Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Drake Football Deserves Better

It’s a shame that Drake football gets consistently pushed to the back pages of the newspaper.

But there’s nothing new about it.

It’s been going on for as long as I can remember. I’ve been reading the paper since 1945 and living here since 1959.

Chuck Shelton, who coached at the school from 1977-1985, would often complain to me that news stories about the Bulldogs were always buried “back by the tire ads.”

Obviously, ol’ Chuck never minced words. As the last Drake football coach to be able to offer athletic scholarships, he wasn’t into sugarcoating anything.

And Shelton, an interesting guy who has also coached in the Arena League and written a novel, often backed up what he said with what he did.

His 1981 team went 10-1, his 1979 and 1980 teams scored shocking victories at Colorado, and his 1985 squad won at Iowa State, 20-17, three weeks after losing at Iowa, 58-0.

After the victory at Ames, blue-and-white bumper stickers with the numbers 20-17 began showing up all over the state.

That loss helped hasten the departure of Iowa State coach Jim Criner. He was given his walking papers before the 1986 season was over.

Rob Ash is in charge of the Bulldogs’ program now, and is the school’s winningest coach with a 102-57-2 record in 16 seasons. Drake is 2-2 this year.

There’s plenty of news surrounding this year’s Bulldogs, starting with Saturday’s game against Jacksonville.

It will be the first trip by an Iowa collegiate team to Florida in the wake of the recent horrible hurricanes. It’s difficult to believe that the state is recovering from its fourth hurricane in less than six weeks.

Jacksonville’s season opener at Florida International on Sept. 2 was cancelled because of Hurricane Frances.

Jacksonville is 0-3 after last week’s 54-38 loss at Valparaiso.

“We played well enough to win offensively and defensively, but special teams really let us down,” Dolphins coach Steve Gilbert said. “We made great strides as a team and we certainly feel good about the remainder of the league schedule.”

Gilbert was right about his special teams. Jacksonville missed four extra points, and a field goal. The center snapped the ball over the punter’s head and a blocked Valparaiso punt ended up as a Crusaders touchdown.

Adding to this scenario is the fact that Drake has lost nine straight road games dating back to the 2002 season. The Bulldogs were 0-5 on the road last season.

Something else that’s interesting centers around the University of San Diego, which is Drake’s next home opponent on Oct. 9.

Jim Harbaugh, who was a quarterback at Michigan and played in the NFL for 15 seasons, is in his first season as San Diego’s coach. The 1-3 team snapped back from a 61-18 loss to Penn on Sept. 18 to beat Princeton, 24-17, last week.

Jack Harbaugh, who coached Western Kentucky to the 2002 NCAA Division I-AA national title, is an assistant coach on his son’s team.

Jack was on Frank Lauterbur’s ill-fated staff at Iowa in the early-1970s. Lauterbur was fired after the Hawkeyes went 0-11 in 1973.

Of Jim Harbaugh, San Diego executive director of athletics Ky Snyder said, “He has played for and learned from some of the biggest names in college and professional football, and I believe that will transcend into a very long and successful career as a head coach.”

Before signing off on Drake football, I’d like to mention that there was a time when the Bulldogs clearly were front-page stuff.

In the 1920s and early-1930s, they played Notre Dame. The 1927 game—when Ossie Solem coached the Bulldogs—was played at Drake Stadium. The 1929 game—a 19-7 Drake loss—was played at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

In those years, the Bulldogs also had occasional games against Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois, Oklahoma, Oklahoma A&M [now Oklahoma State], Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri.

The same 1927 Drake team that played Notre Dame in Des Moines also played at Navy—a week after opening at home against Simpson--played Pittsburgh here, at Minnesota and at UCLA.

So how did the Bulldogs do in their season windup at UCLA? They won, 25-6. Hopefully, that got ‘em away from the tire ads in the paper.

Vol. 4, No. 262
Sept. 28, 2004