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Throwback Thursday: Revisiting Hawkeye Football History With a The Director, 1918-1939

Iowa’s first black athlete, a scandal nearly costing the Hawkeyes their conference membership and the greatest coach of all time? What a time!

Old State Capitol of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
Iowa’s history is long and great. And it’s certainly entertaining.
Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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 21st, 2010. You can read the original here: An Iowa Football “History”: Part III--in 2D! 1918-1939

All parts of this series can be found here:

Part One | Part Two

The Great War has ended, and Our Boys are coming home. The Spanish Influenza epidemic, which killed more persons around the globe than the actual war, has petered out. To the relief of the nation, people are allowed to watch collegiate football games from bridges again without threat of bayoneting. Normalcy becomes the norm.

The Roaring Twenties roar in, and American life turns into One Big Bootlegging and Charleston Party. Prohibition becomes a one word punch-line, as gin is brewed in bath-tubs, people get brewed in speakeasy’s, and Chicago gangsters get brewed in alleys and deserted warehouses. But as the Great War became a memory, one event should tower above all others for us Hawkeye faithful:

In 1919, the fight song ON IOWA! is written by SUI graduate Robert Law.

In the world of fight songs, ON IOWA! is the proverbial one-legged tap-dancer. Even at Iowa, it plays second fiddle to Meredith Willson’s effort, the words to which everyone knows (or KINDA’ knows--do you have people around you singing “We’re gonna fight fight fight for Iowa”? Do you want to throw them over the rail, too?) But ON IOWA!, as a TUNE, as a college football ROUSER, is simply second to none.

Right here and right now, I am nominating ON IOWA! as one of the top five fight songs ever written. It’s right up there with the MINNESOTA ROUSER, HAIL TO THE VICTORS, and the ND and USC fight songs, all of which have their bone fides. There are indeed words to ON IOWA!, but no one I’ve EVER met knows them by heart and I’m too lazy to look them up right now, but it starts “On Iowa proudly at the fore...On Iowa on forever more....” After that I’m completely fucked, can’t remember a single line.

I can say this, though: it’s damn hard to sing. After about a line or two, the words start coming fast and furious, something like:

”Every loyal Iowan raises his hand in salute to you,”

”Every loyal alumnus regards his good old university with the fondest of memories and friends who always, assuming no one sleeps with another one’s best girl, will stay truuue.....”

Yeah, you have to REALLY get those gums a-flappin’ to fit it all in. But the tune is a wonderful old song, so when they play it Saturday--which they always do, it’s the tune the band plays as they march down the field, the one right BEFORE they play the Willson tune--think of Robert Law. And try and sing along, if you can find the lyrics and the lung capacity. A little cocaine beforehand wouldn’t hurt either. (1)

On another note (get it?), the regular Iowa Fight Song is a Top Ten fight song: as good as the Wisconsin Fight Song, and a helluva’ lot better tune than the Georgia Tech Rambler or whatever the sweat they call their song. There’s is the exact opposite of ON IOWA--great lyrics, but a tune like a long fart.

So now it’s 1920 and Iowa has a rocking fight song. Now all they need is a team. And boy, did they get one!

Anyone live in Slater dorm? I’ve been in and around IC longer than many if not most of you have been alive, and it was only about five years ago that I realized Slater dorm is named after Fred “Duke” Slater. I can’t tell if I’m merely inattentive or really, really dense.(2)

Anyone heard of Howard Jones? Not the one with the electrified hair who sang NO ONE IS TO BLAME back in the 80’s. (3) I’m talking the football All-American from Yale, who won three NC’s as a player (1905-1907), one as a coach at Yale shortly following, who then came to Iowa to take the reins in 1916. If you haven’t, then you haven’t heard of....wait for it.....the GREATEST COACH IN IOWA FOOTBALL HISTORY.

Editor’s Note: Want to learn more about Jones? Check out the profile from PSD did back in 2012.

You read that a-right, son. Better than Fry. Better than Evy. Better than Ferentz. Better than FXL (okay, so they were ALL better than Francis X “Frank” Lauterbur, who went 0-11 in 1973. But you can’t know Iowa FB unless you know guys like FXL, too). And before you burn down this post in protest of my opinion above, listen for a moment:

Jones’ first two seasons were pedestrian, hovering around the .500 mark. But the teams showed promise, and with Ho-Jo’s pedigree, and a 6-2-1 season in 1918, fans were poised for a breakout. Which they got. And the players on those next few teams became legend.

First of all, the aforementioned Mr Duke Slater was huge for his day. A real force on the line. He weighed--and yes, the scales were accurate, so this is NOT a made-up number--two hundred and ten pounds! In a word, he was gargantuan. Honestly, I don’t know how his knees held out holding all of that up. Imagine, a 210 pound player in full pads (padded jersey, pillow on shoulders, rolled up towels in thigh pockets, plus 24 ounce leather helmet!) running up and down the field in 60 degree weather for 60 minutes. Superhuman. No wonder he’s in the college Hall of Fame. Of his star lineman, Jones said:

”Slater is a man who weighs 210 pounds (note: even Jones can hardly believe it!), has an exceptional offensive charge and is a 1st class defensive player. I have never seen a man as Slater.” It may be superfluous to add this, but Slater was Canadian, which everyone knows by itself adds 20% to a man’s strength. Imagine if he’d been an Inuit!

In truth, Slater was one of the greatest linemen of the 20’s, and every Iowa fan should know his name. With Slater on that squad are two other persons you may have heard of: Aubrey Devine and Gordon Locke. Say what you will about the quality of the balling in those days, but the players had TERRIFIC names for footballers: Duke Slater. Aubrey Devine. Gordon Locke. Fred Lohman. Lester Belding. Not to mention Rock Harder and Chest Rockwell. (4)

Bolstered by the greatness of their names, those Iowa players dominated in the early 20’s, and by dominated I don’t mean whips and chains and “Yes Mistress I Would Like Another Spanking Not There Try Here Oh Yes I Have Been Very Very Bad Thank You,” I mean dominated as in THEY WON 20 FUCKING GAMES IN A ROW. (5) Not only that, but they were undefeated in the Western Conference two years straight, undefeated overall two years straight in fact, including a win that broke powerful Notre Dame’s 20 game win streak in 1921, when they beat Knute Rockne’s Irish 10-7.

Euphoric over the team’s unprecedented success under Coach Jones, the powers-that-be decided to turn down a proffered Rose Bowl bid, so the Rose Bowl chose Washington & Jefferson instead.

Read that again, please, just to make sure I have it correct. Did I really write that coming off a two-season win streak and a historic victory over Notre Dame, that we REFUSED to go to the Rose Bowl?

Look, I know that the BCS is one giant cluster-shit, and that rankings are subjective, and bowl bids are done down and dirty, and are all about the Benjamins (which I like to pronounce “Ben-ya-meens”, by the way), but why on earth did the U of I administration decline a Rose Bowl bid? And how did the Rose Bowl take it, knowing their second choice was a school named after not just one, but TWO dead colonial-era presidents? There’s only one rational reason: the Iowa Regents must’ve heard that someone in Pasdadena had the flu (see prior post for details, noting that it’s BYOB--bring your own bayonet.)

Editor’s Note: The BCS is dead and rankings a still a complete shit show. Death. Taxes. And blue bloods being overrated.

So, left behind in Iowa, the administration makes up for this inexplicable self-flagellating snub-of-self by expanding the stadium from a whopping 9,000 seats (almost as many as are filled in Carver-Hawkeye these days!) to a mind-blowing 22,000 (almost as many as attend games in Jack Trice these days!) How they were going to double the stadium size overnight proved problematic enough that they came up with a solution they called: Build Another Stadium Someplace Else.

Let’s go back to Howard Jones. Did I happen to mention, in addition to being Iowa greatest FB coach ever, that he also coached the baseball team? Well he did. He also coached against--and beat--his brother’s talented Yale football squad in 1922, the first game Iowa ever played on the East Coast, and perhaps the first contest coached brother against brother (sorry Harbaughs, just in case you were hoping that someday, somehow...). Jones was on top of the athletic and coaching world--there was no way for him to know that his downfall would be because of lowly P.E.

Yes, P.E. stood for Physical Education back then, too, so try and get your head wrapped around this: You have this incredible football coach, with two undefeated seasons under his belt, with legendary victories over powers ND and Yale, and by the way this same coach also coaches the baseball team, too. Obviously, this coach doesn’t know his ass from Shinola. Obviously this is when you want to start monkeying around during the circumcision, and singing bawdy rugby songs in front of nuns.

Your brilliant idea? Tell this coach that the Athletic Dept, the ENTIRE Athletic Dept, is now going to be under the auspices of the University of Iowa Physical Education Dept. In other words, there’ll be swimming, rope-climbing, tossing a medicine ball around, playing for a championship Western Conference football team, jumping over a pommel horse, dodge-ball, calisthenics, playing for a Western Conference baseball team, plus square-dancing and throwing a ball through a peach basket.

As a bonus, the football coach can attend all those P.E. Dept meetings, where they can discuss the need for new leather basketballs, and re-doing the East Gym floor, and whether the coeds need to wear skirts or can they wear trousers when they exercise, and so on. And then--if there’s time of course--we can discuss why on earth we turned down a Rose Bowl bid the year before.

Gee, I wonder what Howard Jones said to THAT? I can sum it up in two words:

”Fuck you and the pommel horse you rode in on.” (6)

Next year, Jones was gone. I’d like to say that he recaptured his Iowa coaching glory someday, but I’m afraid I can’t. He slipped into obscurity and died a broken man in 1934 in a dust-bowl cabin in Oklahoma, choking out his last, dying breaths as dust and dirt overcame him, his memories of football success far, far behind. (7)

Howard Jones was an incredible coach in an incredible time.
Image via BHGP

After Jones left, the Iowa Physical Education Dept’s Football Committee (Chair: Gladys Farfugnooget, not her real name) tried to hire a relative unknown by the name of Knute Rockne, but after looking at the minutes from the most recent Phy Ed Committe meeting, Rockne--to the shock of all but the sentient living--declined. Speaking of decline, that’s what the team, did, too. After a decent 6-1-1 season in 1924, where the team apparently was led by some sort of collective sense-memory of Jones and not their actual coach, things slowly fell apart. I’d like to pin-point 1931 as the nadir of Iowa football--the amazing stat that Iowa scored SEVEN total points that season is enough to blow out a man’s colon--but that would be an insult to the other nadirs of 1932 (1-7), 1937 (1-7), and 1938 (1-6-1).

Further, a “slush fund” had been discovered at Iowa in the late 1920’s, created for Iowa athletics by influential alumni (funds reached as high as $5,000--in 1929 money!) so in addition to being bad, we were also cheaters. The AD resigned and we had to appear in front of the Western Conference (WC) authorities and explain ourselves.

Unfortunately, we were about as good at explaining as we were at football at the time. I don’t know if the grandfather of SNL’s “Liar Guy” was our representative at that meeting or not, but apparently he wasn’t saying any of the right things, and the opinion of the WC authorities was this: We don’t believe you.

In other words, when caught cheating, we could not even convince the WC authorities that we were sincere in NOT cheating any longer! How incompetent is THAT? You get caught with an athletics slush fund, and when confronted by the conference, you shrug and say, “Yeah, I suppose we’ll have to hide it better in the future, huh?” I’m surprised we didn’t offer the committee hookers and bootleg whiskey in exchange for a wink and a nod and a train ticket back to IC.

Editor’s Note: This sure sounds like exactly the tactic of the entire SEC.

Result: we are almost kicked out of the conference. Not surprisingly, this is not an episode that Iowa trumpets in their recruiting DVD’s or brochures, nor do I see it appearing as a “special episode” of “Big Ten Film Vault” on BTN. Yet, somehow during all this madness, someone DID do something right (prolly entirely an accident, given the astonishing incompetence occurring at this time). That something was called Iowa Stadium, which was built in 1928 by the site of the 17th hole of the old university golf course.(8)

And the man who “owned” it was named Nile Kinnick. Yes, it’s 1939 and this post is over.


(1) Those of a certain age may remember that another Jones, band director Morgan Jones, got involved in a controversy over playing the Clapton song COCAINE back in the 80’s and 90’s. Oddly, cocaine was probably not even illegal when ON IOWA! was written, which probably explains why it was written the way it was written.

(2) Did you know that the “Alphabet song” (A-B-C-D-E-F-G...) has the same tune as TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR? See, these things are not always so obvious!

(3) The “other” Howard Jones is one of a procession of weird-haired techno-synth acts from the ‘80s, akin to Kajagoogoo and Flock of Seagulls. However, I refuse to include Thomas Dolby in this group, who had genuine talent and just happened to be stuck with a bunch of stiffs, era-wise, that have denigrated his value over time.

(4) Not the names of real Iowa players. Chest Rockwell was not entirely untalented, however, showing a real ability in tracking down guys named Raphael while frequenting restaurants described as “probably the best in Los Angeles” and “excellent”. As for Rock Harder, the less said the better.

(5) I know Evy was great with the Rose Bowls and everything, and I know Fry was great bringing us back and having High Porch Picnics, and no one loves KF more than me, all the more so since he cries after emotional wins like Dick Vermeil, but none of them did, or in KF’s case is ever likely to, win 20 games in a row. None of them also ended up winning FIVE National Championships like a certain coach named after an 80’s rock star eventually did. So there.

(6) Technically not two words, but the first two words are the important ones.

(7) OK, so I lied to make myself feel better. What Howard Jones did after leaving Iowa was end up at USC where he became, arguably, the greatest college football coach of all-time. At USC, all he did was win FIVE Rose Bowls and FOUR National Championships (adding to the one he won at Yale). He had season after season of two losses or less, and won at a .750 clip. He coached almost up until the day he died in the 40’s, and no one coached college FB better. Without Howard Jones, there probably IS no USC football factory or fame. In fact, USC’s practice field is named after Jones. He was, simply, one of those uber-competent types who did everything. He was a great practice coach (even in his 50’s he would push a position coach out of the way to demonstrate technique), a great game coach, a great motivator, and a decent guy. And so we decide that, rather than keep this man happy, we are going to merge Athletics with Phys Ed. Madness! Madness!

(8) For the life of me, I can’t figure out how Kinnick was build on the Finkbine Golf Course. There’s a big ravine in the way, there’s the railroad tracks, there’s no other golf holes around, and unless the 17th was a 900-yard Par 10, I don’t see how that was possible. It is saying something that Iowa football went from a 9,000 seat stadium to a 50,000 seater in less than ten years. It is also saying something that Kinnick was built in just about one year, start to finish. ONE YEAR. Amazing, given that the recent renovations took forever and ever.