Wine Online

Sept. 20, 2004

The Hawkeyes play at Michigan Saturday, and they couldn’t have picked a worse place to open their Big Ten football campaign.

Iowa’s odds of winning at Ann Arbor are not good, and I’m not talking about Las Vegas odds. I’m talking about historical odds.

Over the years, the Hawkeyes have enjoyed precious little success at Michigan. Including their first game there in 1900, when Alden Knipe coached the visitors to a 28-5 victory, Iowa has won only six times.

A Hawkeye victory would be surprising, but not shocking. And knowing what we do about Iowa wins at Michigan, a championship season might be in the making if the Hawkeyes make it three straight over the Wolverines.

Which makes the five-year tenure of Kirk Ferentz at Iowa all the more impressive. Two years ago, in his first visit to Michigan Stadium as Iowa’s head coach, Kirk watched his team romp to a 34-9 win on its way to a Big Ten championship. It was an embarrassing pounding to a proud Michigan program that was physically manhandled that day, and which seldom loses, home or away.

And it wasn’t like the Wolverines had a bad team in 2002. They lost only one other Big Ten game and finished third in the league. Their overall record was 10-3.

In fact, it is not uncommon for Michigan to win 10 or more games in a season. The Wolverines have won 73.2 percent of their Big Ten games, by far more than any other league member. They have 494 all-time conference victories, and will most likely put No. 500 in the books this season.

The point is Michigan wins most of the time. At home, it wins virtually all the time. Forest Evashevski coached brilliantly at Iowa through the 1950s, winning three Big Ten championships from 1956 through the 1960 seasons. Michigan is his ala mater, and he took five Hawkeye teams to play on the field where he had starred as a collegian.

Only one came home a winner. In 1958 at Ann Arbor, Evashevski turned loose a sensational sophomore running back named Willie Fleming, and brought home a decisive 37-14 victory. Those Hawkeyes went on to win the Big Ten championship and hammered California in the Rose Bowl. Evashevski calls it the best team in his nine seasons at Iowa.

Hayden Fry won only twice at Michigan in his 20 years at Iowa. Perhaps the signature game of his Hawkeye coaching career came in 1981, his third season, when Tom Nichol kicked three field goals in a stunning 9-7 victory. The result sent word to the Big Ten that the Hawkeyes were for real. Utilizing a great defense and kicking game, they went on to a championship season and Rose Bowl berth.

Nine years later, in 1990, Hayden got his second victory at Michigan Stadium in a game that featured frequent lead changes and major mistakes. Iowa reached the goal line just before halftime but failed to score, and Michigan faked an extra point that didn’t work. The Wolverines’ failure proved fatal and Iowa triumphed 24-23, then moved on to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth.

Are you beginning to get the picture? It takes an exceptional team to win at Michigan. In Iowa’s case, it takes a championship team. At least that’s been the case in the last 50 years.

Kirk Ferentz followed his win at Michigan two years ago with 30-27 victory over the Wolverines at Kinnick Stadium last season. It was Michigan’s only loss in a Big Ten championship year.

The Hawkeyes rallied from deficits of 14-0 and 22-10 to win a game that was sandwiched between losses at Michigan State and Ohio State. The victory eliminated a possible losing streak and was critical in a January bowl game with Florida and a second straight No. 8 finish in the national polls.

Ferentz and Fry are the only Iowa coaches who have whipped the Wolverines in consecutive years. Kirk, his staff and his players are obviously not intimidated by Michigan, but they’re the underdog Saturday in both Las Vegas and historical terms.

A Hawkeye victory would be surprising, but not shocking. And knowing what we do about Iowa wins at Michigan, a championship season might be in the making if the Hawkeyes make it three straight over the Wolverines.

Editor’s Note:George Wine, the University of Iowa’s long-time sports information director who is now retired and living in Coralville, Iowa, is the author of George Wine Online. George has remained very close to the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI since his retirement and, in fact, has authored two books during that time. The first was a collaboration with the subject of today’s editorial, Hayden Fry, and named “A High Porch Picnic.” The second, “Black & Gold Memories, The Hawkeyes of the 20th Century,” included many of the essays George originally wrote for “The Voice of the Hawkeyes.” As he wrote in the book, “Collectively, they serve as a historical reference, and hopefully provide entertaining reading.” “Black & Gold Memories” is currently available at Barnes & Noble book stores across Iowa and on the world wide web.