Iowa fans cheer for the team as they prepare to run out of the tunnel before the Rose Bowl Game in Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California on Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. Stanford defeated Iowa, 45-16. (The Daily Iowan/Alyssa Hitchcock)

A look back: The Hawkeyes and The Rose Bowl

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Iowa’s long relationship with the Rose Bowl can be summarized with hope and heartbreak.

By Anna Kayser
anna-kayser@uiowa.edu

In light of Sunday’s bowl game announcements, and Iowa’s invitation to the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City on Dec. 27, The Daily Iowan took a look back at the Hawkeye’s relationship with The Granddaddy of them all.

The Rose Bowl Game, college football’s oldest and arguably biggest postseason game in the absence of the College Football Playoffs, is no stranger to the Hawkeyes.

Before 2015, Iowa had appeared in the Rose Bowl five times. Its presence in California was known well in the 1950s before a 19-season losing streak put the brakes on that success.

Hayden Fry led the charge as the Hawkeye football program did a complete 180-degree turn and made it to the Rose Bowl once again.

The 1958 Hawkeyes

The 1958 Hawkeye football team proved itself to be atop the best of the best from the beginning of the season. After losing two star players, Iowa started out unranked and faced a tough top-10 team in the first two weeks of the season in preparation for a major Big Ten schedule.

Head coach Forest Evashevski had a prior record of leading the Hawkeyes to winning seasons.

In 1956, the team ended the season victorious on the Rose Bowl stage in Iowa’s first appearance in Pasadena, beating Oregon State, 35-19.

The Hawkeyes ended the 1958 season with an 8-1-1 record. In the second to last game of the season, No. 16 Ohio State upset then-No. 2 Iowa. Despite the ups and downs of the 1958 season, Iowa, after topping No. 15 Notre Dame the following week, made the Rose Bowl for the second time in three years.

“Iowa shot a pair of rockets names Bob Jeter and Willie Fleming at California Thursday in the Rose Bowl, and when the smoke cleared, the Hawkeyes had projected themselves to a 38-12 victory,” The Daily Iowan read on Jan. 2, 1959.

It would be its last Rose Bowl win to date.

Breaking the streak during the 1981 season

Following Iowa’s 1959 Rose Bowl win, the program landed itself in a 19-year losing skid. Evashevski went out with a winning record, and despite the efforts of four different coaches, nothing could right the Hawkeye ship.

That’s why, when the 1981 Hawkeyes not only came out with a winning record, but earned themselves a trip to Pasadena, it was so shocking.

That historic season started with an Iowa upset over No. 7 Nebraska, but was followed by a loss against in-state rival Iowa State.

Dropping that game would have made any Iowa fan cringe, but it didn’t faze Hayden Fry.

“Maybe the loss to Iowa State may be one of the greatest things that happens to us,” he said following the game.

And it was.

The Hawkeyes followed up the 23-12 loss with an outright upset against No. 6 UCLA. Two top10 wins and yet another upset against No. 5 Michigan brought the Hawkeyes within the top-10, something that was unthinkable during the previous 19 years.  

After losing two-straight contests to unranked conference opponents, Iowa found itself outside of the rankings again. Fry turned his team around to win the last three regular-season games, ending with an 8-3 record good for a tie with Ohio State for Big Ten co-champions and a Rose Bowl berth.

Unfortunately, 1982 did not see a Rose Bowl much like any that had occurred in the ’50s. As described in the Jan. 18 issue of the DI, 40,000 Hawkeye fans got to witness a bowl “rump-kicking” out in California. Iowa dropped the game, 28-0, against Pac 12 champion Washington, despite being favored.

The Daily Iowan Sports editor at the time, Jay Christensen, described Iowa’s 1981 [season] Rose Bowl run as a “Cinderella season.” He was not far off the mark.

Iowa probably wouldn’t see a season much like this one again.

Until it did better.

2015 – The year that could have been

After losing the 1986 and 1991 Rose Bowls, the 2015 Hawkeyes swept their Big Ten schedule.

With wins against No. 19 Wisconsin (at Camp Randall Stadium) and No. 20 Northwestern, Iowa found itself at No. 4 going into the Big Ten championship game versus No. 5 Michigan State.

Every modern Hawkeye fan knows the story of heartbreak as the Spartans took the title in the final seconds of the game, earning the right to get their teeth kicked in by Alabama in the first game of the College Football Playoffs.

“Even with the loss, a statement was made to the nation,” Charlie Green, DI football reporter, wrote in his coverage of the game.

Iowa had proven on national television that it belonged in the top 10, and the team earned a trip to the Rose Bowl once again.

The Hawkeyes’ bad luck in Pasadena continued on Jan. 1, 2016. No. 6 Stanford ran over Iowa — figuratively and literally — on its way to a 45-16 win, ending the hype and hope that surrounded the whole season.

Looking forward

Iowa’s appearances in the Rose Bowl seem to come out of nowhere. At least for Hawkeye fans, this fact leaves hope that with its record, Iowa can endure 19-straight losing seasons and then end up tied for first in the Big Ten.

In light of a bleak — with the exception of the beat-down on Ohio State — 2017 season in which the Hawkeyes finished 7-5, looking back on these past Rose Bowls can provide a hopeful outlook for the years to come.

Iowa has been there, and Iowa will go back.

And maybe then, under the sun in Pasadena, California, the outcome will finally be in the Hawkeyes’ favor once again.

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