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Iowa Football Used To Have A Live Bear On The Sidelines. Seriously.

While digging into the archives on ye olde interwebs for a forthcoming post, I came upon this gem:

Iowa rooters enjoyed a new diversion at football games in the shape of a four-month-old bear cub named Burch. Taken from the Idaho hills and housed under the newly erected cement bleachers at Iowa Field, Burch took his place near the Iowa bench during all home games in 1908 and 1909. Known as "one of the boys," the bear would occasionally dance for the crowd.

He also traveled with the team, as this story from the November 1908 edition of The Iowa Alumnus indicates: "Iowa’s cub bear, ‘Burch,’ is a feature of every trip the football team takes. While on the way to Missouri, one of the players was exercising the mascot on a depot platform when a passer-by poked the animal in the back with a stick. ‘Burch’ whirled and wrapped his paws around the man’s legs. The fellow thought his time had come and called for help so loudly that the city marshal rushed to the scene and threatened to arrest the entire team unless the mascot was muzzled. The boys, however, finally persuaded the officer that such a course was unnecessary."

Cared for by Jimmie Barry, the much-loved guardian of Iowa Field, Burch met an untimely death by drowning in the Iowa River in March 1910.

That's right: a real live bear. On the sidelines. Who danced. And attacked jerks who poked him with a stick (which seems justified, frankly). Of course, this story raises even more questions: why bring a bear from Idaho? How did he drown in the Iowa River? Was this "Jimmie Barry" secretly an Iowa State fan? Oh, and: WHY HAVE A BEAR IN THE FIRST PLACE WHEN YOU ARE THE IOWA HAWKEYES? I mean, other than the fact that bears are awesome.

Although Burch wasn't much of a good luck charm: Iowa went 4-9-1 during those two years.

Oh, and speaking of that aforementioned Missouri game?

Iowa met Missouri at Columbia and, according to a report in the Hawkeye, "beneath a broiling sun one of the greatest battles in the history of football was fought. The game was decided by a ‘fluke’ touchdown, but Iowa was clearly superior. Kirk [the quarterback] managed to stay in the game for the first half although he had an iron brace upon his knee and could hardly use his leg."

With a record of 2-5-0 at the end of the season, the Hawkeye noted that "the loss of the games are due to the injuries." (emphasis mine)

Newspaper writing -- and football -- used to be so much more awesome.