When Nile Kinnick and the Iron Men of Iowa shocked the football world with their amazing 1939 season, no one across the Heartland believed that it would be thirteen long years until Hawkeye fans would see another football renaissance. But yes, it wasn’t until 1952, when a young football coach named Forest Evashevski came to Iowa City, and with his creative offense he called the Winged T, made the Iowa Hawkeyes into a national powerhouse.
Iowa football – in 1952 – had only had three winning seasons in the previous 16 years, and had not won an outright Big Ten Conference championship for three decades. That fall, a United Press (UP) story named three football programs with new coaches that would struggle to ever be competitive: Iowa, Indiana, and Pittsburgh. Iowa’s first two opponents in 1952 were Pittsburgh and Indiana, and Iowa lost to both, but Coach Evashevski knew the Hawkeye program could be resurrected.
Forest Evashevski was asked by a writer, “Do you think Iowa could ever really have a consistently winning team?” Evy snapped back, “Why in the hell do you think I took the job?” Afterwards, a photographer noted, “I think that man truly believes he’s the savior of Iowa football!”
Over the next eight years (1952-1960), that’s exactly what Evy became – compiling a 52-27-4 record, including three Big Ten Championships, two Rose Bowl wins – over Oregon State in 1957 and California in 1959 – and competing for the NCAA National Championship in 1958 and 1960.
As the Evy era came to an end, Iowa sports historian Dick Lamb put together an entertaining collection of Hawkeye football highlights on a long-playing (LP) record called Hooray For The Hawkeyes – Relive The Big Moments In Iowa Football As They Were Broadcast.
So, for all of you Hawkeye fans who know the name Nile Kinnick, but don’t know anything more about Iowa football until Hayden Fry & Kirk Ferentz came onto the scene in the 1980’s, here’s a fun look back at what many call The Golden Age of Iowa Football – The Evy Years…
Let’s start with the album’s liner notes…
And now, meet Dick Lamb – narrator for this album. Lamb also contributed to the 1964 best-selling book called 75 Years With The Fighting Hawkeyes – a comprehensive overview of Iowa football from its earliest days (1889) into the Evy era.
In Evy’s first year (1952), the Hawkeyes struggled to an 0–4 start, surrendering more than 32 points per game during that stretch. Iowa was scheduled to play Ohio State for Homecoming, and Evy’s Hawks were three-touchdown underdogs. Ohio State had never played in Iowa Stadium, having not played in Iowa City in a quarter century. Evashevski completely retooled his offense the week before the game, and Iowa shocked the Buckeyes, 8–0. The Des Moines Register wrote, “Put your license plate back on the family auto, citizen, for Iowa won a football game Saturday.” Register sports editor Sec Taylor added, “It was like my 8-year-old granddaughter out-boxing Sugar Ray Robinson.” The Associated Press (AP), in a year-end poll, voted it the third biggest upset of the year.
So, now let’s turn the story over to Dick Lamb…
Here’s the album’s introduction…
In 1952, Evy lured Calvin Jones (above) to leave Ohio and come to Iowa, where Jones became the first Hawkeye – and the first African-American – to win the Outland Trophy (1955) – appearing on the first cover of Sports Illustrated. By 1953, with the help of Jones, Frank Gilliam, and Eddie Vincent – the Steubenville Trio – the turn-around in Iowa football was in full swing…
My father, George Boller, attended his first Iowa football game when his dad, Waldo Boller, took him to old Iowa Field when he was a 5-year-old in 1926. My dad took me to my first Iowa football game in 1956 when I was a 5-year-old. Wow! What a season to start my life-long addiction to Iowa football!
Back in the day, there were only a handful of bowl games in college football and only the Big Ten champion could go bowling. So after winning the 1956 Big Ten title, the Hawkeyes were invited to their very first bowl game – the Grand Daddy of them all – The 1957 Rose Bowl.
So, let’s flip the record over to Side Two…
A successful season – no Rose Bowl in 1958 – but still a memorable year. And who can ever forget Alex Karras, who went on to become a big television & movie star in Hollywood.
Yowsers – 1958 produced what would become a football season to remember. Iowa had become a national powerhouse!
The 1958 season culminated by overpowering the hapless California Golden Bears in the 1959 Rose Bowl.
Iowa’s very own Music Man – Meredith Willson – composer of The Iowa Fight Song (1951) – directed The Hawkeye Marching Band at the 1959 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Read more here.
Dick Lamb closed his memorable album with a wonderful salute to Iowa’s only Heisman Trophy Winner – Nile Kinnick. The LP includes not only Nile’s infamous acceptance speech but much, much more! Enjoy!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this trip back to the Golden Years of Iowa Football – the Evy Years – 1952-1960.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.
Iowa Hawkeyes football, Wikipedia
Iowa Romps In Rose Bowl, The Des Moines Register, January 2, 1957, p 9
Dick Lamb, New York Times, August 9, 1971
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