Recently I had a surge of interest in my post on Kirk Ferentz’ greatest wins.  Well, Hayden Fry recently turned 84 years old, and I thought it might be nice to do the same for him!  So let’s take a moment to look back at some of the greatest Iowa coaching victories of Hawkeye great Hayden Fry.

Hayden Fry’s Greatest Wins

In chronological order, here are 25 of the most memorable victories for the Hawkeyes in Fry’s brilliant two-decade career as the head Hawk!

September 29, 1979 – Iowa 30, Iowa State 14 (win #1)

Hayden Fry brought 89 coaching victories with him from previous stints at SMU and North Texas, but it took him four tries to get his first at Iowa.  The Hawks blew a huge lead to lose to Coach Lee Corso and Indiana, 30-26, in Fry’s first game as Iowa’s head coach, and Iowa followed that up with consecutive losses to Oklahoma and Nebraska.  But the third time was the charm for the Hawkeyes, as their third straight Big Eight foe – Iowa State – fell to Fry’s Hawks, 30-14.  Dennis Mosely starred for Iowa, carrying the ball 39 times for 229 yards and three touchdowns…and giving Fry his first of many wins over the Cyclones.

September 12, 1981 – Iowa 10, #6 Nebraska 7 (win #10)

This was the game that really put Iowa football on the map.  The Cornhuskers had rolled Iowa the previous season to the tune of a 57-0 whipping.  Few expected the top ten-ranked Huskers to falter in 1981, but Iowa stunned Nebraska with a 10-7 upset.  Much like their 10-7 victory over Notre Dame sixty years earlier, the Hawkeyes pounced on their opponent early with ten quick points and then used a stellar defensive effort to hang on for dear life.  Lou King sealed the win with an interception in the final minute, but the star of the game was Iowa’s punter, Reggie Roby, who set a school record by averaging 55.8 yards per punt in the victory.

September 26, 1981 – Iowa 20, #6 UCLA 7 (win #11)

Many considered Iowa’s upset over #6 Nebraska to be a fluke, but two weeks later, the Hawkeyes proved that they were on the national stage to stay.  This time, they upset another team ranked #6 in the country, UCLA.  Iowa broke open a 7-7 game at halftime with a strong second-half effort.  Mark Bortz recovered a fumble in the end zone for Iowa’s only second-half touchdown, setting the tone for a dominating Hawk defense that limited UCLA to just 121 total yards for the game.  While it was still early in Fry’s coaching tenure at Iowa, this win was his 100th overall in his coaching career.

October 17, 1981 – Iowa 9, #5 Michigan 7 (win #14)

For years, the Big Ten had been sarcastically labeled by many as “The Big Two and Little Eight.”  Michigan and Ohio State dominated the conference all throughout the 1970s, but this was the victory that helped change all that.  The Hawkeyes strolled into Ann Arbor and knocked off the #5 Wolverines, a two-touchdown favorite, by using the same strategy that downed Nebraska and UCLA earlier in the year – timely scoring, dominant defense, and terrific punting.  Tom Nichol drilled three field goals to give the Hawkeyes all the points they needed in this dramatic victory.

November 21, 1981 – Iowa 36, Michigan State 7 (win #17)

Iowa concluded a magical season by clinching the first Big Ten title since 1960.  The 5-2 Hawkeyes needed to knock off the Spartans at home and Ohio State to upset 6-2 Michigan at the Big House, but most observers couldn’t fathom the notion of Michigan losing three conference games…including two in Ann Arbor.  About halfway through Iowa’s game against the Spartans in 1981, however, it became official – the Buckeyes had defeated Michigan, 14-9.  Iowa did its part, turning a 16-7 halftime edge into a coronation behind Phil Blatcher’s 247-yard rushing performance.  By drilling Michigan State, 36-7, the 1981 Hawkeyes did the unthinkable, claiming a Big Ten championship and a trip to the 1982 Rose Bowl.

December 31, 1982 – Iowa 28, Tennessee 22 (win #25)

Hayden Fry turned the Iowa football program around in 1981, but the loss in the 1982 Rose Bowl still left the Hawkeyes without a bowl victory since 1959.  That changed with Iowa’s victory in the 1982 Peach Bowl over Tennessee.  Chuck Long fired three touchdown passes in the second quarter alone – two to then-receiver Ronnie Harmon – to hand Iowa a big halftime lead.  Coach Johnny Majors and his Volunteers made it a game in the second half, but Iowa’s defense – and a key 52-yard punt by Roby late in the game – secured Hayden Fry’s first bowl victory as Iowa’s head coach.

September 24, 1983 – Iowa 20, #3 Ohio State 14 (win #28)

Iowa broke the “Big Two, Little Eight” dominance of the conference by Michigan and Ohio State by winning the 1981 Big Ten championship.  The Hawkeyes knocked off Michigan on their way to the championship, but Ohio State was not on the schedule.  Many Buckeye fans were insistent that Iowa’s rise to power in the Big Ten was due to the fact that they hadn’t faced Ohio State.  But Fry’s troops demolished that notion by knocking off the Buckeyes in their first meeting since Iowa’s 1981 conference title.  Iowa clung to a 13-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter when Chuck Long fired a 73-yard touchdown pass to Dave Moritz, who zig-zagged his way ahead of Ohio State defensive back Shaun Gayle on his way to the end zone.  That score sent the home Hawk fans into a frenzy and clinched Iowa’s victory over the third-ranked Buckeyes. 

October 20, 1984 – Iowa 26, #20 Michigan 0 (win #39)

Iowa hadn’t beaten the Wolverines in Iowa City since 1962, but Fry and the Hawks got a big win over Michigan in this game.  With Michigan’s regular quarterback, Jim Harbaugh, sidelined with a broken arm, Iowa took a 12-0 lead going into the final quarter.  Two fourth-quarter touchdowns for the Hawks turned the game into a rout, as Iowa coasted to a 26-0 victory.  Iowa’s defense was instrumental in the win, as usual…in particular, Devon Mitchell made a huge play by intercepting a Wolverine pass in the third quarter – when Michigan was still threatening to make a game of it – and returning it 75 yards.  That dominant defense handed Bo Schembechler’s squad a shutout loss; Michigan hasn’t been shut out by any team in the nearly thirty years since.

December 26, 1984 – Iowa 55, #19 Texas 17 (win #42)

Hayden Fry, a native Texan, relished the thought of facing his home state’s premiere school in a bowl game.  Chuck Long made the 1984 Freedom Bowl a memorable one for Fry by tossing six touchdowns – a record performance in any bowl game, ever – and pacing the Hawks to a 55-17 blowout win over Texas.  It might look from the final score that the game was a mismatch from the start, but actually, Iowa only led 24-17 at halftime.  But whatever Fry said at halftime worked…Iowa responded with 31 third-quarter points, including four straight touchdown passes by Long to turn the victory into an epic rout.

October 5, 1985 – Iowa 35, Michigan State 31 (win #46)

In 1985, Fry led the Hawkeyes to the top of the college football world and a #1 ranking in the nation.  Iowa immediately felt the pressure of having a massive target on their backs, as the Michigan State Spartans gave the Hawks a tremendous battle in the Hawks’ first week at #1.  Michigan State led 24-13 in the third quarter and 31-28 with just a minute remaining in the game.  But Chuck Long placed himself in Heisman contention by driving the Hawks the length of the field and down to the Spartans’ two-yard line.  Long then fooled the entire Michigan State defense by faking a handoff to Ronnie Harmon and bootlegging the ball into the end zone with 27 seconds left to hand Iowa a dramatic 35-31 victory.

October 19, 1985 – Iowa 12, #2 Michigan 10 (win #48)

Hayden Fry’s signature game…#1 Iowa vs. #2 Michigan.  In front of a sold-out Kinnick crowd, the Wolverines and the Hawkeyes matched each other hit for hit.  Iowa had a touchdown reception by Scott Halverson controversially waved off for landing out of bounds, but kicker Rob Houghtlin hit three field goals to give Iowa a 9-7 lead.  With just over six minutes left in the game, Michigan took a 10-9 lead on a field goal and soon got the ball back with the intention of running out the clock.  But Larry Station made a key third-down tackle to force Michigan to punt, and Chuck Long led the Hawks into field goal range with two seconds left in the game.  Houghtlin drilled a 29-yard field goal – his fourth of the day – as time expired to clinch a dramatic victory, and Fry ran onto the field in celebration.

November 9, 1985 – Iowa 59, Illinois 0 (win #50)

Iowa’s reign at #1 in 1985 ended with a road loss at Ohio State.  The Hawks took out their frustrations over the loss on their next opponent: Illinois, the defending 1984 Big Ten champion.  Fry’s charges obliterated the Illini, who had fought Michigan to a 3-3 tie the previous week.  Iowa scored touchdowns on their first five possessions, racing out to a 35-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.  Iowa’s defense forced nine Illini turnovers as the Hawks coasted to a 59-0 victory.  It remains the third-worst loss in the history of Illinois football.

December 30, 1986 – Iowa 39, San Diego State 38 (win #61)

After five straight years of playing high-profile bowl games (the 1982 and 1986 Rose Bowls) and high-profile opponents (Tennessee, Florida, and Texas), the 1986 Hawkeyes found themselves in the Holiday Bowl playing against hometown underdog San Diego State.  This game had all the trappings of a Hawkeye upset, and in the fourth quarter, the Aztecs validated those fears by taking a 35-21 lead.  Iowa wouldn’t give up, and the Hawks took a 36-35 advantage thanks to two fourth-quarter touchdown passes by Mark Vlasic and a two-point conversion on a trick play by Chuck Hartlieb.  But San Diego State appeared to seal the upset with 47 seconds left by kicking a field goal at taking a 38-36 lead.  However, Kevin Harmon rescued the Hawks with a 50-yard kickoff return, and Mr. Clutch, Rob Houghtlin, pulled victory from the jaws of defeat by nailing a 41-yard field goal with no time remaining to hand the Hawks a 39-38 win.

October 31, 1987 – Iowa 29, #10 Indiana 21 (win #67)

Many Hawkeye fans may not remember Iowa’s 1987 victory over Indiana, but it may have been their best win of the year.  The Hoosiers brought a top ten squad to Iowa City with a 4-0 Big Ten record…including victories over Michigan and Ohio State.  But the Hawks got the jump on Indiana, building a 2-07 lead at halftime.  The Hoosiers scored two second-half touchdowns to take a 21-20 lead, but Iowa reclaimed the lead for good when David Hudson scored on a fourth-quarter touchdown run.  Marv Cook starred with four receptions for 94 yards (including a long sixty-yarder late in the game) and even took over at punter for four kicks, averaging 43 yards per punt!

November 14, 1987 – Iowa 29, Ohio State 27 (win #69)

The last victory on this list has been largely overlooked, but this one never will be.  I mean, how could any Hawk fan ever forget Hartlieb to Cook?  That pass completion was the final swing in a seesaw battle that had six lead changes.  Ohio State took their last lead with under three minutes left in the game, 27-22.  Hartlieb helped engineer a nice drive down to Ohio State’s 28-yard line with just 16 seconds to go, but the Hawkeyes were seemingly out of luck at that point…all out of timeouts and facing fourth down and 23 yards to go for a first down.  Hartlieb dropped back and lobbed the ball to Cook running down the sidelines.  Cook cut back to the middle of the field and collided with two Buckeye defenders near the goal line, pushing forward and landing the ball just into the end zone.  Pandemonium reigned as Hartlieb and Cook gave Fry his first win in Columbus…and Iowa’s first there since 1959.

December 30, 1987 – Iowa 20, Wyoming 19 (win #71)

For the second straight year, the Hawkeyes rallied to claim a one-point Holiday Bowl victory.  This time, Iowa trailed Wyoming after three quarters, 19-7.  The Hawks got their second non-offensive touchdown of the game (the first came on a blocked punt) when Anthony Wright intercepted a Cowboy pass and dashed 33 yards for a score.  Hudson then gave the Hawks the lead with Iowa’s only offensive score of the game, a one-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter.  Merton Hanks sealed the victory by blocking Wyoming’s 52-yard field goal attempt as time expired, and for the first time, Iowa had won two bowl games in two years.

October 20, 1990 – Iowa 24, #8 Michigan 23 (win #87)

Just one week earlier, the Michigan Wolverines, ranked #1 in the nation, narrowly lost to Michigan State, 28-27.  Despite that loss, most national pundits expected Michigan to rebound against the Hawkeyes; after all, the Wolverines hadn’t lost consecutive home games since 1967.  It was also Homecoming in Ann Arbor, and Michigan hadn’t lost a Homecoming game since 1967, either.  Well, the Hawks turned back the clock to 1967 by handing the Wolverines their second straight one-point defeat.  Trailing 23-17 late in the game, Matt Rodgers led Iowa on an 85-yard drive to give the Hawks their final margin of victory.  John Derby sent over 100,000 Wolverine fans to the exits by intercepting a pass on Michigan’s final possession.

November 3, 1990 – Iowa 54, #5 Illinois 28 (win #89)

Few Hawkeye fans will forget how Nick Bell ripped around, through, and over the Illinois defense in that 1990 contest.  Iowa and Illinois were atop the Big Ten standings, and the winner would gain an almost insurmountable lead in the conference championship race.  The Illini entered the game with the conference’s top-ranked defense, while Iowa had the Big Ten’s best offense.  They say that defense wins championships, but not on this day.  Bell shredded the Illini defense for 130 yards in the first quarter alone, while leading the Hawks to a 21-0 lead after one period.  Iowa expanded their advantage to 35-7 late in the first half and sailed to a 54-28 victory.  With his 89th victory at Iowa, half of Fry’s career wins had now come as the head man of the Hawks.

November 2, 1991 – Iowa 16, #12 Ohio State 9 (win #97)

This game, Iowa’s last victory in Columbus, was a secondary footnote to a tragedy that unfolded in Iowa City the previous day.  Gang Lu, a crazed Iowa doctoral student, killed five people and left another one paralyzed in a shooting rampage; Lu had been passed over for a dissertation, so he killed the doctoral student who beat him out along with three professors and an Iowa administrator.  The football team stripped the Tigerhawks from their helmets for the first time in school history, and wearing all-black headgear, they went on to defeat the highly-ranked Buckeyes, 16-9.  Leroy Smith secured a spot as a consensus first-team All-American with his performance in this game, racking up a school-record five sacks in the win.

November 23, 1991 – Iowa 23, Minnesota 8 (win #100)

Hayden’s 100th victory at Iowa came in front of just 32,000 Hawkeye fans after a foot of snow fell from the Iowa skies onto the Kinnick turf.  It would be an unforgettable victory for those who witnessed it, however, as the Hawks wrapped up their tenth regular-season victory for just the second time in school history with a 23-8 win over the Gophers.  Matt Rodgers threw for nearly 400 yards and three touchdowns, including an unforgettable one to wide receiver Danan Hughes.  Hughes caught the touchdown, dropped to the ground, rolled on his back, and made a snow angel in the end zone.  The Hawkeye fans in attendance reveled in the snow and saw their team improve to 10-1.

November 20, 1993 – Iowa 21, Minnesota 3 (win #111)

Two years later – in the same location against the same opponent – Fry clinched a more meaningful numerical win.  With his 111th victory at Iowa, Fry hit 200 victories as a head coach, an incredible milestone.  Cliff King scored two touchdowns while the Hawkeye defense intercepted five passes to help carry Fry to the historic victory.  After the game, quarterback Paul Burmeister and the Hawkeye team award Fry a game ball to commemorate his 200th win as a college head coach.

December 29, 1995 – Iowa 38, #20 Washington 18 (win #124)

Obviously, by the time the 1995 Sun Bowl came around, Fry had been at this coaching thing for a long time.  He set an NCAA record by returning to coach in the same bowl game 32 years after his SMU Mustangs lost the 1963 Sun Bowl.  Fry and his Hawks faced a familiar opponent – the University of Washington, a team that handed Fry’s team two Rose Bowl losses in 1982 and 1991.  This time, Fry’s Hawks, a decisive underdog, got revenge on the Pac-10 champion Huskies.  Sedrick Shaw set the tone for the Hawks by running for a 58-yard touchdown less than two minutes into the game, and Iowa added five field goals as Iowa pounded Washington, 38-18, for their first bowl victory in eight years.

October 19, 1996 – Iowa 21, #8 Penn State 20 (win #129)

Fry rolled into Happy Valley in 1996 to face another coaching legend, Penn State’s Joe Paterno.  After four straight losses to Paterno, Fry finally got a win over Penn State for the first time since 1983 when the Hawks edged the Nittany Lions, 21-20.  It was the Tim Dwight show that day in the middle of a pouring rain.  Dwight returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown, the fourth-longest punt return in school history.  He also set up a second Hawkeye touchdown with a 65-yard pass reception to help Iowa leave town happy. 

December 29, 1996 – Iowa 27, Texas Tech 0 (win #133)

Sedrick Shaw’s final game as a Hawkeye put an exclamation point on his college career.  Shaw returned to his home state of Texas for the 1996 Alamo Bowl against Texas Tech, and the Red Raiders featured Byron Hanspard, the Doak Walker Award winner as the nation’s top running back.  Shaw completely eclipsed Hanspard, rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown on his way to the game’s MVP honors.  It also gave Fry one final win in his home state of Texas near the end of his remarkable coaching career.

November 22, 1997 – Iowa 31, Minnesota 0 (win #140)

In his final home game at Iowa, Tim Dwight captured Big Ten immortality by setting several conference records.  With under a minute to go in the third quarter and Iowa hanging onto a 17-0 lead, Dwight crashed the conference record books by breaking several Minnesota tackles on his way to a 44-yard punt return touchdown.  That score gave Dwight conference records for punt return touchdowns in a season and a career, and it also gave him the league record in career punt return yardage.  It also put Fry’s 140th Hawkeye victory out of reach of the Gophers, the last memorable victory in a coaching career that was filled with them.

Two decades, 143 wins, and innumerable memories…here’s to Hayden Fry, a true Hawkeye legend!

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