Those Were The Days - Iowa
How many of you are aware that in 1952, after the Illini won in Iowa City, a bunch of Iowa fans attacked the Illini team as they left the field? Or that an Illini player punched an Iowa fan, breaking his jaw? Here's Detlef to take us back to four days after Eisenhower defeated Stevenson and a game that spun out of control.
This week, Illinois travels to that state to the west and the land of the gold & black Huns. If you need reasons to hate that team, think about Bruce Pearl, the pink locker room, Hayden Fry, Steve Carfino and his bubble perm, Nick Bell, Jake "The Lockport Messiah" Christensen and the obnoxious sideline conduct of Fran McCaffrey. I am sure readers can come up with even more reasons. I hope the Fox Sports app works while I am on vacation in sunny southern Spain! BEAT IOWA.
November 8, 1952: A beautiful fall day of 56 degrees with a slight northwest wind awaited the Fighting Illini on its trip to Iowa City. Illinois entered the contest at 3-3. Iowa was struggling at 1-5 under new head coach Forest Evashevski. But Iowa had stunned top-ranked Ohio State and Woody Hayes by an 8-0 score just two weeks prior. Evashevski was a solid player 15 years before at Michigan but some questioned his tactics. "It was said [Evashevski] sprinkled the field with water to make it a mud hole against Ohio State," said Illinois quarterback Tommy O'Connell. "So we expected a mud hole." However, Illinois benefitted from a strong passing game so the good weather conditions meant Illinois would not need to run in the mud.
O'Connell felt confident in his arm. "We knew we could throw on them. The year before, I threw three touchdown passes against them on Homecoming (Illinois won 40-13, won the Big 10 and the Rose Bowl, finished 9-0-1). We went up there specifically to throw." Head Coach Ray Elliot trusted O'Connell to call audibles at any time. "[He] used to let me change the plays at the line of scrimmage. We had about eight passes that I could call at the line of scrimmage.
With O'Connell passing against a poor Iowa defense, Illinois built a 27-0 halftime lead. O'Connell was 14/23 passing for 166 yards and four touchdowns in the first half. In contrast, Iowa failed to complete any of its six passes. Just 1:24 into the third quarter, O'Connell connected with wide receiver Rex Smith for a 67-yard touchdown pass for a 33-0 lead. O'Connell went to the bench in the fourth quarter with Big Ten records for completions (22), attempts (34) and passing yards (306). Rex Smith had also set a league mark with 80 receiving yards. Boggle! "It was quite easy," said O'Connell.
Unfortunately, the rest of the game was ugly. The teams combined for 17 penalties for 126 yards. Phil Hayman of Iowa and Pete Palmer & Paul Luhrsen of Illinois got ejected for fighting. Five minutes remained when Iowa, trailing 33-13, was flagged for a dubious offensive pass interference call. Coach Evashevski had seen enough of the officials and he entered the field to chat with the officials. They ignored him and placed the football at the Iowa six-yard line. Evashevski went nuts, stomped onto the field near the numbers and got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. The officials now placed the football at the Iowa one-yard line and the Hawkeyes punted.
Was Evashevski really that mad or just trying to get the Hawkeyes faithful all riled up? The crowd of 44,855 went mad also. The game ended at 33-13 and that is when the chaos started. Illini student manager Charlie Finn described the scene after the game: "As we left the field, one of the coaches said 'Run.' So we were running. The fans came out of the stands and attacked the team. There were no security guards around, like today. Anything they could throw-apples, oranges, cans, bottles. It was really bad. I've never seen anything like that happening. It was like a riot. It was very, very ugly. One of the worst in the history of Big Ten sports."
Illinois end John "Rocky" Ryan of Tolono Unity High School enjoyed a solid outing with seven catches for 87 yards. Ryan had a reputation as one of the meanest, toughest Illini. "Rocky was a tough Irishman and had a tough temper. But he was a good football player." said O'Connell. As Ryan left the field, an Iowa student named Richard Wolfe said something to Ryan. Allegedly, Wolfe grabbed Ryan by the shoulders. A second later, Ryan's right hand made a fist and encountered Wolfe's face, breaking his jaw.
Ryan refused to apologize to anyone. "Our coaches asked us to get off the field because players were getting pretty violent. This fan came out and grabbed my shoulder pad and turned me around. I hit him because he was going after me. He was stupid for picking on me." Wolfe went to the hospital and had his jaw wired shut. "I remember he had to drink his Thanksgiving dinner into a straw," said Wolfe's sister, Lois Schau.
Illinois coaches made Iowa reporters wait over 30 minutes before being allowed into the locker room. Even then, the Illini said little. The coaches had the team wait a long time in the locker room before leaving the stadium. Iowa athletic director Paul Brechle stated that "the fruit barrage was unfortunate. Even though officials make mistakes, I do not condone students throwing anything onto the field."
O' Connell finished the 1952 season with 133 completions and 1,763 passing yards. These accomplishments stood as Illinois records until 1980 when Mike White and his passing offense arrived in East Central Illinois. O'Connell played for the Cleveland Browns. He died in 2014. Ryan earned honorable All-American honors with 45 receptions for 714 yards. He later played for the Eagles and Bears. He died in 2011. Wolfe became a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and practiced radiology in San Francisco for 28 years. He died in 2007.
Illinois finished the 1952 season at 4-5, in a three-way tie for sixth place. The schools were not scheduled to play in 1953 & 1954 but the athletic directors figured a "cooling off" period was needed so they agreed not to play again until 1957. As it ended up, the schools did not play again until 1967.
Sources: "Special Report" by Scott Dochterman. The Gazette: June 11, 2016. Wikipedia.