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The Time Iowa Lent Nebraska a Football Coach
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

The Time Iowa Lent Nebraska a Football Coach, Or Probably Didn’t

November 21, 2018

Iowa was the Nebraska football team’s first out-of-state opponent. The game was played in Omaha on Thanksgiving Day, 1891. And the final score was 26-0, or rather 22-0.

“The referee publically announced the score as 26 to 0,” Nebraska’s student newspaper The Hesperian reported. “But after the public departed under that impression, he called the teams together and admitted he was four points off . . . the boys (players) were naturally hot about it.”

When the referee was asked why the mistake, he said “none of your business.”

The referee was from Iowa City, the umpire from Omaha.

At one point, a “genius” Iowa player took the ball and ran with it 25 yards, “or more,” while the referee and umpire argued about whether a foul had been committed on the previous play.

According Frederick Ware of the Omaha World-Herald in Fifty Years of Football, written with Gregg McBride and published in 1940, 2,500 attended that first Nebraska-Iowa game, and “bulged onto the field.” In University of Iowa Football: The Hawkeyes, published in 1982, Chuck Bright places the attendance at 2,000. Whatever their number, fans influenced the play, according to The Hesperian.

Much of what happened that day can be verified by first-hand newspaper accounts. But some things can be passed down and repeated enough to be taken as facts when they aren’t.

That can be a challenge in preserving history, as the first Nebraska-Iowa game shows.

Nebraska doesn’t list a coach in 1891. However, Husker media guides from the 1990s indicate that T.U. Lyman “assisted the NU team in its preparation for its game against Iowa, despite serving as head coach at Iowa at the time. He coached Iowa to a 22-0 victory over NU.” 

In the section of his history devoted to the 1891 season, Ware writes: “Captain Lyman was coach of the State University of Iowa team, the Nebraskans’ next opponent. The explanation was simple: Iowa wanted a good contest and lent its teacher in an effort to insure it.”

Later, in a brief account of the game, Ware writes: “Probably unmatched in American football is Iowa’s loan of its coach, Capt. T.U Lyman, to the coachless Nebraska team . . .”

Logistics aside – Iowa City is 300 miles from Lincoln – it would have been a remarkable example of sportsmanship, except as with the final score initially announced by the referee, it’s inaccurate.

Iowa played its first football game on Nov. 16, 1889, according to Bright’s history. The opponent was Iowa College in Grinnell, Iowa. The game was played at Grinnell and Iowa College won 24-0. A rematch was scheduled for Thanksgiving Day in Iowa City, but snow forced cancellation. When Iowa traveled to Omaha for the Nebraska game in 1891, its record against Iowa College was 0-3.

Maybe you can see where this is going.

Bright writes of the 1891 Nebraska game, which nearly had to be canceled because Iowa didn’t have the funds to cover the expense of traveling to Omaha until a well-to-do university professor provided a check for $200, Nebraska not only had a home-field advantage but also a new coach, “the same Theron Lyman who had played the past three seasons at Iowa College in Grinnell!”

The ultimate in sportsmanship? Not in this case.

The notation in Nebraska’s media guides has since been changed.

Lyman, a Yale man (an important distinction in 1891), “is a great coacher and no mistake,” The Hesperian wrote. “The boys know how to play ball now and it only remains to practice, to put a team into a field that will be the peer of any team in the west.”

Nebraska had played two games against Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, in preparation for the Iowa game, losing the second – because of looking ahead according to The Hesperian. Nebraska would play (and defeat) Doane a third time on Dec. 5, 1891.

Nebraska and Iowa would tie, 10-10, in Omaha in 1892 as members of the newly formed Western Inter-State University Foot Ball Association. Nebraska would win for the first time in the series in 1893, as well as in 1894 and 1895, before losing in 1896. All of those games were played in Omaha.

After the 1894 game, a 36-0 Nebraska victory, a story in The Hesperian included the line “we have met the cornhuskers and they are ours.” The use of “cornhuskers” might have been disparaging, but five years later, Lincoln sports writer “Cy” Sherman began referring to Nebraska that way.

Some things may have been lost in history. For example only three of the 14 who played for Nebraska on Thanksgiving Day in 1891 are included on the university’s all-time letterman’s list: quarterback Eugene Pace, center Arthur Anderson and reserve tackle Charles Chandler.

Others who started and played significant roles according to The Hesperian account, apparently didn’t letter. They included George Flippin, with whom Iowa would have to deal three more times in Omaha and then again in 1897 in Iowa City, when Iowa lost to the Chicago Physicians and Surgeons.

Flippin, who had refused to play unless he was paid (not uncommon at the time), “not only wreaked havoc on the playing field, he assaulted several Iowa rooters,” Bright writes. “In fact, he was later arrested for his actions, taken before an Iowa City magistrate, and fined $8.35.”

Iowa’s profits for the football season “were less than $13!” Bright continues.

He cites newspaper accounts throughout his history. So you could look it up to be sure.

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