Editor’s note: In June 1917, the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives invited Michigan back into the league, increasing membership to 10 and eventually spawning the iconic “Big Ten” nickname. One hundred years later, Land of 10 will spend the summer looking at the history of America’s legendary conference and its teams.
Land of 10 is in the midst of counting down the top 20 sports stories in Iowa history. In May, Land of 10 polled sports writers, sportscasters and sports officials who have chronicled Iowa athletics and asked them to rank from 1 to 30 the top stories spanning nearly 100 years. Those on the voting panel include: Scott Dochterman, Land of 10; Bobby La Gesse, Land of 10; Sean Keeler, Land of 10; Marc Morehouse, Cedar Rapids Gazette; Mike Hlas, Cedar Rapids Gazette; Rick Brown, Des Moines Register (retired); Chad Leistikow, Des Moines Register; Mark Emmert, Des Moines Register; Steve Batterson, Quad-City Times; John Bohnenkamp, The (Burlington) Hawk Eye; Chuck Schoffner, Associated Press (retired); Courtney Baumann, Daily Iowan; Tom Kakert, Hawkeye Report; Rob Howe, Hawkeye Nation; Jon Miller, Hawkeye Nation; Scott Saville, KCRG-TV; John Campbell, KCRG-TV (retired); Andy Garman, KCCI-TV; Keith Murphy, WHO-TV; Gary Dolphin, Iowa football/basketball radio play-by-play; Rob Brooks, Iowa football radio sideline/women’s basketball play-by-play; Todd Brommelkamp, KGYM-Radio; Phil Haddy, UI sports information director (retired); Steve Roe, UI assistant athletics director-athletics communications; Traci Wagner, UI assistant director-athletics communications
No. 5: Forest Evashevski and Iowa’s fantastic ’50s football machine
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Forest Evashevski made his intentions known on his first trip to Iowa in 1952.
“I don’t like to lose and I don’t intend to lose,” Evashevski told the Cedar Rapids Elks Club. “But we probably will have to take losses until we can get our system established.”
The 33-year-old Evashevski left his job at Washington State for $15,000 a year, $3,000 more than Iowa’s governor made at the time. But Iowa wanted a winner, and it got one in Evashevski.
It didn’t take long for Evashevski to prove his value. After dropping the first four games, the Hawkeyes were set to host Ohio State (3-1). The Buckeyes had scored a combined 130 points on Iowa the previous two seasons. In one of the shocking upsets in school history, Iowa upended OSU 8-0.
“We put in a variance in our offense that was basically his concept and idea, which was a split offensive line and that would create blocking angles,” said Jerry Hilgenberg, a first-team Iowa All-American center and later an assistant coach under Evashevski, in 2009. “We’d call by color in the huddle — I think that’s what won the game — and we’d come up to the line of scrimmage and call three numbers and that live color that was used that was the play we’d run of the three at the line of scrimmage. We could call the play that would give us the most opportunity to gain yardage.”
Iowa finished 2-7 that year, but in 1953, Evashevski coached the Hawkeyes to a 5-3-1 record — their first winning mark since 1946. In the season finale, Iowa tied No. 1 Notre Dame 14-14 in a game forever known as the ”Fainting Irish.” Notre Dame scored both of its touchdowns with seconds remaining in both halves. Fighting Irish players faked injuries, which allowed the clock to stop, before the touchdowns.
“When the One Great Scorer comes to write against our name, He won’t write whether we won or lost, but how come we got gypped at Notre Dame,” Evashevski was quoted as saying in the book, 75 Years With the Fighting Hawkeyes. Iowa finished the season ranked ninth in the final AP poll.
Iowa lands a Rose Bowl
By 1956, the Hawkeyes became a Big Ten contender. Entering the league season’s final two games, Iowa was 5-1 and set to face No. 6 Minnesota (5-0-1, 3-0-1) and No. 7 Ohio State (5-1, 3-0). In the annual rivalry game with the Gophers, Iowa’s defense behind defensive tackle Alex Karras produced a sterling effort. The Hawkeyes forced 6 fumbles, stopped Minnesota on fourth-and-1 at the Iowa 11 and Billy Happel intercepted a late pass at the 1-yard line to preserve a 7-0 triumph.
The following week against the Buckeyes — in a game that decided the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl representative — there was no score until the third quarter. Iowa end Jim Gibbons hauled in a 17-yard pass from quarterback Kenny Ploen in the left corner of the Iowa Stadium end zone to lift the Hawkeyes to a 6-0 victory. The Hawkeyes clinched their first trip to the Rose Bowl and an outright Big Ten title.
“We had a number of tight games to begin with that year, and it was certainly a highlight when we ended up winning the last one against Ohio State and were able to represent the Big Ten and go to the Rose Bowl,” Ploen said in 2015. “It was certainly a highlight in my life.”
In their traditional season finale, Iowa steamrolled Notre Dame 48-8.
Iowa arrived in Pasadena, Calif. around 10 days before the Rose Bowl to get used to its surroundings. In 2015, Ploen said the practices were efficient and Evashevski focused on perfecting the offense’s execution.
In a rare rematch, Iowa faced Oregon State, which it had beaten 14-13 in the season’s second game. It didn’t take long for Iowa’s attack to roll through the Beavers. Ploen scored the first touchdown on a 49-yard run. Collins Hagler followed with a 9-yard scamper. In the first quarter, the Hawkeyes led 14-0.
“We had a couple of touchdown lead on them before they knew what hit them,” Ploen said.
After an Oregon State touchdown, Iowa piled on. Happel rushed in from 5 yards and Hagler burst 66 yards for another score. Iowa led 28-6 in the third quarter en route to a 35-19 victory. Ploen completed 9 of 10 passes for 83 yards. He also ran 8 times for 59 and was named the game’s MVP.
“We had a great team that year,” Ploen said. “It was great to be the quarterback of it. I could run those guys right, left, up the middle. It didn’t make any difference. We had a great line, a great bunch of backs and our defense was outstanding. It was a great team effort.”
Iowa finished the season ranked No. 3 overall.
In one of the most overlooked seasons in Iowa football history, the Hawkeyes finished 7-1-1 in 1957 and ended the season rated No. 6. Entering their final Big Ten game, the No. 5-ranked Hawkeyes had a shot at securing the Big Ten title against No. 6 Ohio State in Columbus. At the time, the game boasted the most writers of any Big Ten game as well as the largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history (82,935).
A fourth-quarter touchdown run by Ohio State fullback Bob White with less than 4 minutes remaining gave the Buckeyes a 17-13 win and the Rose Bowl berth.
Return to Pasadena
In 1958, Iowa played one of the nation’s most grueling schedules and came away smelling like roses.
In the opener, the Hawkeyes buried eventual Southwest Conference champion TCU 17-0. The Horned Frogs finished the season ranked No. 10. In Week 2, Iowa tied Air Force 13-13. The Falcons ended their year 9-0-1 and rated No. 6.
Then came Big Ten action for the Hawkeyes, which opened with a 34-13 win against Indiana. In a showdown that ultimately decided the Rose Bowl contestant, Iowa stopped Wisconsin 20-9 at Camp Randall Stadium. It was the Badgers’ only defeat (7-1-1) in a season when they finished No. 7 in the final polls.
Victories against Northwestern (26-20), Michigan (37-14) and Minnesota (28-6) secured the Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl nod for Iowa. But in another showdown with the Buckeyes, Ohio State scored the game’s final 10 points in a 38-28 upset. That cost Iowa a shot at the AP national crown. Quarterback Randy Duncan set a then-Big Ten record with 23 completions in the game.
Iowa finished with its traditional season-ender against Notre Dame and rolled the Fighting Irish for the third straight year. The Hawkeyes finished as the AP’s No. 2-ranked team behind LSU. Ohio State finished No. 6 and Notre Dame was No. 17.
Duncan was the force behind Evashevski’s offensive machine. He finished second in Heisman Trophy balloting behind Army’s Pete Dawkins. Duncan was a consensus All-American, claimed the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and won the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football as the league MVP. Duncan led the nation in yards per game (156.2) and was second in total yards (1,406).
The Rose Bowl against No. 16 California appeared a mere formality. Iowa scored 3 first-half touchdowns to take a 20-0 halftime lead. Then in the third quarter, Willie Fleming scampered 37 yards for a score and Bob Jeter raced 81 yards for a touchdown. Jeter was named MVP after rushing for 194 yards on 9 carries in the Hawkeyes’ 38-12 win.
Iowa did earn a sliver of the national crown when the Football Writers Association of America awarded the Hawkeyes the Grantland Rice Trophy as the nation’s best team. The Hawkeyes played six teams that ended the year ranked in the top 17.
Evy’s early retirement
Iowa spent much of 1959 in the polls but fell out after a 5-4 finish. The Hawkeyes ended the year with 20-19 heartbreaking loss to Notre Dame.
In 1960, Iowa was back among the national title contenders. After two games, Iowa was ranked third nationally. Two games later, the Hawkeyes were ranked first. Iowa won its first six games, including back-to-back wins against eventual No. 19 Purdue and No. 11 Kansas set up a showdown with No. 3 Minnesota.
In the most high-profile meeting of the two rivals, a series of second-half mistakes cost Iowa in a 27-10 loss. The Hawkeyes dropped to No. 5, while the Gophers jumped to No. 1. The following week, however, Iowa faced No. 3 Ohio State and Woody Hayes. All the miscues from the previous week evaporated and the Hawkeyes crushed the Buckeyes 35-12. In one of the season’s great plays, running back Larry Ferguson raced around the right end, wove through the middle of the field and was pinned against the sideline. He stayed in bounds and scored on a 91-yard fourth-quarter run.
A Minnesota loss vaulted the Hawkeyes back up to No. 2. Even with a 28-0 pounding of Notre Dame in the season finale, the Hawkeyes dropped a spot and ended the year ranked No. 3. The Big Ten’s policy of sending just one team to a bowl prevented the Hawkeyes from potentially winning a national title.
It was Evashevski’s final season as Iowa’s coach. He was hired as the school’s athletics director but was forced to give up his coaching hat. Evy finished his coaching career with a 63-33-6 record in 11 seasons. At Iowa, he was 52-27-4 with three Big Ten titles. He coached Outland Trophy winners Karras and Cal Jones. Four different players (Jones, Ploen, Karras, Duncan) finished in the top 10 of Heisman voting with a pair — Karras and Duncan — placing second. Ploen and Duncan won the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football as the Big Ten’s top player.
“He had a great career at Iowa as a coach, and it’s probably a little bit of a shame didn’t stay longer,” said former assistant and longtime Iowa athletics director Bump Elliott after Evashevski’s death in 2009. “He would have proven to be one of the greatest coaches of his time.”
No. 17: Title IX Pioneer Christine Grant left a legacy of dominance and inclusion for Iowa women