Until last Saturday afternoon, there were those who said the 1958 Iowa Hawkeyes were the best football team the Big Ten had seen in five years. They could score with demoralizing suddenness from any place on the field, through the air or on the ground. Their line was tough and determined. They had wonderful spirit and a great coach. They couldn't lose because they wouldn't lose.
Then, on that dark and gloomy day in Iowa City last week, a brutal big team from Ohio State proved that for one afternoon, at least, Iowa was not even the best team in the Big Ten this year. Led by a tank in cleats named Bob White, the Buckeyes ground out touchdown after touchdown and the fifth one proved to be enough for victory. Ohio State, unable to win any one of its three previous games, beat Iowa 38-28. In the Big Ten this surprised hardly anyone. That is the way things happen in the toughest of all football leagues.
White, a big, redheaded fullback, pounded through the Iowa defense for three touchdowns, and for the second year in a row he ruined Iowa's hopes for its first undefeated season since 1922. Some said that to Iowa the game didn't really mean very much. The Hawkeyes had already clinched the Big Ten championship a week before and were going to the Rose Bowl regardless of what happened against Ohio State. But they were wrong. The game was important to Iowa because every game is important to Iowa, which is one reason it is such a good football team.
By the thousands, along the spider-web of concrete lacing the state of Iowa, Iowans had roared into town for this big one, driving through the lovely, rolling countryside of the eastern portion of the state, on past the green-and-brown checkerboard of the fields, past the fat hogs rooting happily through the stubbles of corn, past the woolly sheep and the sleek Holsteins and Herefords dotting the land, past the big, neat farmhouses with their silos rising like exclamation points against the late autumn sky. They had come to see the football team—their football team—which had inflated Iowa pride and captured Iowa imagination perhaps more than any other in years.
When it was all over, the great crowd which jammed Iowa Stadium was disappointed in the result, but for entertainment the game on Saturday was just about as good as anything even an Iowa fan could hope to see. "If I had been in the stands," said Iowa Coach Forest Evashevski, "I guess I might have enjoyed this game myself."
Even in defeat, their only defeat of the year, the Hawkeyes showed what it means to be tough. Never ahead, they came back once, twice, three times and still a fourth to tie up the contest, striking with beautiful precision and remarkable speed from Coach Evashevski's finely tuned wing-T offense, then passing Ohio State dizzy when the Buckeye defense bunched to stop the running plays.
There has long been a tendency in college football to place the successful coach on a pedestal, to overpublicize his contributions while downgrading those of the players who actually get their faces dirty and do the manual work. But no one denies that Evashevski deserves whatever praise he may receive for the job done in Iowa City. A big, ruggedly attractive man with one of the game's most imaginative brains, he has brought Iowa back to football respectability, and this 1958 team, in many ways his finest product, has been molded from beginning to end by his own inspired touch.
Evashevski was hardly a stranger to Iowans even on the day he arrived, for they remember that Michigan, with Evy out ahead blocking for Tom Harmon, handed Iowa's Darlings of Destiny, the great 1939 Nile Kinnick team, its lone defeat. Today he is perhaps the best-known man—and almost certainly the most popular one—in the entire state.
A man of many moods, he can be charming or tough, gracious or forbidding as the occasion requires. Articulate rather than glib, he is considered an excellent speaker, a talent which has been applied with success to stubborn alumni and potential star halfbacks as well as banquet audiences. But because he is quiet and thoughtful rather than outspoken, when he does speak, folks in Iowa stop and listen to what he has to say.
Of even more importance to the Iowa football program, folks stop and listen in other sections of the country. When Evy checked into Iowa in 1952, there were 56 Iowans on the 71-player squad and only four of the foreign 15 came from outside the Iowa- Illinois-Missouri area. Quick to realize that the state, with its relatively small population, was not going to supply enough players of Big Ten championship caliber, Evashevski went to work gathering them in from outside as well. This year 43 players of the 63-man squad are from other states, including eight from Michigan, five from Ohio and three each from the outer spaces of California and New Jersey. And this year's freshman team, a group of young mastodons who could be mistaken for the Chicago Bears, has no fewer than 10 Michiganders among its number—which may account for what has been happening to Michigan and Michigan State on various Saturday afternoons this fall.