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Throw Back Thursday: Revisiting Hawkeye Football History With The Director, 1889-1900

It’s been nearly a decade since The Director graced us with a history lesson on Hawkeye Football. Now it’s time to re-educate ourselves.

Old Iowa State Capitol (Iowa City, Iowa)
The Old Capitol is one of the few buildings still on campus from Hawkeye Football’s earliest days.

It’s been nearly a decade since BHGP commenter The Director took to the FanPost to educate us all on some Hawkeye history - the good, the bad and the ugly. Over the next few weeks as we prepare for football season, we’ll be revisiting these history lessons as they truly are great reading.

The following was originally posted on October 13th, 2010. You can read the original here: A Biased and Imprecise History of Iowa Football: 1889-1900.

As one of the senior members of the BHGP community--and by senior I mean old, not important, intelligent, insightful, or anything but just plain old--I often find myself referring to “The Good Old Days” before iPods, cell-phones, and the combustion engine. (1) The days before KF, the days of Knothole Seats, the days of kids selling pop in the stands, and hippies smoking grass in the hilly corners. In that spirit of senile decrepitude that afflicts many of my era, I thought I’d embark on a history of Iowa Football from the beginning (1889), to the present (now), using my own memories and a few books I have plus some shit I’ll prolly just wing and make up.

Today, it’s the beginning: 1889-1900.

The State University of Iowa was organized Feb 25, 1847, and it only took 42 years before they began kicking a pigskin around. And when they did, they did it with hubris and style: on Oct 6, 1889, the team placed a notice in a campus newspaper, rather arrogantly stating, “The state university football team hereby challenges any college or other team in the state of Iowa to a game of football.”

I guess this passed for scheduling in those days. Anyway, only tiny Grinnell College took up the dare, and our beloved gridders traveled to their house for the big match. Naturally, the “state university football team” got their asses handed to them in a major league fuck-kicking, 24-0.

Not surprisingly, this was the only game they played all season. Yes, in their first season of existence, the State University of Iowa’s football team played ONE FUCKING GAME, which they lost, badly, to a bunch of egg-heads who almost got into Harvard but didn’t, and who got stuck in Grinnell, Iowa instead. (2)

Portrait of the 1896 Hawkeye football team, featuring Frank Kinney Holbrook (first row, far right), the university’s first African-American football player. Image from the 1898 Hawkeye yearbook, courtesy of University Archives, Department of Special Collections, UI Libraries.
Image via

Undaunted, the Hawkeyes practiced-up, and in 1890 issued a re-match, a grudge-match, an almost-1900-style cage-match, a winner-take-all we-fuck-you-up-match challenge right back at those Grinnell bastards. Challenge accepted. GAME ON.

Without delay, they proceeded to lose again, 14-6. Their confidence bolstered by the fact that they had just scored ALMOST 50% of the points as their opponent, the SUI team played Iowa Wesleyan in a second game that year, doubling the length of their season in one swell foop. They performed only slightly more competently, squeaking past the Wesleyan’s 91-0. (3)

Which begs asking: what the HELL did they change from week one to week two? At what point in the Wesleyan game do you think they realized that maybe they were going to win one? And how BAD must Iowa Wesleyan have been? Did they even field 11 players? Had they seen a football before? Did they know you could carry it around, or did they only try to kick it? Were there girls in petticoats in their backfield, shrieking at every ball that came their way? Did they field semi-trained domestic animals? What the hell.

Anyway, Iowa followed that up with a win against Minnesota (the original LOLGophers) before falling YET AGAIN against the Midwest juggernaut that apparently was Grinnell back then, 6-4. I think this explains, in part, why we no longer play Grinnell, after all those early ass-kickings: they had our number. They were our justNorthwestern, before there was a justNorthwestern.

In fact, of the team’s first six games EVER, three of them were losses to Grinnell. Even more frightening, for those who complain how easy Boise State has it, Iowa also played--and lost to, by the way--Doane (a 10-0 loss, to DOANE??*), my alma mater Luther (SUI won, 32-0 over the Norse at a time when Luther students took Latin and operated a farm) (4), the Denver Athletic Club, the Des Moines YMCA (!), a college of “Physicians and Surgeons”, Wilton, Rush (the college, not the Canadian songwriters of such classics as “By-Tor and the Snow-Dog” and “Xanadu”), (5) and Parsons College (RIP).

Thank goodness, for the sake of historical chest-thumping, that we beat the Des Moines YMCA (or God-help-you trying to work out there in TigerHawk gear), but if you start to diss anyone from “Physicians and Surgeons” you’d better shut your damn mouth and quietly walk away: they dissected us with surgical skill the only time we played, 14-0 in 1897.

Not to mention Doane*.....DOANE!!


(1) I am in my forties. I do not request the Senior Citizens rate at Bishop’s Buffet, and I do not take any prescription medications. Also, I do not have to pop any pills “when the mood is right.” As for that last statement, I do not even know myself if I am bragging or merely stating a fact.

(2) I’ve been to Grinnell a time or two, and Boston is better. How Grinnell became the “Harvard of the Midwest” is about as obvious as the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa, or the popularity of the “Dave Matthews Band.”

(3) I don’t even know how one scores 91 points, since it’s a prime number. Fifteen TD’s and ONE extra-point? Ten TD’s, five safeties, and seven field goals? The possibilities boggle the mind.

(4) By the time I went to Luther, the farm was no longer in operation. Still had to take Latin though: Sic semper tyrannis! E pluribus unum! Caveat emptor! See, some things you never forget.

(5) Rush is a polarizing band that some love and many hate. Still, the recent documentary about them is quite good, more entertaining than it has any right to be. One surprising tid-bit from it: Alex Lifeson is hilarious. Another utterly unsurprising tid-bit from it: Neal Peart is not.

Next up, if anyone shows any interest in more, the early 20th Century: success, failure, the unstoppable power that was Michigan, and the “other” Howard Jones--the one who could coach.

*Editor’s note: I checked and not only was this a real school, it apparently still exists. In Nebraska. Ewwww.