1985: The Unexpected Blowout

Sept. 3, 2010

EDITOR’S NOTE: The 1985 University of Iowa football team that won the Big Ten Conference championship and advanced to the 1986 Rose Bowl will reunite Saturday on the field of historic Kinnick Stadium as part of the UI’s annual Varsity Club Day activities. Most fans of the Hawkeyes remember well Iowa’s thrilling victory over Michigan that season. Few remember the Hawkeyes victory over Illinois, but they should because as George Wine, the UI’s former sports information director, recalled in essay he wrote originally for the publication, The Voice of the Hawkeyes, that also was a part of a collection of essays that published in the book entitled, Black & Gold Memories,it came very unexpectedly easy.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Chuck Long is seven games into his first season as a college football coach, and he’s thoroughly enjoying his experience.

When the Hawkeyes host Illinois in an important Big Ten game Saturday, he will be standing on the sideline with his attention riveted on the play of Iowa’s defensive backs, who are his responsibility.

Ten years ago against Illinois at Kinnick Stadium, Chuck’s attention was also focused on the secondary unit, but it was the opponent’s, not Iowa’s. Long, the best quarterback in college football, was leading Iowa’s offense against an Illinois defense that had kept Michigan out of the end zone the previous week.

“It was a really big game for us,” recalls Chuck. “We were coming off a disappointing loss at Ohio State that cost us the national No. 1 ranking. We were an angry football team.

“Meanwhile, Illinois had played Michigan to a 3-3 tie and, along with us, was very much in the Rose Bowl picture. Illinois had one of the best defenses in the Big Ten and we expected a tremendous struggle.”

What the Hawkeyes got was an unexpected blowout. A game in which points came so fast the scoreboard resembled a pinball machine. It was the most explosive first quarter in Iowa football history, and it came against a worthy opponent that wound up playing in a post-season bowl game.

“The game got out of sight so early we were on the sidelines saying, `Wow, what happened?’ I knew we were mad and wanted to play a good game, but how could you expect to be leading 35-0 after the first quarter? I never had a game get out of hand like that against a good football team.”
Chuck Long

How did it happen? Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.

Iowa took the kickoff, moved to midfield, and Long threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Robert Smith. Rob Houghtlin kicked his first of eight extra points and Iowa led 7-0 after three minutes.

Illinois fumbled on its first play and Hap Peterson recovered for the Hawkeyes. Iowa scored in four plays with David Hudson running the final yard. Iowa led 14-0 with less than five minutes gone in the game.

On its third play after the kickoff, Illinois threw a pass that was intercepted by Jay Norvell. Long threw another TD bomb to Smith, this one for 43 yards, and Iowa led 21-0.

Illinois went one-two-three-punt following the kickoff, and the Hawkeyes unleashed Ronnie Harmon on a 46-yard TD sprint. Iowa led 28-0 with 4:26 still left in the quarter.

Illinois again failed to make a first down after receiving the kickoff and Iowa culminated a 61-yard drive with Hudson’s one-yard TD run. Iowa led 35-0. Only 14 minutes had been played.

After one quarter Iowa had gained 250 yards and scored 35 points. Illinois had 31 yards and no points. And remember, the Hawkeyes went into this game favored by only a slight margin against an Illinois team that had held Michigan to a mere field goal the week earlier.

“The game got out of sight so early we were on the sidelines saying, `Wow, what happened?’,” remembers Long. “I knew we were mad and wanted to play a good game, but how could you expect to be leading 35-0 after the first quarter? I never had a game get out of hand like that against a good football team.

“Iowa’s rivalry with Illinois is intense. The two schools don’t have a real liking for each other, so we wanted to come out and jump on them real hard. But there was no way we could have anticipated something like that.”

What happened the rest of the game? It only got better for the Hawkeyes. Long threw two more scoring passes in the second quarter and the half ended with Iowa leading 49-0.

Coach Hayden Fry pretty much emptied his bench in the second half but Illinois couldn’t do much against Iowa’s reserves either. The Hawkeyes tacked on another 10 points in the final period and won by the eye-popping score of 59-0.

“That game was a real tribute to the leadership of our football team,” says Long. “We were a veteran team with a group of seniors who knew what it took to succeed. To bounce back like that from a very disappointing loss showed real leadership.”

The 1985 Hawkeyes went on to finish the regular season 10-1, win the Big Ten championship and play in the Rose Bowl. To its credit, Illinois bounced back from that humiliating defeat to win its final two games and get a Peach Bowl berth.

Long, the only Big Ten quarterback who has passed for 10,000 yards, had a nine-year run in the National Football League before joining the coaching staff at his alma mater last summer. He knew he wanted to become a coach when he was still a Hawkeye.

“I worked at a football camp at my high school (Wheaton, IL) before my senior year at Iowa, and I knew then I wanted to coach,” says Chuck. “I enjoyed watching the youngsters develop, and I knew I wanted to be around football because I really enjoy the game.

“I wanted to coach at the college level. The players all come in and get the same financial package that goes with an NCAA scholarship. Taking a player and developing him over a period of four or five years appeals to me. Coaching in the NFL does not appeal to me.

“Coaching is everything I expected it to be and more. I have found it to be very fulfilling. There have been a few surprises, no shocks.

“I enjoy working with kids and watching them come together. I enjoy game planning and preparation. Recruiting–getting to know prospects and their parents–is a lot of fun.”

Chuck met his wife Lisa when the two were students at Iowa. They are the parents of two sons and two daughters. The family lives in Cedar Rapids and he does not mind the commute to Iowa City.

“We came here from Los Angeles and I’m used to driving an hour or more to work,” he says.

Chuck will be at work on the sideline Saturday wearing the jacket of an Iowa football coach. Ten years ago in this same game, while wearing Iowa jersey No. 16, he was the catalyst in the biggest first quarter offensive explosion in Hawkeye history.