Missouri, Iowa set to put football past aside

Sunday, December 26, 2010 | 6:00 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — After Missouri beat Iowa 5-0, Iowa football coach Jesse Hawley declared that the Hawkeyes would never play the Tigers again. For 100 years, Iowa kept that promise.

For two states that share a border, 100 years is a long time to refrain from competition, but its plenty of time to heal from the calamity that happened on October 15, 1910.

According to the book "Hawkeye Legends, Lists and Lore" by Mike Finn and Chad Leistikow, it was unseasonably hot in Columbia that day. Reports had the mercury touching the 100-degree mark. It was too hot to play football, but the Hawkeyes and the Tigers played anyway.

There was a real possibility of a player dying on the field that day. It was the pre-Gatorade, pre-roughing-the-passer era, and President Theodore Roosevelt had threatened in 1905 to ban the game if safety regulations were not enacted. By 1910, fatalities from football injuries had decreased, in part because of the advent of the forward pass, but some schools, such as Georgetown, decided to disband their football teams because the sport was still too dangerous. A Chicago Record-Herald survey counted 22 fatalities from football related injuries in 1910.

Iowa came to Columbia shorthanded. Only 19 Iowa players made the 230-mile trip. One of the players left behind in Iowa City was tackle Archie Alexander, nicknamed “Alexander the Great” by his classmates. Alexander didn’t miss the game because he was injured or ill. Missouri officials had asked that Alexander stay at home because of the color of his skin.

Alexander was not the first black player Missouri had forced out of a football game. In fact, the practice was quite common across the Jim Crow South. The Big Six Conference had a gentlemen’s agreement that no black players could play for a member school, an agreement that was as strong as law until 1949 when Kansas State, noting that no such rule was written in the league’s bylaws, granted a scholarship to football player Harold Robinson.

In 1958, Missouri was the last school from the Big Eight to integrate its athletics program.

Until that point, Missouri athletics held strong to the gentlemen’s agreement. In 1892, Missouri forfeited a football game against Nebraska because the Cornhuskers (not yet a member of the Big Six) had a black player, George Flippin, on their team.

The Iowa athletic program had been integrated for years before the 1910 season, creating tension between the Hawkeyes and Missouri. The 100-degree game in 1910 was not the only incident between the two schools. On November 9, 1896, Iowa traveled to Missouri to play the Tigers. Frank Holbrook, Iowa’s first black player, made the trip to Columbia, but his presence in town was not welcomed. 

Columbia fans filled the visitors' hotel the night before the game, protesting with divisive chants, and MU officials asked Iowa to not bring Holbrook to the stadium for the game. Iowa declined to bench its best player, and Holbrook played, but the game ended disturbingly. 

At halftime, two Missouri players punched a referee for calling a penalty, and with Iowa up 12-0, the Missouri team walked off the field, forfeiting the game in protest.

Missouri and Iowa did not play for another six years after the forfeited game. But the series resumed without major incident in 1902. In the years leading up to the 1910 game, the teams split the six games they played.

Despite Alexander not playing in the 1910 game for fear a riot would break out in Columbia, the game was still ugly. Missouri fans, no doubt bothered by the high temperatures, were reported to be especially cruel during the game. The game was also incredibly dirty and Iowa quarterback Paul Curry was knocked unconscious by a Missouri player.

Forced to play without their starting tackle, enduring vicious heckling and dirty play, Hawley declared Iowa would never play Missouri again. Iowa canceled the 1911 game between the schools soon after.

They have not played since, though the schools did agree to play a four-game series in 1994. The series was to be played between 2005 and 2008, but in January 2004, Missouri voided the first two years of the series. Iowa then proceeded to cancel the final two games.

On Tuesday, Missouri will play Iowa for the first time since the 1910 game, bringing a once ugly rivalry into the 21st century.

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big10 history December 26, 2010 | 12:19 p.m.

There is much more to the Archie Alexander story:

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