The Great ISU-Iowa Football Rivalry

This Saturday, the Iowa State Cyclone football team will meet up with their in-state rivals from Iowa City in the 65th meeting between the two teams. In a rivalry that dates back to 1894, the Cyclones have had some memorable wins in the series, such as the triple-overtime victory in 2011, as well as some pretty forgettable losses, such as last year’s 3-42 drubbing. Through all the wins and losses the two teams continue to play annually, taking turns hosting the big game. But it wasn’t always this way.

Between 1894 and 1934 the Cyclones played the Hawkeyes 24 times, racking up eight wins during that stretch. Then came the great hiatus. After the 1934 game, the two teams would not meet again on the gridiron for over 40 years. Why did the series stop? And why, starting in 1977, did the two teams resume playing each other every year since?

Photograph of members of the 1894 team at their 40th year reunion in 1934.

This photographs shows members of the 1894 Iowa State football team, winners of the first meeting between Iowa State and Iowa in 1894, at their 40th reunion in 1934. They were present to see Iowa State defeat Iowa in the 1934 game–the last game the two teams would play for 43 years. [University Photograph Collection, RS 24/6/D, Football, Box 1865]

Newspaper reports leading up to the 1977 game offer many hypotheses, but nobody apparently knew exactly why the two schools stopped playing each other in football–and in most other sports for that matter. Up until 1934, it is true that there were accusations of cheating or having unqualified players on each other’s teams–some of these claims proved to be true. Some claimed that Iowa State’s surprising and resounding win in the 1934 contest, and the resulting gloating by Iowa State fans, played a role in Iowa canceling and then not scheduling any further games with Iowa State. Some felt that Iowa’s membership in the prestigious Big 10 meant that scheduling its “little brother” over in Ames only lent legitimacy to that program and didn’t offer the University of Iowa any advantages. Others stated that the University of Iowa did not want to be responsible for anguish amongst family members who rooted for opposing teams. Whatever the reason, the University of Iowa refused to include Iowa State on its football schedule for over 40 years despite numerous requests from Iowa State to renew the series.

When the Hawks and Cyclones finally did agree to play again, it didn’t exactly go smoothly. According to an article in the Ames Daily Tribune from January 29, 1977, the 1977 and 1978 games were agreed to in the early 1970s before the new Cyclone Stadium (now known far and wide as Jack Trice Stadium) was even under construction. Because Iowa’s stadium at the time was twice the size of Iowa State’s Clyde Williams Field, it was agreed that the games would be held in Iowa City. Both athletic directors agreed to extending the series to a total of six games. When the contracts were signed, only one of those six games, the game in 1981, was originally scheduled to be played in Ames–and that was only if the Cyclones built a new stadium by that time.

Photograph of Lou McCullough, 1971

Photograph of Lou McCullough, Iowa State Athletic Director for much of the 1970s. [University Photograph Collections, 24/6/A, Athletics, Box 1758]

As the 1976 football season came to a close and attention turned to the revival of the Iowa-Iowa State game in the fall, many bitter feelings would be expressed. Iowa announced that they were giving Iowa State 5,000 tickets to disperse to its fans, a number that Iowa State officials felt was far too few and that Iowa officials felt was more than generous. The athletic directors on both sides were new since the original agreements were signed and Iowa’s Bump Elliott tried to cancel the final three games in the series. The state legislature had to step in and prevent that from happening. The Iowa State athletic director, Lou McCullough, wanted to revisit the contract and make it a home-and-home series due to Iowa State’s new stadium. Pretty soon everyone was getting involved. A state senator from Ames, John Murray, introduced a resolution in the state legislature that would require the renewal of the games to be played on a home-and-home basis; the Board of Regents discussed the games at their meetings that spring; and even Governor Ray told the two schools to settle things or he would get the legislature involved.

Photogrpah of Iowa State football player carrying the ball during the 1977 ISU-Iowa football game.

Photograph from the first game in the renewal of the rivalry between Iowa and Iowa State at Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, on September 17, 1977. [University Photograph Collection, RS 24/6/D, Football, Box 1880]

In the end, Iowa would send more tickets, around 7,800 total, for the Iowa State ticket office to disperse. The schedule, however was not changed. Five of the first six games in the renewed series were played in Iowa City. Iowa State did end up winning four of those six games, but despite coming into the season ranked 19th in the country, the Cyclones fell to the Hawkeyes by a score of 10-12 in that first game held on September 17, 1977. In a way, Iowa State did get what it had wanted–since 1981, Iowa and Iowa State have played every year on a home-and-home basis. Though some Hawkeye fans may still grumble about having to play the Cyclones each year, I imagine most people in Iowa are glad the game is played. So as you watch the game this weekend, remember all the hard work that went into renewing this rivalry and don’t forget, no matter the outcome, it’s only a game!

The Special Collections and University Archives has a large collection of records related to Iowa State football, including media guides, programs, posters, photographs, film, and other archival materials. Anyone is welcome to stop by and do some research–we would be happy to see you!

One thought on “The Great ISU-Iowa Football Rivalry

  1. Pingback: #Flashback Friday – Iowa State vs. Iowa | Cardinal Tales

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