Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Mostly Historical, A Bit Personal

This is mostly historical, a bit personal.

It was 20 years ago today – Nov. 21, 1981 – that something happened in Kinnick Stadium at Iowa City that jolted the collegiate football world and touched off pandemonium in an entire state.

Iowa, which hadn’t produced a winning season since 1961 and had been showing plenty of signs of never being able to solve the “Big Two, Little Eight’’ mess the Big Ten Conference had become, pulled off what football have-nots always dream of doing.

On a brisk, late-November afternoon, Hayden Fry’s Hawkeyes got a huge assist from Ohio State and won a ticket to the Rose Bowl. Iowa did its part by mauling Michigan State, 36-7. Ohio State opened the door for Fry and his players earlier in the afternoon by winning at Michigan, 14-9.

Although Iowa and Ohio State both finished the regular season with 8-3 records and tied for first place in the conference at 6-2, the Hawkeyes got the bid to Pasadena because the Buckeyes had been to the Rose Bowl more recently.

I covered the Iowa-Michigan State game for the Des Moines Sunday Register and still vividly recall the bedlam in the stadium that afternoon.

In those days, Register sportswriters didn’t cover only one team for the entire season. We might cover Iowa one week, Iowa State the next week, Drake the week after that, Notre Dame next, then go back to Iowa. That provided us with a fresh outlook each week, and I can’t say it was faulty policy on the part of the editors.

I missed a game late in the season when I was in University Hospitals at Iowa City, recovering from a problem associated with my Type I, insulin-dependent diabetes. In 1981, I had already been a diabetic for 33 years. Now, in November, 2001, I’ve got more than 53 years of the disease behind me and, here I am, still enjoying college football and still writing about it.

On game day, Nov. 21, 1981, I remember my body being sore and a bit out of touch with what was going on around me.

But all of that was forgotten when Iowa leaped to a 16-0 first-quarter lead over Michigan State. I had a job to do. I planned to do it as well as I could.

What a wild day it turned out to be for all of us in that stadium.

Fry’s first two Iowa teams went 5-6 and 4-7, and no one expected his 1981 squad to perform any magic. Fry said later in his book, “Hayden Fry—A High Porch Picnic,’’ that he couldn’t disagree with preseason predictions that the Hawkeyes would likely finish somewhere in the middle of the Big Ten standings.

“We had no illusion about contending for the Big Ten championship,’’ Fry said. “We just wanted to win more games than we lost.’’

But something happened in the season opener that made people start wondering if this could be a special team. Iowa, which had been demolished by Nebraska, 57-0, the year before, rode its strong defense to a stunning 10-7 victory.

However, Iowa State brought the Hawkeyes back to reality the following week with a 23-12 victory. It was in the middle of three consecutive victories the Cyclones had in the series under Coach Donnie Duncan.

But Iowa continued to show that this would be a very big year by later beating UCLA, 20-7, and pulling off huge Big Ten road victories at Michigan, 9-7, and Wisconsin, 17-7.

I didn’t keep many sports sections from my working days, but I did hang onto the Nov. 22, 1981 Sunday Register. That’s the one that carried the headline “IOWA TO ROSE BOWL!’’

Next to that banner head were photos of two red roses. Considering the Sunday Register still had peach-colored paper and was called “THE BIG PEACH,’’ putting roses on that page took some doing.

In addition to my story of the Iowa-Michigan State game and accompanying photographs of Phil Blatcher, the Iowa back who ran for 247 yards, and Fry, who was clutching a rose, Page 1 also included accounts of games involving Iowa State and Drake, plus the newspaper’s high school All-State teams as selected by Chuck Burdick.

Buck Turnbull covered Iowa State’s 27-7 loss to Oklahoma State in the season finale at Ames. Turnbull wrote that the Cyclones “saved the worst for last.’’ Wayne Grett wrapped up a wonderful 10-1 season by Drake. The Bulldogs, coached by Chuck Shelton, rolled past Nebraska-Omaha, 53-0, on a field described by Grett as “a quagmire as a result of Thursday’s snow.’’

Both the Iowa State and Drake stories, as they say in the newspaper business, were below the fold. But at least the Drake story didn’t wind up “back by the tire ads,’’ as Shelton would often say of the Bulldogs’ coverage by the paper.

On Page 2, there were three other staff-written stories dealing with Iowa. Marc Hansen wrote about 20,000 Rose Bowl tickets being available to Hawkeye fans, Bob Dyer wrote a sidebar on the game -- quoting a number of Iowa players -- and then-sports editor Dave Westphal wrote that Iowa’s upcoming Rose Bowl game against Washington would be exactly 25 years after the school’s first trip to Pasadena.

Elsewhere on that page, there was an Associated Press story, headlined “Ray Praises Iowa, Drake,’’ that quoted Robert Ray, then Iowa’s governor, as saying, “Today was an historic day in the history of sports in Iowa. It’s been a long time in coming, but that only makes it that much sweeter.’’

Page 3 was made up entirely of photographs of the Iowa-Michigan State game, taken by Dave Peterson, Harry Baumert and the Associated Press.

Maury White’s account of the Ohio State-Michigan game was headlined across Page 4. In it, he quoted a disappointed Bruce (who had gone to Ohio State from Iowa State) as saying, “Well, we put Iowa in the Rose Bowl.’’

Page 5 carried a large advertisement, urging Iowa’s fans to stay at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. When the ad was placed, before the Nov. 21 fireworks, it appeared the Hawkeyes would wind up in the Liberty Bowl at Memphis. Instead, that’s where Ohio State went, and I’ll bet some of the Buckeye fans stayed at the Peabody.

Speaking of ads, a tour company from Iowa City had one in that paper, selling eight-day, seven-night trips to the Rose Bowl for $689 out of Des Moines. Nothing was in the ad, however, about Iowa being in the game.

The Rose Bowl came a few weeks later. Sadly, Washington won, 28-0. But that’s a story for another day.

This is a different season, and both Iowa and Iowa State – which face one another Saturday in Ames – are headed to bowl games.

I’ll be in the press box.

The good times are back for the Hawkeyes, the Cyclones and me.

For anyone who missed the Nov. 22, 1981 Big Peach, here’s another look at the Iowa-Michigan State game story:

[The Des Moines Sunday Register, Nov. 22, 1981]

NOVEMBER 22, 1981

Big Ten co-champs meet Washington on Jan. 1

Buckeyes jar Michigan,
Then Hawks romp, 36-7

Sunday Register Staff Writer

IOWA CITY, IA. – Make space in the football throne room for a 1981 Iowa team that defied all the odds, performed with a heart and soul unseen around here since the 1950s and Saturday charged into the Rose Bowl on one of the craziest afternoons the old Big Ten Conference has ever witnessed.

Hayden Fry’s gang of supercharged Hawkeyes, given a huge assist by Ohio State earlier in the afternoon, tied for the league championship and became the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl representative with a smashing 36-7 victory over Michigan State before a crowd of 60,103 that shook the footings of Kinnick Stadium with its wild-eyed excitement.

There have been some incredible football happenings over the years at this university in America’s heartland. Howard Jones had some excellent teams in the 1920s. Coach Eddie Anderson, Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick and the rest of the 1939 Ironmen certainly deserved every honor that came their way. So did the 1956 and ’58 Big Ten title teams coached by Forest Evashevski that went on to Rose Bowl victories.

But this unbelievable collection of athletes coached by Fry grabs its own spot in history by authoring quite a rags-to-riches story. Not only did this group become the first Hawkeye team to have a winning season since 1961, but then went for all the gusto and made it to Pasadena.

247 Yards for Blatcher

On a day when Phil Blatcher, a senior who began the season as a third-string tailback, blasted his way to a near-school record 247 yards rushing, Iowa earned the right to play Washington of the Pacific Ten Conference on New Year’s Day in the 68th Rose Bowl game.

“Doing something like this was beyond our wildest dreams,’’ said an elated Fry afterward.

The Texan who brought Iowa from football’s outhouse to the penthouse in just three years was holding a rose petal in one hand and had a rose decal stuck to his forehead.

“Yah-hoo!’’ the 52-year-old coach shouted as he began pondering when he’d be taking his players to Pasadena for Iowa’s first Rose Bowl game since Jan. 1, 1959.

“Shoot! I’d take my players to California tomorrow if I could,’’ he said.

When the band finally quit playing “California, Here I Come’’ and the fans finished tearing down both goal posts to celebrate the victory, Iowa closed the regular season with an 8-3 record and finished in a tie with Ohio State for the Big Ten title at 6-2.

Coming into the day, the Hawks knew it was going to take an unlikely set of events to get them to

IOWA WILL DISTRIBUTE AT LEAST 20,000 ROSE BOWL TICKETS. Page: 2D__________________________________________________________________________________
the Rose Bowl. Michigan, a 9-7 victim of Iowa earlier in the autumn, was in the driver’s seat. All the Wolverines had to do was win at home Saturday over Ohio State.

Favor From Bruce

But Earle Bruce, the Buckeye coach who spent a half-dozen seasons at Iowa State, and his Buckeyes did Iowa a tremendous favor by knocking off Michigan, 14-9, at Ann Arbor.

It took a while for Fry and his players to realize what all the cheering was about in the stands, but once they discovered why the Iowa fans were so excited, they were glad they asked.

“At first,” Fry said, “I thought all the drunks had gotten together in the stands. Finally, I went over to someone sitting there with a radio.

“But the guy was so uptight he didn’t tell me who was ahead in the game he was listening to.

“’Who’s got the ball?’’’ I asked.

“’The team that’s ahead,’ he answered.’’

Finally, Fry learned that Ohio State was ahead. A bit later, he, his players and everyone else were told by The Rev. Robert Holzhammer, the public address announcer, that Ohio State had won.

Seconds after the Ohio State-Michigan game was over, The Rev. Holzhammer was poised in the press box to make the announcement to the crowd. With him was Iowa Athletic Director Bump Elliott.

“I’ll say it when you tell me to,’’ he told Elliott.

“Say it now,’’ Elliott said.

So, with 6 minutes 14 seconds remaining in the first half and with Iowa in front of Michigan State, 16-0, the crowd was told that Michigan had been beaten.

Kinnick Stasdium exploded. The only bigger blast came when this game ended and many of the fans emptied onto the field in pursuit of their heroes.

“Rose Bowl! Rose Bowl!’’ the fans had chanted in the final minutes. Players were jumping up and down on the sidelines. Fry was smiling. His assistant coaches were carrying rose petals.

They said it would be a cold day before Iowa ever earned another ticket to Pasadena. Well, it was 30 degrees here Saturday. Yes, it was cold. And, yes, the Hawkeyes are going to Pasadena.

Coming into the game, Iowa’s best bet appeared to be a Liberty Bowl appearance against Navy. Two scouts from the Memphis, Tenn., game were here, prepared to issue Fry and the Hawks an invitation after the game.

However, with the result from Ann Arbor already in and with Iowa ripping Michigan State, the Liberty Bowl scouts left after three quarters.

It will be Ohio State that plays in the Liberty Bowl and Michigan that goes to the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, Texas.

397 Yards Rushing

Iowa, with a reputation for having a brilliant defense and a questionable offense most of the season, turned loose a running game that produced a whopping 397 yards against Michigan State.

And this was no patsy bunch of Spartans. They came here with a 5-5 overall record and had won four of their previous five games.

However, the Hawkeyes were ready for this invasion. They had no control over what was going to happen at Ann Arbor, but it was obvious they’d do their part.

On Michigan State’s very first scrimmage play, Bobby Stoops hit pass receiver Al Kimichik so hard after an eight-yard gain that he coughed up the ball. Andre Tippett grabbed it in mid-air and retired it seven yards to the Spartan 18-yard line.

In just two plays, Iowa was on the scoreboard. Blatcher, running all afternoon like he was shot out of a cannon, gained nine yards on first down, then crashed into the end zone from the nine with only 1:01 gone. Tom Nichol kicked the extra point that made it 7-0.

Hawks Get Safety

A bit later in the period, linebacker James Erb blocked Ralf Mojsiejenko’s punt out of the end zone for a safety. Erb hit the ball with such force that there was no chance for any him or any other Hawkeye to recover for a touchdown.

So with 7:27 to go in the quarter, Iowa was in front, 9-0. Then, with 2:18 left in the period, Eddie Phillips climaxed a 12-play, 46-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run that, along with Nichol’s kick, put Michigan State behind, 16-0.

Indeed, it was starting to take on all appearances of a cakewalk. But then came the commotion from the crowd over the Ohio State-Michigan score, and Iowa appeared to lose a bit of its intensity.

“When we heard the Ohio State score,’’ quarterback Gordy Bohannon commented, “it seemed to make us a little uptight. But then we settled down.’’

Michigan State got on the scoreboard on Bryan Clark’s one-yard pass to JimHodo with 1:28 remaining in the half before Iowa got its act back in gear. Morten Andersen’s placement made it 16-7 at intermission.

A very big defensive play for the Hawks was turned in by cornerback Tracy Crocker when the Spartans were seriously threatening to make the score even closer in the third quarter.

With third-and-goal on the Hawk five, Clark fired a pass directly at Crocker, who fielded it cleanly and returned the ball 16 yards.

Blatcher Again!

Nichol gave Iowa some cushion with a 26-yard field goal at 5:46 in the third period, then Blatcher – who now was unstoppable – sailed into the end zone for a touchdown with 43 seconds left in the period.

Nichol’s kick raised the Hawk lead to 26-7 heading into the final 15 minutes – and the crowd was thinking thoughts of roses.

Nichol pushed the lead to 29-7 on a 23-yard field goal with 10:52 left in the game, and No. 2 wingback Vince Campbell caught a nine-yard touchdown pass from No. 2 quarterback Pete Gales for a final touchdown with 2:49 left in the game and fans were ready to rip down the goal posts.

Fry and some of his assistants went onto the field with 7:44 to play when a donnybrook between some of the players erupted.

“A number of the Michigan State players were after Pat Dean (Iowa’s star noseguard),’’ Fry explained.

When the game ended, Iowa’s players had to fight their way through man fans to get to the locker room. The spectators who remained in the stands just stood there and watched. And cheered.

Dreams Become Reality

It was an historic moment. Indeed, there were undoubtedly many in the seats who have been coming here since the 1950s and were wondering if they’d live long enough to ever see another Iowa Rose Bowl team.

And most of those who are students at Iowa weren’t even born when Iowa went to the Rose Bowl in ’59 and walloped California, 38-12.

“How ‘bout those Hawks?’’ Fry shouted when he first came in to greet reporters at his press conference. “We’ve come of age.

“What a wonderful, wonderful day. Will somebody please tell Mr. (Bo) Schembechler (Michigan’s coach) that there was another game of meaning today.

“And I send my congratulations to the Ohio State Buckeyes. I understand Art Schlichter (Ohio State’s quarterback) wasn’t going to be denied on his last touchdown run against Michigan and that he thought they’d be in the Rose Bowl.

“But he forgot about Iowa.’’

Senior linebacker Mel Cole said a share of the conference title and a Rose Bowl berth “was a dream, but now it’s for real. We played our butts off all year long.’’

Cole admitted he thought “this would never happen’’ after a freshman season which saw Iowa win just two of 11 games.

“Greatest Feeling’’

“It’s amazing that, in three years, we could go from 2-9 to 8-3,’’ Cole commented. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world.’’

Bohannon, who completed eight of 16 passes for 71 yards, is an Iowa senior from Eagle Rock, Calif., who is looking forward to the Rose Bowl game as much as anyone on the squad.

“I live minutes from the Rose Bowl stadium,’’ he explained, “and I’ve been there to watch the last two New Year’s Day games when Ohio State and Michigan played there.
“I’ve dreamed about finally being able to play in the stadium, but I don’t know how much I actually believed it would come true.’’

The only Iowa player who has ever rushed for more yards in one game than Blatcher was Eddie Podolak, who piled up 286 against Northwestern in 1968. In Saturday’s show, Blatcher moved ahead of Dennis Mosley, who totaled 229 against Iowa State in 1979.

“That’s the most I’ve ever had in any kind of game,’’ said Blatcher, a 5-foot 8-inch, 188-pounder from New Orleans, La. “I took advantage of the holes that were made by my offensive line.’’

When practice began in August, Blatcher was the No. 3 running back behind J.C. Love-Jordan and Phillips. However, Love-Jordan was never able to play because of an injury and was redshirted, and Phillips got banged-up during the year.

Blatcher’s Day

“I got my chance,’’ Blatcher said, "and the guys up front picked a helluva time to block.’’

Fry said he hadn’t “had a back in I don’t know how many years run as hard as Blatcher ran today.’’

Iowa’s Reggie Roby had hoped to become the first player in National Collegiate history to finish the season with a punting average of 50 yards or more. However, had had only a 40.5 mark for his two kicks into the wind Saturday and – even though he led the nation and set an NCAA record – didn’t hit 50.

For the season, the junior from Waterloo closed with a 49.8 average. He came into the game with a 50.3 figure.

“I just didn’t hit either kick very good,’’ Roby said.

Fry said he and his players “had a lot of help from the man upstairs’’ and called his team the “chosen people.’’

The coach said his only expectation coming into the year was “a winning season.’’

But, he added, “when this all settles, this will turn out to be my biggest game because it took us to the Rose Bowl, the granddaddy of ‘em all.’’

In the locker room, Fry gathered his players around him and said, “Wayne Duke (the Big Ten commissioner) telephoned me and invited us to the Rose Bowl.’’

Accepts, Of Course

Hayden mentioned that he’d accepted the invitation.

Fry said he plans to give his players two weeks off and that he plans to take his squad to Pasadena Dec. 22 or 23.

The idea of spending Christmas in California appeals to him.

“I think Iowa will be a great team to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl,’’ said Michigan State Coach Muddy Waters. “We have no excuses. We just got beat by a better team.’’

Waters said he had no objection to Iowa, with the game out of reach, going for another score in the final minutes.

“Fry had some people in there he wanted to play,’’ Waters said.

Waters said Iowa “has a great team – especially on defense.’’

It seems like we’ve all heard those words before.

[To send tickets for the 2002 Rose Bowl game to Ron Maly, or to contact him for any other reason, his e-mail address is]

Vol. 1, No. 7
Nov. 21, 2001

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

My Friend the Newspaper Critic

A guy I know e-mailed me the other day to say a couple of things about newspapers. Specifically, sports pages. Even more specifically, collegiate football stories.

The man is a longtime reader of sports pages and knows a lot about newspapers in general. He has spent much of his working life around collegiate athletics, including some big-time football programs.

From now on in this essay, he will be known as My Friend the Newspaper Critic.

A few days after the original e-mail, he and I got on the subject of Megan Manfull, who is in her first year as a full-time football reporter for the Des Moines Register. Manfull, 23, and a recent graduate of the University of Iowa, has written some very good stories while covering the Hawkeyes this fall.

She is not the first woman to cover a major-college football game for the paper, but she’s the first woman to cover an entire season of football games involving one of the state’s big-time universities.

Earlier this fall, Manfull got the attention of Chuck Offenburger, the Register’s former “Iowa Boy’’ columnist who now lives in Storm Lake and writes columns on his website.

Offenburger asked me what I thought of Manfull, and I made an off-the-cuff comment that the Register’s editors had better enjoy her strong work while they could because I doubted she would stay there long.

Far too often in recent years, the Register has served merely as a training ground for talented young people, who have left after a short time to take better jobs with higher pay at other papers.

Take John Shipley, for example. Shipley began covering football games at the paper following my retirement, and described it as his “dream gig.’’ But he recently told me the dream gig didn’t pay him enough so that he could buy a home for his family.

So Shipley stayed at the Register for only one football season. He accepted a copy editing job at the St. Paul Pioneer Press that paid him much more money. He was so eager to get to his new job that he didn’t bother remaining at the Register long enough to cover Iowa State’s bowl game last December in Phoenix.

Late last month, Offenburger wrote a glowing column about Manfull, who replaced Shipley on the sportswriting staff.

It turns out I was right that she evidently isn’t long for the Register. Manfull told Offenburger she’s planning a Jan. 26 marriage to Jesus Ortiz, a 30-year-old sportswriter for the Houston Chronicle. Ortiz covers the Houston Astros.

Unless the Register suddenly needs an Astros beat writer, some of Manfull’s co-workers are guessing she’ll be moving south sometime in the spring.

But back to her football writing this fall.

Something in particular bothered My Friend the Newspaper Critic about a story Manfull authored last month about Hawkeye punter David Bradley.

In the story, Manfull told about how Bradley’s father and mother had died within 16 months when he was in high school.

The fact that the story took up considerable space in a fairly skimpy sports section didn’t make My Friend the Newspaper Critic very happy.

“The overly-long description of the kicker’s family tragedies should be on the women’s page,’’ he wrote. “No hearts and flowers please. It tells me nothing about the Hawks.’’

My response? The story was certainly a strong one and belonged in the newspaper. Yes, it was probably in the wrong place. I think it deserved to be on the front page of the general news section. Then Manfull, or another reporter, could have written a more football-like story for the sports pages to satisfy readers who don’t want “hearts and flowers’’ mixed with their X’s and O’s.

Another thing My Friend the Newspaper Critic doesn’t like about college football stories is that Manfull and other reporters don’t include their own perspective in the articles they write.

“They run a bunch of facts about the game and string some quotes from the coaches and players together, and that’s it,’’ he said. “I want to know what the reporter thought of the game.’’

Now, there’s something with which I totally agree. Editors – at least editors who don’t think editorial comment or analysis belong in news stories -- won’t like it, but these days I don’t have to care what editors think.

It’s no secret that, in my many years of covering football and basketball games involving Iowa, Iowa State, Drake and other teams, I often attempted to inject my own perspective into stories.

I recall how frequently people, the day after a game, would ask, “Well, what did you really think of the game?’’ Or they’d ask, “What’s really wrong with that team you’re covering?’’

Somehow, I didn’t think I was doing my job properly if I had to answer such questions. Consequently, I tried whenever possible to answer the questions in game stories that I thought people might ask me the next day.

I think readers want to know what reporters think of teams and games -- especially now, with so many games shown on TV and with the presence of the Internet. Long gone are the days when people relied on newspapers to get the bare facts on a game.

If newspaper readers attended the game, they want to know if the writers’ analysis and opinions agree with theirs. And, if they don’t agree with the writers, count on it that they’ll let ‘em know.

On a related subject, I always wanted to write a story in which I said, “After the game, the coaches said nothing out of the ordinary, so none of their comments will be included in this story.’’

And I came close to that, as you will discover later in this essay.

I have always felt that far too many sportswriters overdo coaches’ quotes in game stories and columns. The reason the quotes are used so often is because they’re easy to get.

The coach has a post-game press conference. The writer puts a tape recorder in front of him. The reporter writes exactly what the coach says.

That leads me to a story I wrote for the Oct. 22, 1978 Sunday Register about a Nebraska-Colorado game. You know the game had to be played 23 years ago because there would be no Register reporter in Boulder, Colo., for a Nebraska-Colorado game these days.

The paper doesn’t cover those types of games anymore. It costs money to travel to Boulder, Colo., of course. On most weekends, the paper has decided that it even costs too much money to travel to Lincoln, Neb., for a Cornhusker game. And that, folks, is really sad. After all, gas prices are pretty cheap now.

Anyway, I made up my mind fairly early in that 1978 game, which Nebraska won, 52-14, to write a different type of story.
It started:

BOULDER, COLO. – Perhaps you recall an essay on the Sports Opinion page of The Sunday Register a while back. In it, a guy suggested that sportswriters should maybe treat football games the same way Joan Bunke of our newspaper writes about movies and Josef Mossman tells about restaurants.

In other words, write a review of the drama – if, indeed, there is any drama – on the artificial turf stage.

Well, no better time to start than now. After all, there certainly was no big news, and no drama, generated Saturday on Colorado’s Folsom Field.

Grantland Rice might have walked out after three quarters. As it was, Colorado Coach Bill Mallory probably felt like doing the same thing.

Bunke was the paper’s longtime movie and book critic. Mossman was the best restaurant reviewer the paper ever had. Grantland Rice was….well, you know who he was.

Sports Opinion page? Sadly, the Register doesn’t have that anymore, either. And the guy who suggested that maybe reporters should review certain football games? That was me.

When I got back into the office the Monday after the Nebraska-Colorado game, David Witke -- then the Register’s wonderful managing editor -- came up to me with a comment.

Mike Gartner, then the Register’s not-so-wonderful editor, had asked Witke what he thought of my story on the game.

“I liked it,’’ Witke said.

“I didn’t,’’ Gartner said.

I told Witke I was glad he liked the story. As for Gartner – who didn’t personally say anything to me about the story -- I took the stance that any veteran writer who was confident of his abilities would take. Frankly, I didn’t much care what Gartner thought, but I appreciated Witke letting me know anyway. Reading the story again, I’m glad I wrote it that way, and I’d write it the same way today.

I later mentioned the story to George Shirk, a free spirit who spent a while as the sports columnist for the old Des Moines Tribune and sat across from me in the office. I told him that Witke and I liked it and that Gartner didn’t.

“Great story,’’ Shirk said after reading it. “You kept writing like that, didn’t you?’’

“Damn right I did,’’ I said.

Here’s that 23-year-old story, complete with the front-page headline as it appeared:

[Des Moines Sunday Register, Oct. 22, 1978]

Huskers buffalo Colorado

Sunday Register Staff Writer

BOULDER, Colo. – Perhaps you recall an essay on the Sports Opinion page of The Sunday Register a while back. In it, a guy suggested that sportswriters should maybe treat football games the same way Joan Bunke of our newspaper writes about movies and Josef Mossman tells about restaurants.

In other words, write a review of the drama, if, indeed, there is any drama – on the artificial turf stage.

Well, no better time to star than now. After all, there certainly was no big news, and no drama, generated Saturday on Colorado’s Folsom Field.

Grantland Rice might have walked out after three quarters. As it was, Colorado Coach Bill Mallory probably felt like doing the same thing.

Nebraska walloped Mallory’s Buffaloes, 52-14, before 53,262 spectators.

Except for Howard Ballage’s snazzy 100-yard kickoff return in the first quarter, it was a bad show by the home team. No wonder so many folks in these parts have started following the team up the road – the Denver Broncos – instead of the Buffs.

The fans from the Rockies would much prefer to get caught up in the Orange Crush rather than being swallowed up by the Red Sea. Drowning is no fun.

A Nebraska victory over Colorado, of course, is no big deal. It happens all the time. This was the Cornhuskers’ 11th straight in the series and 16th in the past 17 games.

If there was some way Colorado could drop the Huskers from the schedule, they would. The trouble is, Big Eight Conference rules call for a game each season.

Nebraska started the day with a 5-1 record and the nation’s No. 5 ranking. On the basis of this game – to say nothing of its 36-26, 56-10, 69-17, 23-0 and 46-14 victories in the five preceding weeks – Coach Tom Osborne’s team deserves to be ranked higher.

Even though I. M. Hipp couldn’t hang onto the ball, Nebraska amassed 642 yards in total offense (472 rushing) and turned the game into a shambles after a 14-14 first half.

It got so dark in the fourth quarter that some of Colorado’s faithful were perhaps hoping the game would be called. No such luck. Unless they made an early exit – which many did – they had to put up with the happenings until the bitter end.

Colorado also came into the game with a 5-1 record. But that was misleading.
The Buffs played a marshmallow early-season schedule – going against such round-heeled foes as Oregon, Miami (Fla.), San Jose State and Northwestern.

The opening five games were at home. The first time Colorado went on the road, it lost. It happened at, of all places, Oklahoma State.

That gives you some idea of Colorado’s strength. Saturday’s mauling gives you more of an idea.

There will be no space wasted here on what the coaches said afterward. Osborne speaks softly. Mallory hardly speaks. Osborne did say Mallory is “a good coach’’ – which probably means he was trying to save Bill’s job.

The best two plays of the day, as far as Colorado was concerned, were turned in by Ballage and Ralphie – the buffalo that serves as the team’s mascot. Ralphie runs onto the field before each half. It’s too bad Mallory can’t get him eligible.

There was enough room in Colorado’s defensive line for Ralphie and a couple of stablemates to get through when Nebraska was piling it on in the last half. With 11:55 remaining in the game, the Huskers were in total command at 45-14. For good measure, they added one more touchdown, raising their season scoring average to a whopping 41.

Shortly after it was over, fans deposited a considerable amount of confetti and debris on the field. It is assumed there were Buffalo fans who were celebrating the fact that their team won’t have to play Nebraska again until next Oct. 27.
It seemed difficult to believe that Colorado once led, 14-3, in a game that sent Nebraska’s Big Eight record to 3-0.

Ballage wiped out Nebraska’s 3-0 lead with his brilliant kickoff return, that actually was 104 yards.

However, he gets credit for only 100. And he’ll take it. He deserved it for the way he streaked up the middle of the field and outran Nebraska’s pursuers.

Colorado’s reserves were so wildly enchanted with the dash that they stayed on the field too long to congratulate Ballage and drew a 15-yard penalty for delay of game, which was tacked onto the ensuing kickoff.

It wasn’t long before the Buffs had another touchdown, thanks to the first of Hipp’s two fumbles. Tim Roberts grabbed the ball in mid-air and raced 45 yards to the Husker three.

James Mayberry went the final yard for the touchdown that, together Pete Dadiotis’ conversion, made it 14-3 with 2:25 left in the period.

The rest of it belonged to Nebraska. Billy Todd, who had kicked 27-yard field goal earlier, booted a 24-yarder barely inside the second quarter, and Nebraska tied it on Rick Berns’ five-yard touchdown and Tom Sorley’s two-point pass to Junior Miller with 6:57 to go before intermission.

The Colorado radio broadcasters kept barking about the “lack of imagination’’ in the Buffs’ offense after that. It reminded you of the way people have been criticizing Iowa and Iowa State. The conclusion is that, when your team is losing, the easiest way to criticize is to say the offense lacks imagination.

Colorado’s defense didn’t have much imagination, either. Berns ripped it for 132 yards in 17 carries and Hipp totaled 93 in 18. In all, five Huskers had 47 yards or more in this picnic.

Sorley, who completed 11 of 17 passes for 198 yards, hit Miller on a 42-yarder for a touchdown. Berns ran 19, Tim Wurth 42, Hipp one and Craig Johnson 33 for other scores.

The game films were to be shown on television here at midnight Saturday. There wasn’t a Buffalo fan around who was looking forward to that. Nobody likes to assault and battery on TV.

[THE AUTHOR – Ron Maly wrote and edited at the Des Moines Register for 39 years and 9 months. That was long enough to learn that there are two dozen or more ways to write a football story, despite what any editor thinks. If you remember watching Ralphie’s act in that 1978 game at Colorado, or if you have anything else on your mind, e-mail Maly at]

Vol. 1, No. 6
Nov. 14, 2001

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

McCarney 'An Excellent Football Coach'

No one has a greater appreciation for what Dan McCarney has done as Iowa State’s football coach than Bill Snyder.

“I told Dan after the game that I think he does as fine a job as anyone in this conference, and I honestly believe that,’’ said Snyder, whose Kansas State team steamrolled the Cyclones, 42-3, last week in Ames.

“I’ve known Dan for an awfully long time, and he’s an excellent football coach. He has a nice staff of coaches who are good, quality people. I have great appreciation for his value system.

“I know how hard it is to get kids to play, and (it’s happening at Iowa State) because of Dan McCarney. He gets the most out of everybody in this program, and that’s all you can ask.’’

McCarney and Snyder worked together on Hayden Fry’s staff at Iowa. Snyder is in his 13th season at Kansas State, where has been a football miracle worker. Before he arrived, the K-State job was regarded as the worst in major-college football.

Snyder’s success has certainly not gone unnoticed. He was named National Coach of the Year in 1991, 1994 and 1998.

Then there’s Iowa State. Before McCarney arrived prior to the 1995 season, plenty of people were calling the school a football coaching graveyard. But since the start of the 2000 season, only 13 teams among 117 NCAA Division I-A schools have won more games than the Cyclones, who are 14-6 over that period.

McCarney has a 27-48 record and is 0-7 against Kansas State. Snyder is 11-2 against Iowa State.

McCarney’s team has records of 5-3 overall and 3-3 in the Big 12, and still needs one victory to be eligible for a bowl. He promised that the Cyclones would play better in a 6 p.m. game Saturday against Colorado at Jack Trice Stadium.

“We’ll come with a much better effort because our fans deserve better than what we gave them against Kansas State,’’ McCarney said.


If I ever come back in another life, I want it to be as a bowl scout.
Bowl scouts fly around the country to big collegiate football games at this time of the year every fall.

They wear blazers that might be orange, red, green, yellow or some other color, have fat expense accounts, get wined and dined a lot, talk to the coaches, like to be interviewed by sportswriters, then go back home and help decide which teams will be invited to their bowl.

Sounds like a lot of fun to me. By the way, make my blazer navy blue.
One of the guys who's been showing up in press boxes for a long time as a bowl scout is Tom Starr. He was representing the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., while attending the Iowa State-Kansas State game.

The Independence Bowl wanted Iowa State badly last year, but the Cyclones instead were tabbed by the Bowl in Phoenix, where they climaxed a 9-3 season with a 37-29 victory over Pittsburgh.

Starr is a former Iowa State sports information director, and has been with the Independence Bowl for 2 ½ years. He has also worked for the Sun and Freedom Bowls.

Starr recalled the inaugural Freedom Bowl in 1984, when Iowa’s Chuck Long passed for 461 yards and six touchdowns in a 55-17 rout of Texas.

“What was amazing about that game,’’ Starr said, “was that Dan McCarney, Bill Snyder, Barry Alvarez and Kirk Ferentz were on Hayden Fry’s Iowa coaching staff.

“Bob Stoops was the graduate assistant, and people like Long, Jonathan Hayes and Mike Stoops – who now are assistant coaches at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops – were playing for Iowa. What a cradle of coaches that was.’’

Both Iowa State and Kansas State are candidates to represent the Big 12 in the Independence Bowl. The bowl will get the No. 6 choice in the Big 12 against the No. 6 team from the Southeastern Conference.

Starr thinks highly of the Cyclones despite what happened last week.

“Iowa State has a very exciting offense,’’ he said. “Coach McCarney has done such a great job of getting the players to think they’re going to win every game they’re in. That’s a different feeling than maybe has been around here for a while.’’

A few years ago, the Independence Bowl was the subject of snickers among some fans when it was known as the Poulan Weedeater Bowl. But the snickering ceased when their team got an invitation to the game.

As any coach will tell you, there’s no such thing as a bad bowl game.

Starr said the Independence Bowl is making big strides these days.

“We’re getting our team payments up to $1.1 to $1.2 million, and we’re doing a $35 million renovation to the stadium that will be completed Dec. 1,’’ he said.


A transplanted Iowan now living in California came back for a visit, and just happened to work the Iowa-Michigan game into his schedule.

The guy is a big-time Hawkeye fan, so he’s been having a tough time of it in recent seasons.

I wanted to get his take on his favorite team. So, after he recovered from spending two days in the hospital with pneumonia, he offered some interesting opinions after the losses to Michigan and Wisconsin.

“Damn right Iowa fans can boo,’’ he writes. “What does Bowlsby think this is, the friggin’ opera? And McCann, in my humble opinion, should get out of the kitchen if he can’t take the heat.

“Same for Ferentz. If I spend $30-$40 for ‘entertainment’ and I don’t like it, I can boo. Last I checked, North America didn’t fall under Taliban control.

“McCann played like a wounded animal at Wisconsin. Once again, Banks sparked the Hawks. And once again, McCann was put back in by Ferentz and contributed a costly fumble to the Hawkeye rally. It will be interesting to see how Ferentz handles the QB situation this week.

“The Wisconsin loss wasn’t so much about QBs. How about that defense, or lack of? Lose a couple of players and floodgates open. Boy, do they need corners. Big ones. Fast ones. Iowa obviously has other problems, too, but I still think if Ferentz can solve this problem by next fall, they can have a decent team.

“They need to be able to play man-to-man on the receivers and get out of this zone crap. Then you can blitz like hell and cause problems. That Sanders kid is a gladiator, though. I enjoy watching him demolish his body.

“I’m still forming an opinion on Ferentz, who appears to be a work in progress. The problem is, if you run him, then who would take the job? They already chased Stoops to Oklahoma. Turns out it wasn’t the great gig that Bowlsby & Co. thought it would be after that Texan turned in his spurs.’’


I’m confident Terry Allen, the former Northern Iowa football coach who was fired at Kansas this week, will surface somewhere soon.

Allen, 44, is a good football man. He was not a good fit for Kansas, but he’ll win somewhere else.

Obviously, there’s a question about the commitment Kansas has to football. It’s a basketball school, and it’s going to take some hard work by the next coach (or coaches) to change the philosophy.

The success Bill Snyder has had at nearby Kansas State made it difficult for Allen at Kansas. Indeed, it was following a 40-6 loss at Kansas State that Allen learned he wouldn’t be retained. Even after that, he had to suffer through a 51-6 loss to Nebraska last Saturday.

“We did our best and didn’t fulfill what we needed to do,’’ Allen said. “Success in this league is very difficult. This is the toughest league in college football.’’


I hear that three members of the sports department – Tom Witosky, Bryce Miller and Jeff Olson – have been interviewed for the vacant columnist job at the paper.
This is the job that staffers were told would be filled by the start of the football season. Trouble was, no one bothered to ask which season – 2001, 2002, 2003 or later.
The paper has suffered big-time by not having a replacement for Marc Hansen, who left to take Rob Borsellino’s place as a newsside columnist. Nancy Clark has had to do all of the column-writing in addition to serving two nights a week on the sports copy desk.

My solution to the situation would have been to bring Hansen back to write sports columns for the Sunday paper during the collegiate football season.

Hansen could have been sent to, say, the Iowa State game and Clark could have been assigned to the Iowa game. The assignments could have been rotated the following week.

Oh, well. It probably makes too much sense.


Another thing I’d like to know is this: Whatever happened to the paper’s NFL coverage? When I worked there, we’d cover a pro game on Sunday if we were at a nearby collegiate game on Saturday.

The problem couldn’t be called m-o-n-e-y, could it?

I think I’m right.

Sad. Very sad.

Vol. 1, No. 5
Nov. 7, 2001