A forgotten piece of Big Ten History

By now you may or may not have read about the possibility that the annual CyHawk trophy game between Iowa and Iowa State is at risk of being suspended.  If not, you can take a look at the ESPN article detailing it here

As soon as I read about this story it reminded me of a LONG forgotten piece of college football history also involving Iowa and my Alma Mater Illinois.  That particular football series was suspended and the two teams did not play each other for 15 straight seasons due to something that happened in 1952.  Sound interesting?  Of course it does!  Hop into my time machine and let me take you back to a time LONG before smart phones, the internet, and well before Nebraska joined the Big Ten Conference.

Illinois was a charter member of the Big Ten Conference back in 1896.  Iowa joined the conference three years later.  When I was a student at Illinois I remember reading through the football media guides and looking at the Illinois’ series records against all the other Big Ten schools.  I remember seeing how many fewer games Illinois had played against Iowa than most of the other schools.  It struck me as odd being that both schools had been competing more often than not in football since the turn of the century.

Upon further investigation I discovered a gap in the series between 1952 and 1967.  In 1952 Illinois had been dominating the all time series and was in the midst of a 10 year winning streak over the Hawkeyes.  The Illini also had just come off a National Championship season in 1951… their fifth National title in football.  (Yep… They have just as many as Nebraska).  1952 was the Hawkeye’s first season with head coach Forest Evashevski in command.  The season was not going well for them when Illinois came to town on November 8th (although they had pulled an upset off against Ohio State earlier in the year).  The game ended up being similar to the rest of Iowa’s season, and also kept pace with what the Illinois-Iowa series had become… pretty lopsided in favor of the Illini.  Illinois won 33-13, but the story wasn’t about the outcome… it was some on and off the field incidents.

The game was peppered with plenty of late hits as well as thrown punches.  Several players from both sides were thrown out for fighting.  There were 17 combined penalties for 126 yards, and after one of those penalties Iowa coach Evashevski lost his composure and ran out onto the field to confront the officials.  That resulted in another penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.  This lit a fire under the Iowa fans in the stands who were already fired up about the probability of losing an 11th straight game to the Illini.  Apparently fans began tossing bottles and cans and even apple cores at the officials as well as the Illinois players and staff as they exited the field at the end of the game.  One official was hit in the back with an orange.

The Illinois coaching staff was trying to rush the team into the locker room to avoid any further incidents when apparently some of the fans came out of the stands to confront and/or attack some of the team.  One of those Iowa fans went to grab an Illinois player by the shoulder… which was not a good idea.  That player landed a punch that broke the fan’s jaw.

Following all of the violence that day, both schools decided the series would be suspended for a “cooling off” period which ended up being 15 seasons.  The series resumed in 1967 with an Illinois win in Iowa City.  The following year in 1968 the Hawkeyes finally ended the Illinois winning streak with their first victory over the Illini since prior to World War 2.

For a more in depth story on the incident, take a look at this article (really the only one I was able to find about this incident… and from which I gathered some of this information from).  It’s from 2011 so a bit dated right now, but still tells an interesting story, about a forgotten piece of Big Ten and College Football history.

-Bickham