The 1921 Iowa Hawkeyes

Editor’s Note: The University of Iowa football team will wear “throwback” uniforms on Saturday when the Hawkeyes square off against Iowa State in the annual Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series event. The change in attire is intended to celebrate Iowa’s 1921 and 1922 undefeated and Big Ten Conference championship teams under the direction of Howard Jones. Both teams were considered by many to be among the nation’s best and were anchored by several student-athletes who earned all-Big Ten and all-America honors. Today, we’ll introduce you to the Hawkeyes’ 1921 season. The rest of the week will look like this: Friday – 1922 season, Saturday – 1923 season. All is compliments of Dick Lamb and Bert McGrane, authors of the book, “75 Years with the Fighting Hawkeyes.”

The year 1921 brought Iowa its first undisputed Big Ten football championship. But more than that, it also brought the Hawkeyes national championship recognition and an invite to the Rose Bowl.

It is indeed difficult to present an all-inclusive summary of the achievements carved by Howard Jones’ 1921 warriors. The team itself was unbeaten and said by many to be the nation’s finest eleven; Coach Jones has since been justly recognized as one of football’s greatest mentors; and four of the starting eleven gained all-American stature at the close of the season.

Other significant points provide additional luster to the all-wining record: all members of the first two varsity elevens came from the state of Iowa. The first, second and fourth leading scorers in the Big Ten were all Hawkeyes. Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne’s longest winning streak, 20 games, was stopped by the 1921 Iowans. Also, Purdue tested its worst football defeat, and Minnesota surrendered in the face of the most points which had ever been scored on a Gopher team. When the all-state of Iowa mythical teams were announced following the season, six Hawkeyes were listed on the first unit and all eleven starters were selected on one of the first three teams.

Individually, the greatest two-game performance in more than fifty years of Big Ten play was turned in by Aubrey Devine. The versatile Iowa captain and quarterback scored 57 total points against Minnesota and Indiana in a period of eight days. Not even the legendary feats of Red Grange, Herb Joesting, Pug Lund, Tom Harmon, or any of a host of great backs of recent years could approach Devine’s mark. Called by critic Walter Eckersall “the best exponent of the triple threat the Middle West has seen since the coming of the forward pass in 1906,” the incomparable Devine gains near unanimous support from those who saw him play as the greatest player ever to wear a Hawkeye uniform.

Iowa opened the season as expected, with an easy 52-14 ambush of outclassed Knox college, but their sights were already set upon the much heralded battle with Notre Dame scheduled the next week.

In one of the classic games of Hawkeye football history the powerful Rockne coached Irish were beaten 10-7. Not since 1918 had Notre Dame tasted defeat, and not until the waning seconds when a pass interception thwarted the final Irish threat was the game settled.

Iowa scored all of its points in the first period, Gordon Locke hitting for a touchdown on a fourth down smash from inside the Notre Dame one. On the next Hawk series Locke and Devine drove to the Irish 30 from where Aubrey kicked a field goal. The ball was drop-kicked and the 38 yard line. Notre Dame retaliated with a score of its own in the second quarter when Johnny Mohardt completed a pass to Roger Kiley on the Iowa 30 and the All-American end carried the ball the remaining distance.

Two more Fighting Irish threats were stopped in the final half and Iowa had earned one of its most cherished victories, 10-7. The Notre Dame right end and team captain was a Mason City, Iowa, native – Eddie Anderson. Eighteen years later that same Eddie Anderson would be involved in another memorable Hawkeyes-Irish battle, then as coach of the immortal 1939 “Ironmen.”

Five consecutive Big Ten opponents were yet to be faced by Howard Jones’ heroes as they turned their thoughts toward a meeting with Illinois. The resulting 14-2 victory was comforting, but most instrumental was the pile-driving fury of Gordon Locke. The Iowa fullback was called upon 37 times during the game and he responded with a record 202 yards rushing and both Hawk touchdowns. All eleven Iowa starters played the full sixty minutes.

Duke Slater, Les Belding and the Devine brothers closed their careers a week later against Northwestern at Evanston. The resulting 14-0 victory, coupled with Illinois’ defeat of Ohio State, gave Iowa its first undisputed Conference championship and its last such title for another 35 years. Just 36 points were scored against Hawkeyes who averaged more than four touchdowns themselves in each of seven games.

Purdue was victim Number 4. Playing on a gridiron covered with water Aubrey Devine again took charge. He passed to Les Belding for one score and then raced 33 yards through the entire Boilermaker team with a punt return for the winning touchdown in a close 13-6 game. Veteran coach and authority Clark Shaughnessy, writing in 1943, called Devine’s brilliant punt return “one of the 12 greatest individual plays in the history of football.”

A Minneapolis date with perennial rival Minnesota loomed as another tough challenge. It wasn’t, because Iowa had Devine. In the greatest single performance by a Hawkeyes gridder the Iowa captain passed for two touchdowns, scored four touchdowns himself, and kicked five extra points. He raced for 162 yards from scrimmage, returned punts and kickoffs an additional 180 yards and passed for 122 more. The 464 total yards gained caused Hall of Fame Gopher coach Dr. Henry L. Williams to refer to Devine as “the greatest football player who ever stepped on Northrup Field.” The Hawkeyes won, 41-7.

Iowa and the incomparable Devine continued their 1921 title drive in the home windup against Indiana. The Hoosiers were smashed, 41-0. Aubrey Devine rushed for 183 yards from scrimmage, completed seven passes for 102 more, scored four touchdowns and kicked four extra points during the first three periods. He saw no action in the final quarter.

Duke Slater, Les Belding and the Devine brothers closed their careers a week later against Northwestern at Evanston. The resulting 14-0 victory, coupled with Illinois’ defeat of Ohio State, gave Iowa its first undisputed Conference championship and its last such title for another 35 years. Just 36 points were scored against Hawkeyes who averaged more than four touchdowns themselves in each of seven games.

Only two men, Locke and Devine, carried the ball on offense. The other backfield pair, Glenn Devine and Craven Shuttleworth, were used as blockers. Forty years later another highly successful exponent of this style of attack molded has offense in the same way. Ohio State, under the tutelage of Woody Hayes, utilized the quarterback or fullback on 522 of 584 total plays in 1960. The Buckeye halfbacks were used almost exclusively as blockers, carrying the ball less than seven times a game. Ironically, a defeat by Iowa near the close of the 1960 season cost Ohio State the undisputed Big Ten title – giving the championship instead to the Hawkeyes and Minnesota.

After the season opener against Knox there were only three touchdowns scored on the 1921 champions. Following the final game came rumors of a post season contest. Howard Jones was called into conference with a committee representing the California Tournament of Roses Association to discuss the possibility of the Iowa team going west to meet the leading team of the Pacific Coast on New Year’s Eve Day.

On November 21 Athletic Board chairman B. J. Lambert acknowledged that Iowa was in receipt of an invitation to play the football champions of the Far West on the following January 1.

Nine days later the Iowa Board in Control of Athletics met in “special session’ with Dr. William Duffield of Los Angeles, representing the Tournament of roses Committee. Would Iowa be interested in a Rose Bowl appearance against the University of California? Unfortunately for the record the Hawkeyes were not interested because: 1. the Board opposed postseason competition and, 2. a Big Ten ruling adopted six months earlier prevented such a possibility, although a review of the Iowa invitation by the Conference was made. The indications were present that had the Conference agreed to permit Iowa to make the trip, the Iowa Board would have approved the January 1 game.

Four Hawkeyes, Devine, Locke, Slater and Belding were named to various all-America teams. Walter Camp, football’s foremost authority, gave Aubrey Devine the game’s highest honor: selection as quarterback on his first honor team. No other Iowan had ever been given first team recognition by the “father of American football.” With his career completed Devine could look back on a score of achievements. His single game deeds against Minnesota may never be approached, nor the two-game records established against the Gophers and Indiana within an eight day period. He led the Iowa team in rushing, passing and scoring during each of his three years of varsity competition. His 895 yards rushing in 1921 stands as an Iowa single season mark, and his1316 yard total offense has been exceeded only once. The 161 career points scored rank third in the Iowa record book. His total passing yardage, although made with a more difficult ball to control at a time when passing rules were much more confining, was enough to place him in the Hawkeyes top ten when compilations were made more than forty years later. No one has topped the 1961 yards Devine gained rushing during his Iowa career. He also kicked six field goals during his three years of play. No Iowan has matched that number since. And he is the only Hawkeye to exceed 3,000 yards in total offense during a career. Randy Duncan, who played 35 years later, ranks second, nearly 500 yards away. No other Iowa player accumulated yardage within one-thousand of Devine.

Years after he left Iowa City Howard Jones evaluated Aubrey Devine in this fashion: “The greatest all-around backfield man I have ever coached or seen in the modern game. Others may have been as great in open field running, there may have been better punters or drop kickers, but I have never known any backfield man whose accomplishments in running, punting, drop-kicking and forward passing combined equal those of Aubrey Devine. In addition, he was a leader and field general of the highest type.”

Gordon Locke, only a junior in 1921, was named to the all-American first team of Norman Brown, the second team of Walter Eckersall and the Chicago Tribune, as well as a consensus all-Western and all Big Ten selection. Second in scoring in the Conference, Locke rushed for more than seven hundred yards, his most successful afternoon being more than 200 against Illinois.

Lester Belding, fourth leading Big Ten scorer, was also a consensus all-Western and all Big Ten team member, in addition to gaining numerous all-America second and third team awards.

Giant Fred (Duke) Slater, the greatest offensive tackle ever to play for Iowa and one of the finest football has ever known, earned a first team all-America berth on most elevens, including those of Eckersall, Walter Trumbull of the New York Herald, I.N.S. and the N.E.A Walter Camp, having placed Aubrey Devine on his number one unit, gave Salter a second team spot. Most critics disagreed with Camp. Walter Eckersall said: “Slater is so powerful that one man cannot handle him and opposing elevens have found it necessary to send two men against him every time a play was sent off his side of the line.”

H.O. (Fritz) Crisler, a tower of strength to football and athletics for more than forty years, played against Duke Slater. His comments about him were equally impressive: “Duke Slater was the best tackle I ever played against. I tried to block him throughout my college career but never once did I impede his progress to the ball carrier.”

Duke Slater, always a gentleman on and off the gridiron, was chose on the all-America football team by Glenn (pop) Warner. In 1946, 600 sports writers throughout the nation named him a member of their all-time all-America eleven. Five years later he was further honored by being selected to the National Football Hall of Fame.

There were other Iowans whose football stature reached maturity in 1921. Craven Shuttleworth and Glenn Devine, halfbacks, paved the way as offensive blockers and linebacking stalwarts. The Iowa forwards, impregnable and unmovable according to modern terminology, included Belding and Max Kadesky at the ends, Slater and George Thomson at tackle, Paul Minick and Chet Mead the guards, and fireplug Johnny Heldt at center.

Seven of the starters would return in 1922, but Howard Jones was faced with the task of filling the shoes of both Devines, Duke Slater and Les Belding. Early in 1922 the Iowa Board in Control of Athletics met twice to consider the possibility of hiring Notre Dame’s outstanding end and captain, Eddie Anderson, as an assistant football coach. The suggestion was rejected on the advice of Howard Jones.

In June, the first informal discussions were held on the advisability and feasibility of establishing an athletic field on the west side of the Iowa River. It was unanimously agreed that available seating at Iowa Field was inadequate to handle the demand of fans to see the Hawkeye gridders. In an effort to temporarily alleviate the problem the seating capacity was increased by 9,600 with the construction of new steel bleachers. Capacity was raised to 22,000.

Within the Big Ten legislation was adopted whereby the office of a Commissioner would be established “to assist in the enforcement of amateur rules, to aid and assist in the promotion of the amateur spirit and principles, and to carry on research in intercollegiate athletic problems.” This was an outgrowth of a suggestion first made by Michigan coach and Director of Athletics, Fielding Yost. A short time later a committee of directors recommended that long time Drake University athletic director Major John L. Griffith be named to the position. Griffith accepted and held the post until his death in 1944.

Tomorrow: The Hawkeyes 1922 season.