceded Long's scoring pass to Hufford. Granger gives the Hawkeyes' tailback speed at fullback. At wide receiver, Iowa has both Moritz and the speedy Harmon, who turned an apparent incompletion into a 27-yard gain with a remarkable one-handed recovery of a Long pass that had bounced out of his hands.
On defense, it's the same story—better athletes who are making plays that Iowa didn't used to make. One series in the fourth quarter illustrated that well. On first down Tomczak found Flanker Cedric Anderson in the clear, but Hawkeye Cornerback Nate Creer jarred the ball loose to force an incompletion. Creer is part of the pipeline from Tilden High School in Brooklyn that also brought Gill and Mitchell to Iowa City.
On second down Tomczak found his big tight end, John Frank, who may be the best in the country, open, but Linebacker Larry Station rammed Frank and the ball fell incomplete. Station, who had a school-record 19 tackles against Penn State, is a rare Omaha blue-chipper who didn't go to Nebraska; he didn't want to be redshirted. As a freshman last year he led the Hawkeyes in tackles despite starting only five games. He also chose Iowa because he liked its computer-science department. He worked on an Apple system in high school, and he uses his own apple on the field, calling the defensive signals despite being only a sophomore.
On third down Tomczak was flushed out of the pocket and appeared headed for a first-down scramble before he was hauled down from behind by Tackle Paul Hufford, Mike's brother. Three years ago Hufford had torn virtually all the ligaments and cartilage in his right knee during a high school wrestling match, an injury that took 18 months to rehabilitate. "I cannot express the amazement I feel over the fact that Paul Hufford is even playing," says Fry. Ohio State had to punt, and on the next series Long threw his decisive bomb to Moritz. Three downs, three exceptional defensive plays by three players who not many years ago probably wouldn't have seriously considered going to Iowa.
Fry has attracted so many high-quality athletes that now, year in and year out, the Hawkeyes may have the depth to make the Big Ten a Big Three instead of the Big Two (Ohio State and Michigan) it was throughout the '70s. Certainly Fry has made good on the promise he made upon arriving in Iowa City, which was to "plow up a few snakes and kill them." One of those snakes was the image of the Hawkeyes as losers. After all, only two season's back someone asked then Iowa Quarterback Gordy Bohannon why he had left home in California to come to Iowa. Bohannon answered, "In life, we all have to make sacrifices." This year, playing for Iowa is liable to be more a celebration than a sacrifice.