A History of Iowa FB: Part Two, Electric Boogaloo 1900-1918

Since you asked for it, here is your punishment reward: Part Two of my Dubious and Incompetent History of Iowa Football. Here's my summary of Part One: Iowa sucked.

From its early couple of years almost until the turn of the century, they lost to such powers as Doane (DOANE!), Grinnell, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons. However, they did manage to squeak past the Des Moines YMCA, with the help of a pool-borne Cryptosporidium infection that crippled the Medicine Ball Boys.

After those first few years of uncertainty, though, things came together in the Midwest in general in regard to the sport, which was, at the time, the domain of the Upper East Side of the USA (look at All-American lists from the early days: years and years of Yale, Princeton, Penn, and Harvard. It's as if those people in NYC don't hardly know the Midwest even EXISTS ! By the way, that last statement remains true as of right now.)

Then, in 1896, something wonderful happened!

In 1896, a bunch of athletics-minded folks met to form an athletic consortium. Those invited to consider forming this new group--a "conference" if you will--included reps from Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin--sound familiar?--as well as Purdue and jNorthwestern and Michigan and Lake Forest College. They decided.....

Wait....LAKE FOREST COLLEGE? As events played out incredible dumb freaking luck had it, they didn't attend the meeting, and before you could say "tick-tock the game is locked, nobody else can play" they were out. Thus the Western Conference/Big Ten was formed. Nevertheless, I've always wondered what would've happened if Lake Forest College had been a charter member: "You're looking LIVE at Lake Forest Stadium in lakeside Chicago, where the Ohio State Buckeyes will soon meet the..."

Nope, can't see it.

Meanwhile, Iowa had suddenly gotten GOOD in football. The late '90s and early '00s were the Glory Years. Gone were losses against Doane (DOANE! 'Effing DOANE, man!!), replaced by wins against ISU, Nebraska, Michigan, and Chicago (which was coached by the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg). Of course, we also beat the usual suspects in Knox, Rush (of "Tom Sawyer" fame), Coe, Simpson, and Our Lady of Perpetual MAC Martyrs, 1900-version. Nevertheless, the Hawks soon had a 20-game streak without a loss against all-comers.

Even better, we played in the first Rose Bowl! didn't know that? Actually, we were perhaps SUPPOSED to play in what sounds a lot like the first Rose Bowl in 1901, a New Year's Day game in Los Angeles against Cal, but at the last minute the Cal coach backed out because his "team cannot get ready."

Right. This is in an era where some teams played THIRTEEN goddamn games all over the place against anyone with eleven reasonably healthy men with pulses who didn't really even have to be documented eligible students in all likelihood, so backing out of a game at the end of the season because "We cannot get ready" sounds pretty reasonable to me. Perfectly reasonable.  So, the next year Michigan plays in the actual first NYD bowl game in LA and wins it and the rest is Wolverine Rose Bowl history, and not Hawkeye Rose Bowl history.

All I got to say about that is 38-28 bitches! 38-28! How do THEM first Rose Bowl laurels feel?!

Anyhoo, we had some good players back then, including the first player west of the Missississippissippi to be named All-American, Clyde Williams. During his time, Iowa outscored the opposition 532-23, which is kind of what is happening to ISU these days, except the exact opposite.

But Coach Knipe's luck was about to run out. Iowa joined the Western Conference in 1900, and suddenly the competition got a little tougher. Though they had a fine 1900 season, there was a bit of a stumble against Michigan in 1901 when they found themselves on the wrong end of a 107-0 scorecard. Yes, you read that right: 107-0. The worst defeat in Iowa history. In 1902, they had a loss against the Illini that they somehow managed to keep down to only 80-0, I'm guessing by running a lot of clock and getting up real slow after being tackled and injured and deserting and going home and weeping.

Do the math, and it's clear that Knipe was history. John Chalmers took over in 1903 (sidenote: unless I'm wrong, I believe Chalmers settled in Dubuque and built the famous "Octagon House" there. The U of Dubuque's field is Chalmers Field, and there are still Chalmers in town. Can't be a coincidence) But Iowa still struggled in the Western Conference, where Michigan was king (38-28!).

Here's a gift to the vanquished, my Sidenote of Consolation for Wolverine fans: Michigan in the early 00s was unstoppable. Not figuratively, I mean literally. From 1901-1904, led by Willie Heston, the fastest man of his day on a football field, Michigan didn't lose a game, and tied only once (Minnesota, 1903). They outscored opponents--and yes, this is a real stat--by 2,326 to 40. Average score was approximately 53-1, which isn't possible but it's an average, remember (actually, it was LESS than one point per game that they gave up). I'd presume they took their starters out in the 4th quarter, except I don't think you could sub back then. And since no one forward passed, I'm guessing they weren't throwing it deep late into the game.

So, actually, how DID a team take it off the gas pedal back then? Did the backfield take a nap, or start a card game in the end zone? Did the line perform popular tunes like "How Could You Believe Me When I Told You That I Loved You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life" during the run of play? One hint as to the problem is that, in 1906, games were SHORTENED to only 60 minutes! Cripes, how long were they before? As long as "Ben Hur"? As long as this post? Criminy, that's FOREVER!

By the way, the Forward Pass was legalized in 1906, thus creating the original "Run and Shoot" with the incredibly daring "one wide" formation and a "gunslinger" who chucked the ball a full ten yards down the field two or three times a game. MADNESS! What is this, a three-ring circus or a football contest? Twenty-three skiddoo, push-em back, push-em back, harder, harder!

Further, players only had three years of eligibility, otherwise known as the "Bluto Blutarski" rule. Also, the field was shortened from a Canadian-esque 110 yards to a USA! USA!-length 100 yards. We win! Fuck you, Canada!

Iowa got marginally better when a coach from the sacred Ivy League took a wrong turn and found himself in ol' IC (that would be Jess Hawley, who rightly is not well remembered), but then something we now call The Great War occurred, and our first actual serious moment. Iowa had an All-American named Fred Becker, and in those years when you REALLY had to be good to be an AA from West of the Mississippi, that was impressive. Even more so, the kid was only a sophomore--noting that frosh didn't play varsity back then. He had the whole world in front of him, not to mention his whole life.

Then, the horror that was World War One. Soldier Becker went to Europe and got killed a mere three months before the Armistice. Here's my question: have any of you heard of this guy? I hadn't. Everyone knows Nile Kinnick, who has the stadium named after him and dozens of babies named Nile after him every year, yet why don't we honor Fred Becker? Something has to be named after this kid, who was one of the greatest Iowa players in history, albeit for only one year, only to die on the killing fields of France in service to his country. Guy at least deserves a plaque in the concourse near the bas-relief sculpture. Just sayin.

Odd things happened back in those days. For one, we played a game against Coe with ZERO spectators due to the great 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic. If you want to know how serious the authorities were in keeping fans away, here's the evidence, courtesy of an ICPC story from the time:

"The War Department decided no spectators would be allowed....which will thus be resolved into a 'secret' practice with locked gates and armed guards to keep intruders away." And as if that wasn't threatening enough, here's the clincher, separating those who merely love Iowa football from those who "live and die" for Iowa football:

"If anyone watches the game from the Iowa River bridges or from the over-towering westside hills, they may not escape a bayoneting by the soldiers."

There's so much nuttiness in there, I'm not sure I can even decipher it all. Were they telling Iowa fans that merely WATCHING a football game might transmit influenza? I know that touching yourself will make you blind sure as shit, but I hadn't heard of the visual transmission of influenza before. And for the unspeakable crime of committing that sinful offense, you might get BAYONETED? Are you SERIOUS? (asked John MacEnroe). Hell, just shoot my influenza-spreading ass, don't stick a two foot long bayonet through my abdomen. Did they know that they didn't have antibiotics back then? If you got gut-stuck you died a slow painful death, a death a helluva lot worse than dying from influenza. I'd rather drown or fall off a cliff than get WWI-era gut-stuck with a bayonet.

Here's my final question: why didn't they just call it OFF? Coe is all of twenty miles away, for crying out loud! What they're saying is: We can either postpone this game, or threaten our citizens with bayoneting if they even try and peek at it from a bridge. Who makes a decision like that? Can you imagine the minutes of that meeting?

AD Bureaucrat: "Let's address this influenza thing. We've got the Coe game coming up."

Regent Reasonable: "Well, we could call it off. It's still early in the season."

Regent Dumbass: "And be called sissies? Have them Coe bastards call us yellow?! The shame of it all!"

Regent WarHawk: "Well, we could play...(whispering)....a SECRET game....with armed guards...behind lock and key."

AD Bureaucrat: "But it has to be SECRET secret. We'll put a big notice in the local paper, sayin' we're playing the game but that it's a SECRET game, and no one can watch."

Regent Dumbass: "And if anyone tries to even peek even a little. From a bridge, say...."

AD Bureaucrat: "Don't forget them over-towering westside hills!"

Regent Dumbass: "Or them hills! Why, if so, then we'll have some of the Army's finest just stick a bayonet in 'em!"

Regent Reasonable (meekly): "Maybe we could call it off, play it in November?"

AD Bureaucrat "No dice, you yellow bastard! Measure passes, three to one! Jonny, pass out them bayonets and get me a couple of hay-bails, I need to practice!"

Why it was only the one game, I can't say. We won 26-0, but I bet some people got the flu anyway, and it wasn't from peeking at the game from a bridge. If I ever get an STD, you can damn well be sure I'm saying I got it from peeking from a bridge, since that apparently transmits disease.

Moving on to even more contentious matters, we didn't get along with ISU very well at the time (shock horror!) In the 1907 contest, a homicidal Cyclone plowed over Hawkeye Chick Kirk, who was trying to fair-catch a punt at the time. Kirk, injured, left the field on a stretcher. I'm guessing that's a penalty, but with the odd-ball rules in play at that time, maybe we got points for the plow and double-points for the stretcher. I dunno.

Later, Iowa coach Caitlin claimed he'd been told before the game that ISU was gonna put Kirk "out of the game early." To add insult to injury (literally), it was discovered ISU had used an ineligible player. Unbelievably, this game remains an Iowa loss in the record book despite that. Hey, someone tell USC that they're the 2004 National Champs again! Well, before you could say "Cyclones Suck Eggs!" (that's how they said things like that back then), things went from bad to worse, and in 1935 we decided to no longer play those low-down side-winding cracker-croakers again (well, KIND of....wait for 1977)

Back to the grind. It's 1915 and Iowa is on the way back down again. The halcyon days of 95-0 wins over what became UNI seemed a distant memory when stacked up against losses against Minnesota and Nebraska, who rang up 50+ against our boys. We could beat the Coes and the Cornells and the Morningsides, but when you're in the Western Conference, you need to beat the big boys: Minnesota, Chicago, Purdue, and Michigan, which had just rejoined after having left for no obvious reason to me, noting that I didn't really look for one.

And to do that, to be a big Hawk in a big pond sky, we hired a man named Howard Jones. Since this post has gone on longer than that Michigan 107-0 game, I'll save him for next time, in a post covering Jones to Kinnick.

Twenty-three skiddoo! Hit em on the left! Hit em on the right! Stand up sit down FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT! Go Hawkeyes!

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