Intrastate rivalry began at the first kickoff

Kara Kranzusch

Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington. Captain Ahab and Moby Dick. Iowa and Iowa State.

Iowa’s beloved football rivalry is unlike any other that pits neighbor against neighbor and sometimes brother against brother.

ISU alum Fred Brich, 1974 graduate in distributive studies, has learned to “tolerate” his brother, who graduated the same day from the University of Iowa.

“I’m from Omaha, and they think Nebraska-Oklahoma is a big rivalry,” Brich said. “But they don’t understand Iowa-Iowa State is better, because . you see people coming to the games, and there’ll be two State fans and two Iowa fans in the same car.”

Having two Division I football teams in one state is unique in the Midwest. The rivalry is compounded by lack of a professional football team in Iowa, as gridiron-loving fans turn to collegiate games.

Iowa State first played the University of Iowa in 1894. The Cyclones captured the first win, 16-8. The series title bounced back and forth between the two teams until it was ended by a personal feud in 1920.

In 1920, the football coaches for both Iowa and Iowa State also were the baseball coaches.

Harry Burrell, former ISU sports information director, said the Cyclones had a fantastic spit-ball pitcher, and coach Charles Mayser wanted to use the pitch – which had been deemed illegal for some pitchers the year before – in the game against Iowa. Hawkeye Coach Howard Jones disagreed.

“Iowa wanted to end the series,” Burrell said. “This gave them a reason.”

Burrell said no games were played for more than a decade until faculty from both schools secretly met between Iowa City and Ames to renew the series. Iowa insisted on a two-game limit.

Their efforts resulted in Iowa meeting Iowa State in 1933 and a 7-27 defeat of the Cyclones.

The next year, Iowa State had its revenge, 31-6.

“It was the greatest upset of football in the state,” Burrell said.

Sec Taylor, a Des Moines Register reporter, wrote at the time, “[Iowa State] outplayed the Hawkeyes in every department of the game, ripped Iowa’s marshmallow line to shreds, wreaked havoc with the rivals throughout most of the 60 minutes and at times had the leaderless university team on the point of demoralization.”

Iowa got its wish and the series was again stopped after the two games.

Decades later, however, fans started to pressure the universities to renew the series.

“The pressures had built up to the point in the state where people had really wanted to play the game,” said Ron Maly, Des Moines Register sports reporter.

With state legislator Bill Reichardt proposing legislation to force the renewal of the series in 1977, the two universities finally gave in, Maly said.

“Money was entering into it,” Burrell said. “They realized it was one big sell-out crowd for sure.”

According the 1977 Sports Illustrated article, “An end to the bickering” by Walter Bingham, if enough tickets would have been available, 500,000 Iowans would have purchased tickets to the game. At the time, that was 20 percent of the state’s population.

In front of nearly 60,000 screaming fans at Kinnick Stadium, Iowans watched as Iowa and Iowa State stepped onto the same field for the first time in 43 years. Standing on the Hawkeye sideline was then-Iowa defensive coordinator Dan McCarney, who graduated from the University of Iowa in 1975.

“That game was interesting since they hadn’t played for so long and no one knew what to expect,” said ISU alum Dennis Borcherding, 1973 graduate in social studies. “It was a lot of hype, because each side thought they would win since they had nothing to compare it to.”

Maly said most people had expected Iowa State to win that game, because Iowa’s program had been down.

“The Iowa State team came out wearing jerseys that said `Beat Iowa’ and that got the Iowa team riled up,” he said.

Iowa State lost the game 10-12 and never wore the jerseys again. After the game, Iowa fans tore down one of the goal posts.

The following year, Cyclones came to Iowa City ready for revenge, this time defeating the Hawkeyes.

“Iowa State was ready for that game. They physically dominated the game and won 31-nothing,” Maly said. “It told the Iowa fans and the Iowa program that Iowa was not going to dominate the series.”

Over the next few years, both teams claimed victory until Iowa finally did dominate. Iowa won the next 15 games, including a 54-point victory in 1985.

The 1998 season, however, marked a new era in ISU football.

With Coach McCarney now on the Cyclone sideline, Iowa State finally tasted victory, winning 27-9 on Iowa’s field.

ISU alum Gary Hamer, 1992 graduate of graphic design, lost his voice by halftime in his seat in the end zone.

“I knew we were going to win one day,” he said. “I just was going to make darn sure I was there. It was one of the greatest days of my life.”

Preparation was the key to Iowa State’s success, Maly said.

“Iowa State was obviously mentally and emotionally ready for that game over there,” he said. “Iowa State took control of the game early and just didn’t let Iowa have the chance.”

Many credit the win to McCarney’s turnaround of the program.

“That’s what happens when an Iowan comes up to Ames to coach,” Iowa fan Danny Presnall said with a smile.

Despite his loyalty to the Black and Gold, Presnall was at Iowa State’s Nov. 3 game against Kansas State with his 13-year-old son, Sean. Sean also remembers the 1998 Cyclone victory.

“I remember I was very sad,” he said. “It was my first game, and I thought I was the problem that they lost, and that I jinxed them. Iowa’s lost every Iowa State game I’ve been to.”

ISU fans will be happy to know Sean will be in attendance on Nov. 24 as well.

Maly said if this year’s Iowa-Iowa State game had been played when it was originally scheduled, Iowa probably would have been favored since Iowa State had a young, untested team. The situation is different now.

“With Iowa State on the verge of landing a bowl game and with Iowa State being at home, I would guess Iowa State will be a seven-point favorite,” he said.

With all the hype and competition between to the two teams, Presnall still believes the rivalry is healthy for the two universities.

Renewing the series “was the greatest thing we ever did for the state,” he said. “It is an opportunity on a Saturday to bring Iowans together to celebrate two of the finest universities, and if people keep it in perspective, that’s what it ought to be.”