Ranking Hayden Fry's 10 best wins as Iowa football coach

Former University of Iowa Head Football Coach Hayden Fry stands near a banner hanging on the outside of Kinnick Stadium
Former University of Iowa Head Football Coach Hayden Fry stands near a banner hanging on the outside of Kinnick Stadium near what ha been designated the new ANF Plaza Friday, Aug. 5, 2011 in Iowa City. The University of Iowa and the Iowa Farm Bureau are calling attention to the challenges and opportunities today's farmers face under the ANF "America Needs Farmers" banner. (Brian Ray/ SourceMedia Group News)
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Hayden Fry won 143 games in his 20 years as Iowa football coach.

At the time of his retirement following the 1998 season, that was a program record. Former Fry assistant Kirk Ferentz surpassed him in 2018.

How do you cut 143 down to 10? Some are obvious (that 1-vs.-2 game in 1985), others required debate.

Here’s what we came up with, with links to the original game storys that appeared in The Gazette.

10. No. 22 Iowa 24, No. 10 Michigan 23 — Oct. 20, 1990

ANN ARBOR, MICH. — If you saw a delirious bunch of football players dancing their way into Iowa City Saturday night, don’t be too alarmed.

They were only the Iowa Hawkeyes doing the hokey-pokey after their monumental 24-23 victory over the Michigan Wolverines.

Paul Kujawa’s 1-yard plunge with 69 seconds left and Jeff Skillett’s PAT gave Iowa a victory it will cherish for a long, long time and sent the Hawks dancing their favorite dance again.

“Can you believe it!” yelled Iowa Coach Hayden Fry after he escaped the delirium in the U of I locker room. “Two wins in the state of Michigan in the same year. Woo-eee! First time ever.”

Read the full game story from 1990

9. Iowa 28, Tennessee 22 (Peach Bowl) — Dec. 31, 1982

ATLANTA — Just as the new song predicted, when the New Year was greeted here Friday night, “Iowa was waltzin’ and Tennessee was singin’ the blues.”

Iowa’s unsung offense waltzed plenty in the first three quarters, rolling up a 28-19 lead on the passing arm of Chuck Long and the sticky fingers of Dave Moritz. But again it was the old reliable defense that made Tennessee sing the blues with some savage play in the final minutes that preserved a 28-22 victory.

Although the 15th annual Peach Bowl had been listed as a virtual sellout, only 50,134 showed up on a cold, windy day that turned into New Year’s Eve in a hurry. Most of the enthralled spectators were still on hand at 6:15 p.m. Eastern time when senior end Straun Joseph sacked Tennessee’s brilliant quarterback, Alan Cockrell, the final time.

“It was just a super game,” breathed Iowa Coach Hayden Fry. “I have never seen a defense rise up on the goal line and sack the quarterback like that. We were very tough when we had to be.”

Read the full game story from 1982

8. Iowa 38, No. 20 Washington 18 (Sun Bowl) — Dec. 29, 1995

EL PASO, Texas — The sun finally shone on the Iowa Hawkeyes in a bowl game.

The Hawkeyes gave a dazzling performance in the 62nd Sun Bowl Friday and dominated 20th-ranked Washington, 38-18, before 49,116 fans in El Paso.

The Hawks won their first bowl game since 1987, and they did it in style.

”That was a fine effort by a group of fine young men,” Iowa Coach Hayden Fry said, “and they whipped — and I put that in capital letters — a very, very fine Washington team that was co-champs of the Pac-10.”

Fry had been 0-4 against Pac-10 teams in bowl games, including a pair of losses to Washington in the 1982 and ‘91 Rose Bowls, but he declined publicly to revel in getting that monkey off his back.

Read the full game story from 1995

7. No. 7 Iowa 20, No. 3 Ohio State 14 — Sept. 24, 1983

IOWA CITY — P.T. Barnum didn’t have a thing to do with what went on down here Saturday. But he could have.

Even old P.T. wouldn’t have had enough show rings to handle the goings on of this day. There was a morning exhibition by the basketball team and another by the wrestlers, the sight of two marching bands, the presence of a national television network, an appearance by Gene Kelly, and the honoring of some heroes from yesteryear, the 1958 Iowa Hawkeyes.

Into this circus of celebration stepped the Ohio State Buckeyes, the nation’s third-ranked college football team. Strong, calm, methodical, and intent on proving what Barnum always said, that there’s a sucker born every minute.

Unfortunately, they turned out to be the suckers.

With a record 66,175 fans in attendance and several million more viewing on television, the Iowa Hawkeyes (the 1983 version) bounced back in the second half to defeat Ohio State for the first time in 21 years, 20-14, Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

Read the full game story from 1983

6. Iowa 55, No. 19 Texas 17 (Freedom Bowl) — Dec. 26, 1984

Take that, Texas!

Iowa’s offense sizzled in the southern California drizzle Wednesday night, as the Hawkeyes rolled to a record-breaking 55-17 rout of Texas in the first Freedom Bowl.

Quarterback Chuck Long, perhaps playing his final football game for Iowa (editor’s note: it wasn’t), led the onslaught with school passing records of 29 completions, 461 yards and six touchdowns. His scoring passes also tied the Big Ten record set by Illinois’ Dave Wilson in 1980.

Long was a landslide winner of the game’s Most Valuable Player Award. The 6-foot-4 junior helped Iowa deal the Longhorns their worst loss in 80 years. The University of Chicago beat Texas, 68-0, in 1904.

The victory was a most satisfying one for a native Texan named Hayden Fry. The Iowa coach had a 2-11 lifetime record against Texas. It also was Fry’s fourth straight season of eight wins or more, as the Hawkeyes finished 8-4-1.

“This is definitely the biggest win of my career,” Fry said. “Being from Texas, you don’t get the chance to beat the U of T very often. I have never had a victory more meaningful to me.

“It was a great victory and one that the coaching staff, especially myself, wanted very badly. We never dreamed we could throw that well on them, let alone score 55 points.”

Read the full game story from 1984

5. No. 19 Iowa 36, Michigan State 7 — Nov. 21, 1981

IOWA CITY — Start packing!

California, here they come! Pasadena or bust! Rose Bowl, how sweet it is! How do we get tickets?

Or, as coach Hayden Fry said, “How ‘bout those Hawks? Yaaahooo!”

Who would have guessed it three months ago? Or two months ago after the Hawkeyes were upset at Iowa State? Or a month ago when Iowa lost two straight, to Minnesota and Illinois?

Or even a few hours ago when an incredible two-game Big Ten parlay had to come home Saturday? But Iowa’s 36-7 triumph coupled with Ohio State’s 14-9 upset of Michigan turned the Rose Bowl key.

It’s true, no matter what the odds were, and Jan. 1 the Hawkeyes will be playing Washington’s Huskies before 103,000 people in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl with most of the world watching on television.

Yes, Iowa’s Cinderella team that was picked by nobody to win the Big Ten, Saturday finished in a title tie with Ohio State, which ironically earned little but the right to play Navy in the Liberty Bowl at Memphis.

The Hawks will play a Washington team that earned its third Rose Bowl berth in the last five seasons. The Huskies, coached by Don James, beat Michigan 27-20 Jan. 1, 1978, and last New Year’s Day lost a 23-6 decision to Michigan.

“I think Iowa will be a great team to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl,” said Muddy Waters, the Michigan State coach who was a gallant and generous loser.”

“I don’t care who we play in the Rose Bowl,” said an ecstatic Fry, who came into the interview room carrying a long-stemmed rose and wearing a Rose Bowl patch stuck on his forehead. “Shoot a monkey, I’d go out to Pasadena tomorrow if they’d let me, but I guess our team will probably go out Dec. 22 or 23.

“Yes, we finally came of age, and I’m ready to admit this is a pretty good football team.

Read the full game story from 1981

4. No. 1 Iowa 35, Michigan State 31 — Oct. 5, 1985

IOWA CITY — Good call.

Great quarterback.

Hell of a football game ...

The Iowa Hawkeyes allowed 31 points and 580 yards of total offense. They may have coughed up their No. 1 national ranking. Were they downcast after a hard-earned 35-31 win over unheralded Michigan State Saturday afternoon? No.

They were euphoric.

Chuck Long’s 2-yard touchdown run with 27 seconds left gave Iowa a 35-31 win over the Spartans before 66,044 screaming fans at Kinnick Stadium. A national television audience saw more twists and turns than in 40 miles of bad road, but the final twist turned a very possible Hawkeye loss into victory.

Iowa had a third-and-1 at the MSU 2-yard line with 31 seconds left in the game and the Spartans ahead, 31-28. Long faked a handoff to Ronnie Harmon, and almost everyone in Johnson County bought the fake as Harmon tried to leap through the line.

But Long still had the ball.

He sprinted around the right end with absolutely no one breathing down his neck, danced into the right corner of the end zone, and hugged a teammate or two.

“That might have been the greatest fake of all time in college football,’’ Iowa Coach Hayden Fry said. “I believe I could have scored on that one, and I’m really slow.

Read the full game story from 1985

3. Iowa 29, Ohio State 27 — Nov. 14, 1987

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Marv Cook, now we know why they call you Marvelous.

Cook, the junior tight end, and quarterback Chuck Hartlieb teamed up on a miracle play — a 28-yard touchdown pass on fourth and forever, no timeouts, very little clock and nearly no Hawkeye hope left,

The play beat Ohio State, 29-27, on Saturday in sunny-but-surly Ohio Stadium.

It’s historically significant because, prior to Saturday, Iowa defeated Ohio State only once in its last 20 attempts.

Further, you’ll have to check back to 1959 to find the last Iowa win in Columbus. In 1959, Hawkeye coach Hayden Fry was defensive coordinator at Baylor and Herbert Hoover was the most famous person to come from West Branch.

No more. Cook made his move to go one-up on the former President, at least in today’s papers, by catching nine passes covering 159 yards and punting five times for a 43-yard average.

“To be honest with you, I don’t even know the final score,” Cook said. “I know we won. That’s all.”

Read the full game story from 1987

2. No. 12 Iowa 9, No. 5 Michigan 7 — Oct. 17, 1981

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Before the current college football season began, many Iowa fans no doubt hoped their team would have a winning season.

But, those fans really underestimated “Hayden’s Heroes.”

Make no mistake about it, the Iowa Hawkeyes have arrived ... not just as a team with a winning record, but as a full-blown powerhouse in the world of Big Ten football.

Any last doubters were almost certainly swayed Saturday as Coach Hayden Fry’s Hawks recorded perhaps their biggest victory in the last 20 years, stifling traditional heavyweight Michigan, 9-7, before a sardined-in crowd of 105,951 at Michigan Stadium.

The crowd, which was the largest ever to see an Iowa football game and the third largest in Michigan history, also included representatives from six different bowl games, and they no doubt returned to their individual areas of the country very impressed.

Iowa used a conservative ball-control offense, a big-play defense and the talented foot of freshman Tom Nichol to record a victory over a team ranked among the top half-dozen in the nation for the third time this season.

The win also moved the Hawks into undisputed possession of first place in the Big Ten as Wisconsin lost to Michigan State, 33-14. Iowa is now 3-0 in league play (5-1 overall) while Wisconsin is 3-1 and Ohio State is 2-1.

“Man, that was one great football game,” exclaimed an ecstatic Fry in a postgame press conference. “I thought I fouled up a jillion times by playing it too close to the vest. But we put a lot of faith in our defense.

“Nobody expected us to win this football game except those guys over there in the next room. Nobody’s heard of Iowa football for 20 years.”

Read the full game story from 1981

1. No. 1 Iowa 12, No. 2 Michigan 10 — Oct. 19, 1985

IOWA CITY — In all the classic fang-and-claw struggle between No. 1 and No. 2 in college football, there may never have been a more dramatic finish than Iowa’s 12-10 victory over Michigan on Saturday.

Thousands of delirious fans from the all-time Kinnick Stadium record crowd of 66,350 poured onto the field after Rob Houghtlin’s 29-yard field goal split the uprights on the final play.

And what was Houghtlin thinking as he knelt over the kicking tee before the fate-filled kick?

“I was praying,” the slender junior from Glenview, Ill., replied seriously. “I was praying to the Lord, asking for a little strength and direction.”

As soon as Houghtlin’s kick was in the air, both he and his holder, Mark Vlasic, leaped in the air with arms upraised, pre-empting the call by the officials.

And what was Coach Hayden Fry’s first reaction?

“Praise the Lord!” the Iowa mentor told the CBS interviewer after he and Michigan’s Bo Schembechler exchanged kind words at midfield. Before shaking hands with Fry, Schembechler looked up Iowa running back Ronnie Harmon and congratulated him. Harmon put an affectionate arm around the Wolverine coach.

Then the landslide of Iowa fans onto the field became an avalanche. A little later some of the more rambunctious ones succeeded in tearing down the north goal posts, through which the last two of Houghtlin’s four successful field goals had passed.

Read the full game story from 1985