Following a magical season in which the Iowa Ironmen finished 6-1-1 and first year coach Dr. Eddie Anderson was named national coach of the year, 1940 marked the first of many average seasons of Hawkeye Football. Without 1939 Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick and star Edwin Prasse, the Iowa gridiron eleven finished 4-4. The only memorable moment in the season was a 7-0 upset over unbeaten Notre Dame in November. What makes this win so memorable was that the Hawks won this game in South Bend even though they came into it with a four-game losing streak. Notre Dame had won its first six games that season but dropped to 0-3 lifetime against the Hawkeyes.
In the last two semi-normal football seasons before post-World War II 1946, Anderson's Hawkeyes were 3-5 and 6-4 in 1941 and 1942. Although the Hawks lost their last two games in 1942, their homecoming win in November over Wisconsin was against one of the best teams in Badger history. Wisconsin was led by star backs Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch and Pat Harder, yet the Hawkeyes pitched a shutout in a 6-0 win. The loss cost the Badgers the national title, and Ohio State vaulted to number one in the nation. It must have been difficult for the Badgers to swallow as they had beaten Ohio State a week before the Iowa loss.
During World War II, the Hawks were not even the best team in Iowa City. The U.S. government drafted players off of the Iowa squad, and even Coach Anderson joined the war effort. At the same time, another college football team had opened in Iowa City. The U.S. Navy opened four ground training schools, called pre-flight schools, at universities around the country, and Iowa was one of the four to be chosen. The school had a football team and it was named the Iowa Pre-flight Seahawks. They played a college schedule and had a roster comprised of 70 cadets and officers. The team's home stadium was Iowa Stadium and they were coached in 1942 by legendary Minnesota Coach Bernie Bierman.
Although the men on the team were training for the war, they played great football against some of the best college and military teams in the country. The Seahawks featured many former college football stars like Michigan quarterback (and future legendary Iowa coach) Forest Evashevski and Hawkeye Ironman Al Couppee. The first Seahawks compiled a 7-3 record, but by 1943 they were 9-1 and finished number two in the final AP rankings that year after losing to Notre Dame, 14-13. The final edition of the Seahawks went 10-1 in 1945 and finished number six in the final polls.
Military training took precedence over athletic training, and combined with the loss of athletes and coaches to military service, Iowa Football suffered during the war years. Over 80 percent of the Iowa Field House was used for military training, and Iowa Athletics struggled to find facilities. This put the programs at a disadvantage compared to other Big Ten schools, and it showed in the standings. With two interim head coaches in Anderson's place in the three years he was gone, the Hawks combined to go 4-21-1 between the 1943-45 seasons and were only 1-15-1 in the Big Ten. Amazingly, the one win was over powerhouse rival Minnesota in 1945. As bad as the Hawks were, they beat Nebraska by at least 20 points in two of those wartime seasons.
The Hawks finished out the decade under Anderson, and much like the early 40s, the team finished around .500. Anderson at the end of the decade asked for faculty tenure, which at the time was an unusual request, but was turned down. In response he resigned and went back to Holy Cross, where he finished his coaching career. All told, Anderson coached for 39 years and became the fourth coach in NCAA history to reach 200 wins. He retired at age 64 with a 201-128-15 career record and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
Iowa State was able to take advantage of traditional schools sending their top players to World War II as they had one of their best seasons in school history in 1944. The Cyclones went 6-1-1 that season against depleted rosters and with two non-conference games against Gustavus Adolphus and Doane. Although most colleges, Major League Baseball, and the National Football League do not view records and games from the World War II years the same way as most regular seasons, the Iowa State website still mentions the 1944 Cyclones as one of the greatest teams in school history. During those years when the Big XII was known as the Big Six, Iowa State had only won more than two conference games in only two other campaigns before the 1944 season.
World War II also affected the Iowa Conference, as the conference standings seemed to rotate every season in the 1940s. Dubuque and Upper Iowa both won or tied for three titles while Luther and Central also topped the league, but teams that found success in one season, more times than not, finished in the lower division the following year. However, the three titles in the decade and an overall record of 39-23-1 were the pinnacle of the Upper Iowa program and their legendary coach Dr. John E. "Doc" Dorman. Born in 1878 in Fayette, Dorman began coaching the Peacocks after finishing his playing career, and by 1910 was named head coach. Unbelievably, he stayed on the Upper Iowa sidelines until after the 1959 season. His career record was 154-135-18 after having seven losing seasons in the 1950s, but much like legendary head coach Eddie Robinson of Grambling University, institutional icons deserve to stop when they want to stop. He was born, went to school, played football, and coached fifty seasons of football in the same college town. His likes may never be seen again.
Although no one stayed at their school as a head coach for 50 years like Doc Dorman, coaches and programs became more constant in the Iowa Conference in the 1950s in the years following World War II. Richard Tysseling has long been forgotten at Central College because of the dominant success of his successor Ron Schipper from 1961-1996, but Tysseling ran the Dutchmen program from 1938-1960 with varying success. Central won the conference title in 1956, but spent eight years of the decade stuck in the bottom division.
Wartburg won two Iowa Conference titles in the 1950s, while St. Ambrose also won two, but the constant power of the 1950s was Luther led by head coach Edsel Schweizer. In his 26-year career in Decorah that started in 1952, Schweizer won six Iowa Conference titles and had a career record of 150-79-6. The Norsemen won three titles in the last seven years of the 1950s and at one point played 21 games without a loss. In five seasons from 1954 to 1958 the program won two titles and finished second in the other three seasons.
Much like Luther, the Iowa Hawkeyes had some of their most powerful football teams ever in the 1950s. Edsel Schweizer is probably the biggest legend in Norsemen Football history, but the Luther program was on fairly solid ground when he took over. Although Dr. Eddie Anderson was a hall of fame coach, the Iowa program had finished near the middle of the Big Ten Conference for many of the previous twelve seasons when Forest Evashevski was hired in 1952. Evashevski worked few sudden miracles, as his first team was 2-7 with very little talent on the roster. However, the Associated Press thought Evy had worked a miracle that first year as he changed the Iowa Offense in the week leading up to the Ohio State game and beat the powerful Buckeyes in Columbus with a spread offense, 8-0. OSU got only 42 yards rushing in the contest that was voted by the AP as the third biggest upset of that year. Iowa was 0-4 on the season going into the game against legendary coach Woody Hayes and his Buckeyes.
Before Evy got the program rolling, he spent his first few seasons developing a reputation as a giant killer. The OSU game in 1952 has long been remembered as the first huge upset, but a tie in 1953 against Notre Dame had larger ramifications. Although the Hawks were still undermanned in year two of the rebuilding phase under Evy, the team was much stronger in 1953 as they posted a 5-3-1 record. In those years, Notre Dame was the last game on the Iowa schedule, and that season the Irish were ranked No. 1. However, in the game Iowa was the stronger team as the mighty Irish resorted to faking injuries at the end of both halves of the game because they couldn't score straight up. The ploy to delay the game worked, as Notre Dame scored at the end of each half to pull out a 14-14 tie.
The Irish had been ranked No. 1 all season and the tie knocked them out of the national championship race, but more than that, the national press heaped criticism upon Notre Dame Coach Frank Leahy for his dishonest tactics. Evy helped add fuel to the fire at a university gathering by paraphrasing legendary sports writer Grantland Rice: "When the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He writes not that you won or lost, but how you got gypped at Notre Dame."
Despite having the second best winning percentage of .864 in NCAA history (107-13-9), Leahy resigned amidst the criticism. Evy didn't take pity on the Irish in future years as the Hawks romped in 4 out of the last 5 meetings. Because of Evy's success and some hard feelings by the Irish, Notre Dame repeatedly tried to get out of the contract and eventually let it expire. Notre Dame has played Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Northwestern, and Purdue in recent years, but hasn't signed a new contract with Iowa in over 40 years. Hayden Fry tried to get them back on the schedule in the 1980s, but Notre Dame refused.
Although he stepped down from coaching at age 42 after the 1960 season, Forest Evashevski was considered the brightest young coach in college football. He was best known for developing the Wing-T formation, which was as popular then as the spread offense is today or the wishbone was in the 1970s. It was in 1956 that Evy sprung the Wing-T formation on the football world and won the Big Ten championship, shutting out Ohio State and Minnesota at the finish to earn Iowa's first Rose Bowl invitation that the school was allowed to accept. They finished the year off by destroying Oregon State. In 1958 it was more of the same as Iowa won the Big Ten, Rose Bowl, and the Football Writers Association award as the No. 1 team in the country. Evashevski and the Hawks also finished 2nd in the country in 1960, which ended up being his last season.
In that year, Ray Marquette wrote in the Indianapolis News: "Forest Evashevski, by popular acclaim, is the greatest thing that's happened to Iowa since the Indians planted their first hill of maize. As a result of his wide open offense and gambling defenses, the Hawkeyes today are the No. 1 team in the Big Ten, the nation, and the universe…"
Iowa has never had a five-year period like Evy's last five years, although Howard Jones and Hayden Fry also had good segments. From 1956-1960, Evashevski and the Hawks were 37-8-2 (22-7-1 in the Big Ten), and four of the five teams finished their seasons ranked in the nation's top five. They beat powerful Minnesota for five straight years, and turned out great all-American players like RB's Bob Jeter, Larry Ferguson, and Willie Fleming, G Cal Jones, T Alex Karras, E Don Norton, QB Randy Duncan, E Jim Gibbons, E Frank Gilliam, and C Jerry Hilgenberg.
Although they played a weaker schedule than the Hawkeyes did in the late 50s, the 1959 Iowa State team is perhaps the most famous in school history. As a result of only having only 30 active players on the team roster, the 1959 Cyclones became known as the "Dirty Thirty." Even though four of their wins were against Drake, South Dakota, Denver, and San Jose State, the Dirty Thirty are also remembered as one of the top five teams in ISU history as they finished the season with a 7-3 record. Many may also remember the team because Ex-Ohio State and Arizona State head coach John Cooper was on the roster.