116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The sheer enormity of the place you are playing. When you walk into a college football stadium as a high school kid, it seems so huge.
The cold weather. You always recall playing when there’s snow on the ground.
The loss. You never, ever forget those.
“Not winning,” Dan Martin said. “I definitely remember that.”
On November 18, 1972, the Iowa High School Athletic Association conducted its first official state championship football games. There were four of them, at three different sites.
Radcliffe was your Class A winner, topping Hamburg, 35-0, at Albert City, of all places. Sioux Center sank Iowa City Regina, 21-6, for the Class 2A title at Hampton.
Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City hosted the two big-school games. Snowed out of Drake Stadium in Des Moines, the originally intended site, Cedar Rapids Jefferson blanked West Des Moines Dowling, 6-0, for the Class 4A crown.
Prior to that defensive clash, Harlan had rallied past Cedar Rapids Regis, 14-12, to win Class 3A. The Gazette estimated 12,250 people were at Kinnick for the doubleheader.
“It was unbelievable,” said Jim Schuller, like Martin, a member of that Regis team. “This is where the Hawks play. You walk into that stadium, it was just magnanimous. It was one of those things that is forever embedded in your memory.”
Schuller and Martin will be among those paying close attention Thursday night as Cedar Rapids Xavier (11-1) plays Council Bluffs Lewis Central (10-2) for the Class 4A state championship. It’s inside, of course, at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
No snow, no cold weather, just kind of a cool deal that on the 50-year anniversary of the first title games that a Catholic school from Cedar Rapids again is involved. Xavier, of course, came into existence in 1998 when Regis and LaSalle High Schools combined.
“We didn’t have any idea what a state championship football game looked like. Nobody had done it before,” said Martin, an undersized but relentless two-way tackle who is a longtime wellness and fitness coordinator at A.T. Still University in Kirksville, Mo. “The kids got on the bus at Regis, we ended up taking the long way around, stopped in Mount Vernon and had breakfast. We ended up coming in on Highway 30, then on into Iowa City. I just remember it being that kind of a road trip.”
“It was a little more scary than playing in a regular game,” said Dick Breitbach Sr., a top assistant for late head coach Tom Good. “There always was a mythical state champion before that, picked by the reporters … I’m not really sure, but I think some coaches put some pressure on them (the IHSAA). It was a little nicer if you could have a final two or three-game playoff, you know? I think that’s why they did it. It brought more excitement to it.”
Breitbach also wasn’t sure how Regis got selected for the postseason, as there were only four schools picked in each class. He theorized it was the tough schedule the Royals played, as they took on mostly bigger schools in the regular season, such as Cedar Rapids Washington, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Ottumwa and West Des Moines Valley, beating them all.
The team’s lone loss was to Dubuque Wahlert. It won at Monticello in the semifinals, 22-8.
“The biggest thing I remember about Kinnick, other than there had been some snow and there was snow in the stands, was the height of the crown on the field,” said Bob Beals, an all-state running back for the Royals, now retired from his job as associate athletics department director for facilities at the University of Oregon. “We were used to playing on fields that are flat, and you never really worried about drainage. But Kinnick had just a huge crown, and that was pretty startling from the middle of the field to the sidelines.”
As was the artificial turf since no high school teams played on it at the time. Regis practiced one day the week before the big game in the basement at Coe College’s Eby Fieldhouse, which for some reason had turf.
Regis took a 12-0 lead against Harlan. Beals had a 62-yard touchdown run on its second offensive play of the game and intercepted a pass that led to a short TD run by Pat Shimon early in the second quarter.
But Harlan got a long touchdown pass play in the final minute of the first half and drove for a winning TD with 6:47 left. Regis had a late, lengthy field-goal attempt that came up short.
“Harlan, the Cyclones, well … I still don’t like Harlan to this day,” Martin said. “They were pretty good, had a lot of players. I remember the same guy blocking me over and over. That, I can’t get out of my mind. I remember dang near every painful play after we were ahead.”
“You go to the locker room, that was a bummer,” Beals said. “Jefferson won the following game, so Cedar Rapids had one champion. Then I think Harlan the next year went to the highest class. The thing I remember about that specifically was they had one-way players. Nine of 11 of us were two-way players, which was great, just being on the field all the time.”
Regis went on to win a championship in 1978, while LaSalle had titles in 1982 and 1983. Xavier won the Class 4A (biggest school) championship in 2006 and 3A titles in 2017 and 2018.
The IHSAA added a class this season, with 5A now consisting of the largest schools. By the way, Harlan also is in the finals this weekend, in 3A.
Another cool little twist.
“We did share a locker room at Kinnick with Cedar Rapids Jefferson,” said Martin. “We both had the visitor’s locker room, in that corner of the stadium. When we were done, the stairs (leading to the locker room) go all the way to the top, and I remember Cedar Rapids Jefferson players pounding us on our shoulder pads and our helmets on our way up. I’ll always remember that.”
There’s a lot of things they’ll always remember. Guys like Martin, Beals, Jeff Purdy (the team’s quarterback), Don Dietrich, Barry Todd, the late Jim Merfeld and others … they were the OGs playoff wise for Regis and now Xavier football.
“I would just say the core group, we were quite successful at Regis,” Beals said. “At that time, we were only one of two teams that as freshmen had gone undefeated. We had two losses our sophomore year, one our junior year, then only one going into the playoffs … So I think the success, we were just a tight-knit group of guys. The offense that we played was well suited for us. We were a finesse team, didn’t have a lot of big boys.”
“Those things just don’t happen,” said Schuller, a junior on that team who settled in the Cedar Rapids area. “It was a senior squad, we had very few junior starters on that team. It was a very cohesive, a very tight team. I compare that team to the 1978 team from Regis that took a football and basketball (state championships). Not a bunch of great athletes, but good athletes. Mainly a bunch of brothers, brothers in arms. A brotherhood. We were close with them, those seniors. That was the power of that unit.”
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