By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It didn’t get much better than the 1956 season for University of Iowa football fans.
The Hawkeyes won a Big Ten Conference championship and the Rose Bowl that season, but they also tragically and prematurely lost Cal Jones, one of the program’s biggest stars.
Jones died in a plane crash Dec. 9, 1956, at the age of 23. He was working his way to Pasadena, California, from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to watch former teammates and coaches prepare for the Rose Bowl against Oregon State.
A year earlier, Jones, an offensive lineman, became the first Hawkeye and the first African-American to win the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top collegiate interior lineman. The Hawkeyes were 3-5-1 in 1955 and Jones was a consensus All-American for a second consecutive season.
Jones was one-third of the “Steubenville Trio” of Hawkeye football players that also included Eddie Vincent and Frank Gilliam. All three were natives of Steubenville, Ohio.
Following college, Jones spent the 1956 season playing for Winnipeg in the Canadian Football League. He played in all 16 games and the Blue Bombers compiled a record of 9-7. Winnipeg advanced to the Western Interprovincial Football Union (WIFU) semifinals where it lost to Saskatchewan, 42-7, on Nov. 3, and defeated Saskatchewan, 19-8, on Nov. 5. (Saskatchewan advanced to the finals with a 50-26 point advantage). Those were the final two football games Jones would play.
The East-West All-Star game was held Dec. 8 at Empire Stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Jones was in attendance. The WIFU defeated the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union, 35-0, in front of 13,546.
On the morning of his death, Jones was supposed to board an earlier flight with Winnipeg teammates Bud Grant, Bob McNamara, and Gordie Rowland, but he slept in. Despite the urgings of Grant and McNamara to jump in a cab and meet them at the airport, Jones decided to take his chances on Trans-Canada Air Lines Flight 810 from Vancouver to Calgary. The plane left at 6:10 p.m. and experienced severe icing and turbulence before crashing on Mount Siesse in British Columbia, killing all 62 on board.
Jones has not been forgotten by the University of Iowa football program. His No. 62 is one of two retired numbers (Nile Kinnick’s No. 24 is the other). Jones is also prominently featured in several locations inside the Richard O. Jacobson Football Operations Building.
His photo is one of the first that visitors see when they enter the lobby of the football building. Walk up a flight of stairs and there is a replica of his 1955 Outland Trophy on display. Another framed photo rests on a wall in the All-America Room. A few blocks away, Jones’ name and number are attached to the Kinnick Stadium’s Paul W. Brechler Press Box.
“You talk to people about the kind of player and person Cal Jones was and it is pretty legendary,” UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He was a dominant player and a big part of why they were so successful in that era.”