FanPost

Iowa Football History PART V: Evy's Revenge 1953-1968

(Ed. Note: You are reading these, right?  Because you should be. -- Ross)

PART 1 I PART 2 I PART 3 I PART 4

There's one thing that I think anyone who knew Forest Evashevski would say about him, without hesitation or fear of contradiction: Evy was the original "clogged toilet"--he didn't take shit from anyone. It's how he played, it's how he coached, and it's how he Athletic Directed. To some he was a hero, to others the devil. He brought a program back from the brink, got it moving again, but then ran it to the edge of another, even worser brink. Actually, it was more like it went off the damn cliff and burst into flames and set an orphanage on fire. How else can you describe an 0-11 season? (1) How else can you explain the in-fighting, player strikes, firings, and all-around rancor? The nineteen straight losing seasons, for crying out loud? All those coaches in quick succession?

For Iowa, Evy was a character right out of Dickens, he was "the best of times and the worst of times." Unfortunately, unlike a Dickens tale, there would be no happy ending. Just the cliff and the stench of burning orphan flesh.

Evy, by all accounts, was a fine player at the University of Michigan from 1938-1940, a man who paved the way for Wolverine legend Tom Harmon (Evy was a blocking QB on offense, and a fierce but thinking-man's LB on defense). Coach Fritz Crisler once said Evashevski was the best QB he'd ever coached. When Evy graduated in 1940, he was thinking law school, or coaching.

But then the war began. So what did Evy do? Went back and played another year of top-flight college football!

Let's pause for a moment. Didn't I just say that Evy had already played an entire college football career at the University of Michigan? Yeah, I think I did. Then how the hell.....?

Let's return to the Iowa Pre-Flight Seahawks for a moment. The war was not the end of football--not for Evy and not for Iowa and not for this great land that worships the college game. And the government, in all its wisdom (I think it was wiser in those days), saw that college football was good for the nation....as was training fighter pilots. So for three years, from 1942-1944, the rules were altered just a teensy-bit. A tweek. Just a skosh.

Maybe it wasn't a big deal back then, or maybe it was, but if you enlisted at, say, Iowa Pre-Flight or Great Lakes Naval, you could play big-time college football even if you'd already used-up your college eligibility. (You see, bub, it's good for morale! The nation needs you!)

Sounds crazy, don't it? Well, how does it sound if I add that they allowed professional football players to play for the pre-flight schools! Yes, I am indeed telling you that pre-flight schools (and other military schools) played basically "ringers" from 1942-1944. So, on your team you might have Colin Sandeman, James Ferentz, Reggie Wayne, James Morris, Peyton Manning, Lance Tillison, and Dallas Clark. And your opponents would have the roster of Eastern Illinois. (2)

And last post I was wistfully wondering, "Gee, how come those flight schools got so good, so fast?"

I think we now know. Additionally, the coaches were ringers, too. Iowa Pre-Flight was coached for one year by Bernie Bierman of Minnesota, who won something like five NCAA football titles with the Gophers (and believe me, Gopher fans consider those old-time champs as legit as the national championship 'Bama won just last year! They could've won a championship playing Ye Olde Footbyalle in 1315 using the skulls of vanquished enemies, and they'd still rub that in our faces.) (3)

On the debit side, Iowa Pre-Flight played almost all away games: in their three years of existence, they only had about three visiting teams travel to Iowa Stadium. And they still won most of their games! In 1942, they played a ridiculous four teams in the Top Ten, and something like six in the Top Twenty. In 1943, they lost the NCAA championship--and yes, it will hurt to hear this--when they missed a PAT against Notre Dame. In 1944, they lost to Michigan but then ran the table! As Patton once described those tank uniforms he'd designed, "Goddamn, they were beautiful." (4)

Well they should've been, General! These "tank helmets" were 25 year-old professionals or graduates, playing against a bunch of 20 year-old 4-F stiffs! Nevertheless, I love the Iowa Pre-Flight everything, hope to God the U of I still has their stuff, even if they basically "cheated" to win all their games.

Getting back to Evy, he heard the siren song of mis-matched college football contests, and joined up with the Iowa Pre-Flight boys. He certainly had good coaches to learn from, too. Besides Bierman, the Seahawks also enlisted the services of Don Faurot (Faurot Field, Mizzou), Bud Wilkinson (OU legend coach), and Jim Tatum (legend Maryland coach). Think he learned something from guys like that?

Apparently enough to learn how to do it himself. After a stint at Washington State, Evy was recommend by former Michigan coach Crisler to Iowa AD Brechler, albeit with the following caveat: "He's a tough, stubborn Polack!" Brechler, a fine AD (look up at Iowa's press box, please), knew how to read a coaching contract but didn't know how to read between the lines of a man's character, apparently, the denouement of which will come later. But for now, Evy was hired and he went to work.

First thing he did, was tell Brechler that he should turn his head the other way and not pay too much attention to his methods. Again, I'm sure Brechler was a great guy and all, but maybe he might have thought something was a little...off...about his new coach. So while Brechler's head was turned, Evy transformed the Iowa football program into a single-facemask version of Thug U. (5) In a game against Minnesota, Evy and his players enraged Gopher fans so much that fans actually charged the sideline and attempted to fight him! The coach! In a game against Illinois, things got so rough that a total of ten players ended up in the hospital, and Iowa fans got into fights with Illini players.

If you see a pattern here, congrats, you have already achieved a minimal IQ score of 60. Evy knew Iowa had no self-esteem or confidence, and to him, the best way to instill a "fighting spirit" was to literally pick fights with any and everyone. And, for crying out loud, it worked!

Still, it wasn't all Evy and his massive ego coaching skills that made Iowa a force again. He took recruiting to a new level and, using chloroform and an un-marked van his powers of persuasion, brought top talent to Iowa City. There was great Iowa talent to be had at the time, like Randy Duncan or end Don Norton. There were guys from gridiron hot-beds such as Ohio, like Cavin Jones. And then there was this big tough Greek from Gary, Indiana, who Evy approached.

His name was Alex Karras, and he and Evy fucking hated each other fucking hated each other (guess I meant to say that all along). (6) Karras was the best defensive lineman in the nation by a mile, but he quit the team, or was kicked off it, all the time in spats with Evy. I mean multiple times every season. He went back to Gary in a huff--Evy had to talk back to IC. He stormed out of practices, Evy'd have to talk him back again. He'd show up late, Evy would shit-can him. Multiplying a stubborn Polack by a tough Greek equals infinity problems +1.

Somehow, through all of the chaos--including beloved lineman Cal Jones' tragic death in a plane crash in Canada--and through all of the Karras-drama, Iowa won. A lot. With Big Ten MVP Kenny Ploen as QB, Iowa went 9-1 in 1956, including lopsided victories to close the season against Notre Dame, and in the Rose Bowl against Oregon St. But the biggest game of all, probably bigger than the Rose Bowl, was Iowa's win over Ohio State that year, the only score a dramatic 17-yard TD pass from Ploen to end Jim Gibbons. Yes, the Hawks had arrived.

And they continued to dominate as never before (dating back to my man Howard Jones, I mean). In 1957 the squad went 7-1-1 with Randy Duncan at the helm on offense. In 1958, with Duncan back and Karras dominating on defense (he not only won the Outland Trophy, but finished second in the Heisman voting), the team finished #2 in the nation with an 8-1-1 record, with a crushing of Cal in the Rose Bowl. Iowa half-back Bob Jeter set a rushing record of 194 yards in that game (on only nine carries), a mark that stood for decades.

In 1959, despite a defection to the Canadian Football League by upperclassman QB Mitch Ogiego, the Hawks reloaded with Olen Treadway at the controls and...kind of fell flat, with a 5-4 mark, but Treadway worked out just fine and potential was seen for 1960. Everything's going all so great, right? (7)

Wrong. Evy was EVY, remember? Never at a loss for self-esteem, he thought he and he alone was responsible for Iowa's new-found success. He was top-dog and he wasn't going to listen to some stupid idiot named Paul Brechler, that's for sure! So Brechler looked around, saw a successful program with a stubborn (there's that word again!) coach with a huge dick ego, and he bolted for the Skyline Conference. The fact that 6,000 anti-Brechler petition-signing alumni and the I-Club were on Evy's side probably had something to do with it, too. (8)

With the old AD gone, Evy could now rule the roost as top penis cock. In 1960, Iowa shot to an 8-1 record and the future looked Rosy (but not that year for the Hawks, for Minnesota went to the Rose Bowl and won the NC--just ask anyone in the Mini Apple, they'll tell you exactly how many that made!), but Iowa had it all laid out nice and pretty for the future.

And then Evy decided, at age 48, that he didn't want to coach any more. Or maybe he wanted to coach and be AD! Or maybe he just wanted to be AD. Or maybe he just wanted to ride unicorns and fart rainbows, because in reality he wasn't about to get what he wanted. After more arguing, Evy decided that the way he could most fuck up the athletic department contribute to Iowa athletics was to become AD and try and guide the football program from above.

Or below, depending on whether you are Ray Nagle or not (more on him later). The guy who followed Evy was Jerry Burns, of future Minnesota Viking fame almost-success. Burns had been a very good coordinator under Evy, but as a coach--not so much. The first season started magnificently, though: we were ranked #1 and ran off four straight victories to start the season, including a win at USC in the Coliseum. Hooray for Burnsie!

We then proceeded to lose four in a row. Get the pitchforks and torches, boys, we're gonna' run the bum the fuck outta' town!

We closed the year with a win against Notre Dame, to end up at 5-4. This would be Jerry Burns' most successful year as head coach, which is not a good sign when you're used to going 8-1-1. The next nineteen three seasons under Burns were all non-winning, even despite some talented players (receivers Paul Krause and Karl Noonon most prominent among them--yes, Krause was known at Iowa mainly as a receiver), and even despite PLAYBOY naming us a pre-season #1 in 1965.

In fact, that 1965 season turned out to be really something. Not only were we NOT the #1 team in the nation, we proceeded to go 1-9. One and nine: one measly win and nine big fat fucking losses. I don't know for sure what the atmosphere was like at PLAYBOY at the time, but I'm guessing that between taking pictures of naked ladies, and going to Hef's place to party, and eating shrimp cocktails at the Playboy Club, and jerking-off in the photo lab when no one was looking, there wasn't much time for detailed college football research. (9)

You can imagine what garden implements the villagers were grabbing after a pre-season Naked Lady Magazine #1 team went 1-9, but Burns somehow escaped Iowa City with his life, and a guy named Ray Nagel was hired from Utah. His first two years were not any more successful than Burns', especially on the defensive side of the ball: those teams gave up an average of 25 points a contest, and you won't win too many games giving up 25 if you have an offense that can't score 26 (only once, in fact, did they break that barrier).

But Nagel could develop and run an offense, and by 1968 he had the Hawks ready for a big year on that side of the ball. They had talent galore on that unit, with players like QB/RB Ed Podolak and QB Larry Lawrence in the backfield, and receivers Crees, Bream, Manning, and Reardon catching the passes. (10) And they did not disappoint. This was the season where Podolak drank ran for 286 yards against Northwestern to set the (at the time) Iowa single-game rushing record. They scored 68 against the 'Cats that day (and who were pretty good back then, too), they broke a decades-long losing streak against the Illini, and they shut out Wisky 41-0. Podolak was All-Big Ten, and the team seemed on the rise. The Hawks went 5-5, but had been only 17 points away from being 8-2. (11)

People looking forward to 1969 wondered if the Hawks might not contend for the Big Ten title (remember, these were the days when a "lesser" team like Indiana might have a big season, or even get to the Rose Bowl). It was all there for the taking! Iowa fans could SMELL them! The scent of Roses wafting east from Pasadena. Yes, nineteen sixty-nine would be the year. And maybe 1970 could be even better!

Yep, 1969 and 1970 would be memorable years, M-E-M-O-R-A-B-L-E! But unless you predicted a player boycott, the suspension of over a dozen Hawkeyes, the punishment of the program for recruiting violations, a very public feud between coach and AD, athletic department "sabotage" from within, and even the death of the coach, you're no better than Miss Cleo at the prediction game.

As for Evy's "Revenge", that will also be explained....next post.

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(1) Technically, this was on Bump Elliott's AD watch in 1973, but was set into motion by the end of Evy's tenure.

(2) Pros playing for the Seahawks included George Svenson (Packers), Bobby Swisher (Packers), Dick Todd (Redskins), and Frank Mazincki (Bears). The '43 squad had at least FOUR pro players plus a bunch of famous All Americans from other colleges who returned for flight training. The '43 team faced, and beat, Otto Graham's Northwestern team fairly convincingly. Then again, I think they should have, with that roster!

(3) The Gophers haven't won a National Championship since the early 60's, but from talking with their fans you'd think they'd won it seven of the last ten years. Couple that with their insistent and ludicrous anti-Iowa chants--even during games against non-Big Ten opponents--and you have an utterly ridiculous fan-base. If you disagree, you are reading the wrong blog, that's for sure. "Who hates Iowa? WE HATE IOWA!"

Ridiculous.

(4) In any football blog post, lines from the film PATTON should always be the most-quoted. And if you don't think so, you might want to consider spending the rest of the season "shoveling shit in Louisiana."

(5) I am guessing some old-timers would take exception to this characterization, but I think the evidence speaks for itself: when your team is so rough and your coach so abrasive that fights occur TWICE between fans and players and coaches, something is up. Never forget: Evy was an ex-military man. I'm sure he quoted Patton a lot, too (the man, not the film). Actually, Evy and Patton had a lot in common, I think.

(6) Karras has had a very strange career. First he was a college football player of real repute, during which time he was nothing but trouble. Then he goes to the NFL, has a long career for the Lions, but is caught punching horses gambling on football and is suspended for a season, in my opinion costing him a spot in the NFL Hall of Fame. He makes a memorable appearance in Plimpton's PAPER LION book, "punches" a horse in BLAZING SADDLES, and then stars on "Webster" on TV with a preternaturally small, cute black child.

Does this sound as weird to you as it does to me? Add to that his memorable portrayal as a red-neck Florida sheriff in PORKY'S, and you have one very strange set of career choices. By the way, PORKY'S is as awesome as you remember. I bet people around the world still try and page Michael Hunt from the parking lot.

(7) I don't know if it's the cold, or the flannel, or the subtle absurdity of the comedy, but it seems like a lot of very good ex-Iowa players ended up in Canada back in the 50's. Kenny Ploen played in the CFL for 11 years. Cal Jones played in Canada until his plane crash. Randy Duncan, the NFL's #1 pick in 1959, went to Canada because "they offered more dough" than the Packers.

There were some good players and teams in the CFL (people forget that Joe Theismann starred there before he went to the 'Skins in the late 70's). But in the '50's, American players who were tired of college football sometimes went to Canada even if they had college eligibility remaining. Myself, I would go to Canada for the money. Their bills are much more attractive than ours.

(8) You have a choice: get rid of a football genius, or get rid of the man who hired a football genius. Yeah, I thought so! Of note, the Skyline Conference was NOT a consortium of airport diners, though it sure as hell sounds like it. It is what the WAC was before it was the WAC. I am certain Brechler was happier out west, away from Evy and his 6,000 angry petition-signing minions.

(9) I don't care if you did work at PLAYBOY in the sixties and deny it, there's no way people weren't jerking-off in the photo lab when no one was looking. I bet they went through a thousand Kleenex's a day at that place.

(10) Also in that backfield was a certain fleet-footed, well-muscled runner named "Denny" Green. He still is who we thought he was! Thank God he hasn't changed a bit over the years.

(11) Includes a six-point loss to one of the greatest college teams ever, the 1968 OSU Buckeyes, National Champs that year. The 1968 Hawks could play ball, no doubt. They were just a defense away from being a Top Ten team. Then again, many teams are a defense away from being championship-caliber.

Unless otherwise expressly indicated by BHGP editors, this FanPost is strictly the viewpoint of the author and is not endorsed by BHGP in any way.

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