Iowa vs. Michigan 1900
Of the Michigan football fans that give a damn about the history of the program, these are typically broken into two groups: those that cherish the program as they know it during their lifetime or thereabouts, often starting with the Bo era in 1969.  And then there’s those who go deep, usually back to Yost’s first season in Ann Arbor in 1901.  You’ll notice there are only a few pre-Yost posts on these pages.

Looking at Iowa, one thing that’s kind of curious is that despite their long history of playing Michigan (starting in 1900) and their involvement in our league (they joined the Western Conference in that same year), we’re really not stacked with a bevy of major moments in history that would yield a rivalry with the Hawkeyes, although there are certainly important ties between our programs.

Take Forest Evashevski, the coach that delivered Iowa’s only recognized national championship in 1958 (a postseason vote by the writers after the 8-1-1 Hawkeyes delivered a dominating performance in their bowl), who played for Fritz Crisler’s Wolverines.  Evashevski is remembered by many as the man who helped lead Tom Harmon to the Heisman Trophy in 1940 as a “devastating blocker” per his college football Hall of Fame profile.

Today our rivalry with Iowa ranks somewhere buried beneath Ohio State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Minnesota, Penn State and even Wisconsin in that strata that probably includes teams like Illinois and maybe lately, Northwestern.

Reaching back to the game that started it all in 1900 I found some interesting stuff.   This was of course the season before Yost stepped foot on campus and just as with the ‘68 team that Bump Elliott delivered to Bo, the cupboard wasn’t exactly bare.   In fact ‘00 captain Neil Snow was an All-American on Yost’s 1901 team that outscored opponents 555-0.

The 1900 campaign started off with six straight wins heading into the first meeting with the team from Iowa.  The game was played at Bennett Park, the early home of the Detroit Tigers at the famed corner of Michigan and Trumbull, the future home of Tiger Stadium.

Iowa won the game 28-5 and I’m just going to let you partake in a little turn-of-the-twentieth century beauty put down in print by a writer at the Detroit Free Press:

The visitors were a most gentlemanly set of young giants, though anything but gentle when in action. They showed magnificent education and training from the tips of their long scalp locks to the soles of their perniciously active feet. Their brains worked like greased lightning set to clock-work. They were shrewder than a strategy board and could mobilize in less time than is employed in an owl’s wink. When they charged it was like a bunch of wing-footed elephants, and when they tackled one of the enemy it was like the embrace of a grizzly. They could kick harder than a gray mule with years of experience, and with the accuracy of a globe-sight rifle.

Get a bunch of rooms, old time Freep dude.

And when the Iowa team returned to Iowa City, well, they found good times along with a small bit of crime and some damage:

The things that happened…that night are written in the books. When our train reached Iowa City…, every person in town was there. A farmer was just driving in with a load of shelled corn. The boys confiscated it and filled their pockets and hats with it. [Ed. Corn was a hot commodity in Iowa?]

We were thrown up on a Tally Ho that was pulled by students with a rope a block long. There was a bonfire on the field. The boys pulled President MacLean and faculty out of their buggies and carried them in a dance around the fire. The president’s hair was singed.

The fire’s heat was so intense that plate glass windows cracked and for a time, it looked as if the flames were threatening an entire block of the business district.

Then they ran to the field and painted the opponent’s locker room pink.


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  2. 1) If you like analyzing ornately verbose turn-of-the-20th Century sportswriting, you might like “Reading Football” by Michael Oriard. He discusses how the print media helped to popularize early American college football.

    2) We didn’t play Iowa all that much from 1918-1948, and when we did it was usually in Ann Arbor. Given the Minnesota series, perhaps Yost was trying to avoid another long roadtrip every other year.

    3) Similarly, Indiana, Purdue, and Wisconsin dropped off the schedule for extended periods from 1918 to 1968 (and not just the WWII break). Granted that when you’re only scheduling 5-7 conference games/year, and have certain annual Conference rivals like OSU, Minnesota, Illinois (Zuppke-era), and later on MSU, you can’t play everybody. It appears that Purdue and Wisconsin were dropped for awhile when MSU came into the Conference. In 1961, Purdue comes back on, and Indiana got the boot for six years. Even major rival (at the time) Chicago disappeared for six years during the 20’s (a falling-out between Yost and Stagg?).

    Also, I seem to recall reading (perhaps in John Kryk’s Natural Enemies) that Athletic Director Yost tried to avoid Conference schools that regularly scheduled Notre Dame. So that would include Indiana, Purdue, and Wisconsin. Although he didn’t drop Minnesota or Northwestern, and they were scheduling ND.

    4) Before the time when every game was on TV, and you scheduled W’s to make a bowl game, what mattered as a Michigan AD (barring personal agendas) was scheduling attractive matchups that sold tickets. My guess is that Indiana, Iowa, Purdue, and Wisconsin historically came up short on attractiveness. You could write a very interesting book about who we scheduled, when, where, and why.

  3. This is just such a wonderful blog.

    Thanks, Greg, for your digging around on the history of Michigan sports. I find your work completely absorbing.

  4. Thanks for the excellent note. My one disagreement is that Illinois should be considered a much more important rival. I think that Michigan has played Illinois 80+ times, topped only by OSU, MSU, and maybe Minnesota. I think Michigan has played the remainder of Big Ten schools [Iowa, Wiscy, NW, Indy, Purdue] “only” around 50+ times, and of course PSU much less.

  5. Jack

    You are correct that Illinois has not dropped off Michigan’s schedule like the other teams I’ve mentioned. Since 1919, just after Michigan’s return to the Conference, there’s never been a series break of more than two years, with skips in 1923, 1997, 1998, 2006, and 07. Perhaps the fact that Zuppke didn’t begin scheduling Notre Dame until 1937 made Yost more comfortable about maintaining the series.

    However, I would submit to you that Illinois ceased being a major rival in the minds of Michigan folk just after the Elliott brother era: Pete at Illinois 1960-66, and Bump at Michigan 1959-68. Michigan lost only once to Illinois from 1959-1968, and that was 1966. This was despite Bump having some frankly very weak Michigan squads, including his 1963 team that went 3-4-2, but beat #2 ranked Illinois in Champaign, 14-8. The thorough domination by Bo-Mo-Llo in later years merely cemented this loss of rival status.

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