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An end to the bickering
Walter Bingham
September 26, 1977
They had been arguing about their phantom rivalry for 42 years, but when Iowa and Iowa State finally met again on a gridiron only State came away feeling upset
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September 26, 1977

An End To The Bickering

They had been arguing about their phantom rivalry for 42 years, but when Iowa and Iowa State finally met again on a gridiron only State came away feeling upset

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Iowans, Professor Harold Hill discovered in The Music Man, are so by-damn stubborn they can stand touching noses for a week at a time and never see eye to eye. They also bicker, bicker, bicker, which might explain why until last Saturday the University of Iowa and Iowa State had not shared a football field in more than four decades. Other states can swing it—Michigan plays Michigan State, Washington plays Washington State, and so on through Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arizona and more—but not Iowa. And just because past games approached the Civil War in intensity.

Over the years if Iowa suggested a renewal of the series, Iowa State didn't want it, and if State did, Iowa did not. Stubborn. But last week, keeping a date that had been arranged nearly a decade ago, the two teams finally met, and Iowa's underdog Hawkeyes won 12-10.

It was a game that should do nothing to scare future opponents of either team, but tell that to any of the nearly 60,000 frantic fans in jam-packed Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City and you might find yourself hustled to the outskirts of town. As predicted, the game was tough—but there were no flagrant fouls. When it was over, Iowa fans tore down one of the goalposts while State fans watched—but there were no skirmishes. And only a few minor ones in the long, noisy night that followed. Part of the halftime show was devoted to a plea for unity "across this great state of ours," and unity there seemed to be.

But then there seemed to be statewide unity after the teams met for the first time in 1894, a game won by Iowa State 16-8. In fact, it was not until 1897 that trouble occurred. Iowa was leading 10-6 when one Foster Parker bolted 40 yards for a State touchdown. On the play, the Hawkeyes contended, State committed a flagrant foul, but there was no flag. Irate, the Iowa team stalked off the field, forfeiting the game 6-0.

That set the tone for future intrastate battles. An Iowa player was warned before a subsequent game that he would be nailed and, sure enough, he was swarmed under and hurt while signaling for a fair catch. An Iowa State player was discovered to be winding up a six-year career having played two seasons at Grinnell College, handily located midway between Ames and Iowa City. After one game, the Iowa State Register complained that "quite the worst thing of the entire season was the use Iowa made of an earsplitting steam whistle during the game. This contrivance seriously interfered with the visitor's signals. Even more disgusting was the continual exhibition of this noisemaking device whenever the loyal rooters of Ames sought to encourage their team by good wholesome cheering."

Postgame bitterness across the state became so intense that a recommendation was made to the State Board of Education following a 1915-16 survey of the two schools under the direction of the U.S. Commissioner of Education. It advised: "The annual football game between the college and the university is the occasion for the revival of feuds, charges and countercharges, the reassertion of differences and criticisms, which, at best, have had only poor reasons for existence." The series was broken off in 1920, renewed in 1933-34 and then dropped for the next 42 years.

During the hiatus it was Iowa State that most often pressed for a revival. Iowa remained firmly opposed. It was, after all, top dog in the state. As an academic institution it had a better pedigree, being older and offering degrees in law, medicine and journalism. Iowa State was primarily an agriculture and engineering school. And Iowa had more football prestige, too. The Hawkeyes won the Big Ten title in 1956 and 1958, went to the Rose Bowl both seasons and won there, too. Iowa State usually was finishing far down in the Big Eight.

The picture has changed in recent years, however. Iowa has not had a winning season since 1961, helped not at all by a schedule laced with USC, UCLA, Penn State and Notre Dame. Most of those games were the legacy of the former athletic director, Forest Evashevski, the man who had coached Iowa to those two Rose Bowl triumphs. "Evy wanted to make sure he was Iowa's last winning football coach," says one Hawkeye fan. Iowa State, for its part, went to bowl games after the 1971 and 1972 seasons and finished 8-3 last Year.

It was Evashevski, at odds with Iowa's Athletic Council in the late 1960s, who brought about the renewal of the series under slightly cloudy circumstances. With his counterpart at Iowa State, Clay Stapleton, he convinced the councils of both schools that it was time to take another crack at it, that the intrastate game could be good for Iowa. At first they agreed to a two-game series in 1977-78, but one morning in 1969 members of the councils were surprised to read in their newspapers that there was a second contract calling for four more games through 1982. In the furor that followed, Evashevski quit. His successor, Bump Elliott, eventually signed the contracts for the combined six-game series.

Now the bickering really began. At first all six games were scheduled for Iowa City, because Kinnick Stadium holds 58,500 and Iowa State's Clyde Williams Field in Ames seated only some 34,000. Build a larger place and we'll give you a home game, Iowa said. State did, opening for business in 50,000-seat Cyclone Field in 1975. O.K., said Iowa, you can have the 1981 game. No good, countered State. We want three games just like you. Iowa refused. Rollie Knight, chairman of Iowa State's Athletic Council, said, " Iowa is arrogant and selfish." He suggested canceling the series after this year's game.

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