Iowa teams have had five invitations to play in Los Angles on New Years Day
By Irving Weber
Iowa City Press Citizen
December 29, 1981
Iowa football teams have had five invitations to play in the Los Angles area on New Year’s Day, not just the three generally remembered – 1956, 1958 and 1981.
The 1921 team had been invited, but conference faculty representatives ruled against it, as reported by George Bolier.
Iowa’s great 1900 championship team, Big Ten Champions, and hailed also as Champions of the West, was the first Iowa team to receive an invitation to play in Los Angles on New Years Day. The University of California was to be their opponent.
The invitation also requested that the two teams play in San Francisco on Christmas Day.
According to the Iowa Daily Press of Dec 19, 1900, the invitation came as the result of the good work of a former Iowa Citian Albert Murschel, a sports writer for the San Francisco Post. Murschel had written an old friend in Iowa City of the great 1900 Iowa team and a review of its season. A feature story on Iowa resulted. The invitation to play the University of California came from D.W. Hitchcock of California, following the former Iowa Citian’s feature story.
While the victorious 1900 Iowa team had been on the banquet trail hot and heavy following the last game on Thanksgiving Day, they voted unanimously and enthusiastically to accept the invitation. The Board in Control of Athletics, Professor G.C. Nutting, its spokesman, voted 9 to 1 in favor of accepting the invitation, the dissenting vote surprisingly came from a student member of the board.
University of Iowa President George E. MacLean, always a booster of Iowa sports programs, was heartily in favor of the games, stating “It would be a fine opportunity for the University to advertise itself on the Pacific Coast."
Mac Lean, who was responsible for the Pentacrrest plan for the Iowa campus, stressed in a wire to the Des Moines Leader, that “these games would be Holiday Games, not post season games.” The university had taken a positive stand against post season games. Calling them “Holiday Games” was a face-saving way of accepting the California games.
The team was scheduled to leave for California the evening of Dec 19. While they were having their final practice in Athletic Park (the area between Iowa Avenue and Burlington Street, and the Iowa River , now a parking lot west of the Main Library) they received an ominous sounding message from Mr. Hitchcock of the Union Pacific railroad stating that the invitation was unauthorized and Iowa should not start west until hearing from the University of California.
Several hours later President MacLean received the following telegram:
December 19, 1900
President George e Maclean
Iowa City, Iowa
Impossible to arrange games. Manager says team cannot get ready.
Sec’y to President Wheeler
When the message came it was taken to Athletic Park where the team was in the final stages of workout before entraining for California that evening.
Needless to say it was a bitter disappointment to the team and the Iowa fans, but of course all plans were immediately canceled. A complete explanation of the confusion is not reported in any of the papers, other than it was reported that it would not have been in the best interest of Mr. Hitchcock’s health and general well being to have appeared in Iowa City during the holiday season of 1900.
As something of a coincidence, Dec 19, 1900 also happens to have been an important date on my personal calendar – marking my initial appearance in Iowa City. And, I have been following the Iowa football fortunes for the ensuing 81 years.
Had the 1900 games been played, the one in Los Angels might well have been the first Big Ten – Pacific Coast Rose Bowl game, rather than the game the following year when Gleding Yost’s “point a minute” team defeated Stanford It is an interesting fact that it was in 1900 that Iowa joined the Big Ten Conference and won the title its first year.
The record of that 1900 team is one of the most outstanding in Iowa football annals. The team, with the same personnel was undefeated in both 1899 and 1900, and their goal line was uncrossed either year. The 1900 team defeated such football greats in the Big Ten as the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan., and on consecutive Saturday and both away from home.
In fact Michigan had an open date the week Iowa was playing Chicago and the entire Michigan team came to Chicago to scout Iowa and figure a defense for Iowa’s famous “guards back play” where the guards actually carried the ball.
Following the Chicago victory, Iowa’s coach Dr A.A. Knipe took his team directly to Michigan to make preparations for the tough Wolverines game ahead. They spent the week at a resort hotel on Lake St. Clair, where its highly regarded golf course promised good facilities for he Iowa practices. Unfortunately the golf course was special thistle type grass, highly unsatisfactory for scrimmage.
However the week was well spent with Knipe completely changing the Iowa offense, utilizing the blazing speed of the pony sized backs to replace the famous “guards back play”.
Iowa defeated Michigan 28 to 5 ( five points for a field goal then) a shocking defeat for the highly touted Michigan team. The Detroit News Tribune was most complimentary to Iowa.: “Detroit (where the game was played) has never seen such football as Iowa played…Iowa is in a class by herself, and she beat Michigan beyond all conjecture. Her men played with a dash and confidence that comes from an unbroken line of victories ….She is without equal in the football west”.
In January of 1978, the late Grant Keppier, life-long Iowa Citian and loyal Iowa supporter for almost 80 years, gave me one of the "football shaped" programs of the last game played by the championship 1900 team. The game was against Northwestern, one of the organizers of the Big Ten in 1896 before Iowa joined, and was played in Rock Island, Ill, Nov 29,1900.
The 30-page program and contents (reportedly now valued at $300) are most interesting, not only because it is football shaped with the pages tied together with lacing like a real football, but because of the shape of the football which was so much different. Rather than being today's "prolate spheroid" (quoted from the rules book) the ball was much more oval shaped as the program shape indicates. It certainly was not conducive to forward passing.
That Iowa-Northwestern game unfortunately ended in a 5 to 5 tie, Iowa having been doped to be the easy winner. According to newspaper account, the chef at the Davenport Hotel where the team was staying the night before the game, had some large wagers on Northwestern, and put croton oil on the potatoes served the Iowa team, and they became violently ill, and affected throughout the game.
However Iowa kept it record of never having had its goal line crossed. Northwestern's 5 points came from a field goal and Iowa's from a touchdown, the points being the same for both.
What a shame the 1900 team did not get to play in Los Angles on New Years Day and be a part of the first Rose Bowl game between the Big Ten and the Pacific Coast Conference.
Irving B. Weber a native Iowa CItian was a businessman who wrote regularly for the Iowa City Press Citizen. Many of his columns and feature stories have been combined in several volumes of books titled Irving Weber's Iowa City available in most Iowa City book stores. the books were published by the Iowa City Lions Club.
Read "A Description of Football" printed in an 1900 Iowa Football Program