Iowa Hawkeyes Football was Dominant During 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic


We did have college football during the last serious global pandemic, the Spanish Flu crisis of 1918, and just like this season, it was strange on many levels. Like Huey Lewis in Back to the Future “we’re gonna go back in time,” and look at how the Iowa Hawkeyes did a century and change ago.

Iowa was Northwestern’s lone opponent that is still in the Big Ten today, and with the Wildcats (then known as the Purple) visiting again on Saturday, it’s the pefect time to throw it back, way. UI employed a single wing offensive scheme in 1918, and they finished 6-2, 2-1 in the Big Ten.

^Is this early 20th century “Smoking Jay Cutler Don’t Care?” Why does the uniform looks like it comes with a cigarette?

Howard Jones was in third season as coach while Ronald Reed was the team captain. They surrendered only 36 points the entire season, and had an overall point differential of +87. That last number is pretty impressive when you realize that there were no offenses like the Air Raid, Fun ‘n’ Gun, West Coast, Run ‘n’ Shoot etc.

“The forward pass” was just not a thing in WWI Ara american football.

iowa hawkeyes

One reason the Hawks were dominant that season was they only left the state once, and Iowa City, just twice! They won at Nebraska on Oct 5, 12-0 and Nov 30, played Camp Dodge in Johnston, IA to a nil-nil draw, sorry a goalless draw, whoops sorry again, saw a 0-0 tie and forgot about which brand of football I was writing about.

Iowa’s first loss was in the season opener, to 1918 Great Lakes Navy, who went 3–0–1 against the Big Ten, and won the 1919 Rose Bowl, 17-0 over the Mare Island Marines.

They featured three future Hall of Famers in George Halas, Jimmy Conzelman, and Paddy Driscoll. Yes, Papa Bear Halas himself, as an All-American end. This team, based at the Great Lakes Naval Station in North Chicago, IL, was a powerhouse to say the least.

The Iowa Hawkeyes (they were rare in terms of programs that have the same nickname as current day) had their third game, at home versus Coe College, cancelled initially, for public health reasons.

However, it got placed back on the schedule, last minute, day of game, and the only spectators allowed were from Iowa’s Student Army Training Corps. Iowa was very good, but they were thwarted from winning the Big Ten Conference (officially known as the Western Intercollegiate Conference Athletic Association and sometimes referred to as the Western Conference) by pre-Red Grange Illinois.


Robert Zuppke’s squad, playing the I-formation, won at Iowa Field 19-0 on November 2nd, in a game that pretty much decided the league title.

1918 College Football Season Recap Series 

Notre Dame     Northwestern     Iowa    Illinois

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB NationFollow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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