Evy: The Championship Season

Sept. 23, 2010

EDITOR’S NOTE: The UI Athletics Department will celebrate the Forest Evashevski era of football at the UI Saturday with the staging of its second “Throwback Game.” The 2010 Hawkeyes will wear uniforms that have the look of the 1960 team – Evy’s eighth and final at the UI – that won the Big Ten Conference title when they entertain Ball State at 11 a.m., Iowa time inside historic Kinnick Stadium. The following is a excerpt from the book, “75 Years With the Fighting Hawkeyes,” by Dick Lamb and Bert McGrane. It talks about the significant coaching decision made by Evy in 1956 that paid off handsomely for the Hawkeye football program.

Amid the echoes of celebration came further accolades. Alex Karras became the second Hawkeye in two weeks to earn national “linesman of the week” honors. Kenny Ploen was named Midwest “back of the week,” and Forest Evashevski received his first 1956 coaching honor: Midwest Coach of the Year, by the Chicago Football Writers Association.

There was reason to suspect that Iowa, basking in the glory of the first championship claim a Hawkeye team had filed since 1922, might not be capable of reaching the necessary peak required for a victory over Notre Dame. That fear was wasted. The Hawks slammed into the Fighting Irish with one of the most ruthless running attacks ever employed by an Iowa team. An impressive total of 409 yards was gained on the ground, and 50 more on four completed passes. The Iowans scored the first five times they had the ball. A 28–0 halftime lead was increased in the final two periods. Three touchdowns by Ploen, Mike Hagler and Fred Harris, were made on runs of more than forty yards.

Not since 1940 had the Hawkeyes beaten a Notre Dame team and in the 11 intervening games three ties had provided Iowa its only consolation. This time the most decisive victory ever wrested from the Fighting Irish was Iowa’s, 48–0. Forty-two Hawkeye players took part in the seven touchdown onslaught. Only once before in more than 50 years had Notre Dame surrendered more points to an opponent. Even before the game was over word was flashed to Hawkeyeland that Michigan had beaten Ohio State. Iowa’s championship was undisputed–the first such title since 1921.

With dash and dazzle, the trim and talented State University of Iowa band swung smartly up the field in the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, Calif., January 1, 1957. From the Iowa side of the vast concrete arena a roar welcomed the finely co-oriented unit directed and beautifully readied for the occasion by Fred Ebbs, the Hawkeye bandmaster. Moments later Coach Evashevski’s football squad jogged out from the dressing room, ready for battle in the most glamorous struggle ever engaged by an Iowa team.

The Hawks flew home and packed away their equipment. Their heads were high. During the regular season they had been just 66 seconds away from an undefeated season, Michigan winning, 17–14, with only 1:06 to play. They had swept just about everything a college team could win–the Big Ten championship, a convincing Rose Bowl victory and recognition far and wide as one of the great teams of the nation. The Columbus (Ohio) Touchdown Club awarded the Robert C. Zuppke Trophy to Iowa as the outstanding college football team in the country.

Across the field, tense and fidgety, the Oregon State players waited, the same men who had held the Hawkeyes without a point for nearly 50 minutes, some 11 weeks earlier. This was to be the historic rematch in the Rose Bowl of two teams that had fought each other to a standstill in the regular season. No such principals had been paired in the Rose Bowl before. Iowa’s indecisive 14–13 edge in the earlier meeting provided great doubt as to which team would prevail in the classic post-season game. More than 10,000 Iowans journeyed to California and were part of the 97,126 who jammed Pasadena’s famed stadium.

The game began. For the first four minutes it was crashing, mashing give and take. Iowa had the ball in midfield. Suddenly, with the Wing-T threat threatening to strike almost any point of the Oregon State defense, Kenny Ploen bolted through an opening in the secondary and raced away. He ran 49 yards for the first Iowa touchdown, with less than five minutes gone. The Hawks came right back in that first quarter, raging downfield once more with that speedy, deceptive attack. A 37 yard blast by Dan Dobrino put the ball on the Beaver 9 yard line. From there Ploen called on Mike Hagler, who swept on in. Iowa had two touchdowns with the first quarter only half gone. Adding Bob Prescott’s extra points, the Hawks held a 14–0 lead. That was as many points as they had scored in the full 60 minutes of the regular season game between the two clubs.

Oregon State slammed its way back into contention. With little more than two minutes gone in the second quarter it moved to a touchdown but missed the extra point. Iowa, leading 14–6, widened it to 21–6 before the half when Bill Happel’s five-yard romp capped another drive. At the particular stage of the game Iowa was threatened with trouble. Kenny Ploen, who started brilliantly, had been carried off the field with what appeared to be an injury that would prevent his return. Quiet but fervent thanks was evident in the Iowa stands when Ploen returned for the second half and resumed his outstanding play.

His role as the game’s most valuable player must have been obvious to all, but y the way of clinching that honor he received an overwhelming majority of the votes of the writers who make such selections. Iowa had many standouts that day, including Mike Hagler. He streaked 66 yards for his second touchdown in the early minutes of the third quarter. With a 28–6 margin the ultimate winner was fairly well assured but Oregon State was not ready to concede. The Beavers stormed back for a third quarter touchdown of their own, again missing the goal kick. Iowa went into the fourth quarter leading, 28–12.

The fifth and last Iowa touchdown came in the first 13 seconds of the fourth quarter, with Ploen passing to Gibbons for the final 16 yards of the drive. Six minutes later Joe Francis drilled home a 35 yard touchdown pass for Oregon State. The final score was 35–19, Iowa winning and giving thirty-nine players the experience of participating in a Rose Bowl victory. The game ball was sent to Mrs. Talitha Jones, mother of Iowa’s great Calvin Jones, to whom the Iowa team had quietly dedicated victory. Iowa’s interior linemen, Alex Karras and Dick Klein at the tackles, Frank Bloomquist and Bob Commings at the guards and Don Suchy at center, helped jam the day with frustration for Oregon State. They had notable help from John Nocera, Iowa’s line-backing fullback. The ends, Frank Gilliam and Jim Gibbons, were invaluable.

SATURDAY:: Iowa vs. Ball State in the 2010 Throwback Game. Kickoff shortly after 11 a.m. Iowa time at historic Kinnick Stadium and on the Hawkeye Radio and Big Ten television networks.