Iowa Football

A Minnesota governor named Floyd used a pig to lessen hateful tension

Racism is part of the origin of college football's best trophy

Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs (74) carries the Floyd of Rosedale trophy toward the tunnel as fans at Kinnick Stad
Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs (74) carries the Floyd of Rosedale trophy toward the tunnel as fans at Kinnick Stadium rush the field after the Hawkeyes’ 23-19 win over the Gophers on Nov. 16, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Floyd. The name means something quite different in Minnesota now from what it did a year ago. There, it no longer is about a trophy and a college football rivalry. It’s George Floyd, killed by Minneapolis police during an arrest in May.

That dramatically raised racial tensions in America in the weeks and months that followed, to say the very least.

Floyd of Rosedale is a fun thing, a bronzed pig that goes to the winner of each year’s Iowa-Minnesota football game. The origin of the trophy, however, had much to do with racism.

Ozzie Simmons was an African American from Texas, where African Americans didn’t get to play college football in the 1930s.

In 1965, SMU coach Hayden Fry made Jerry LeVias the Southwest Conference’s first African American scholarship athlete. In 1966, some Texas Longhorns fans held nooses in the air to greet LeVias when he took the field for a game there.

A few African American players had played at Iowa before the 1930s, most notably College Football Hall of Famer Duke Slater from 1918-1921. Knowing that, Simmons and his brother, Don, went to Iowa via freight train and asked Hawkeyes head coach Ossie Solem for tryouts. They got them, and earned spots on the team.

Simmons debuted on the field in 1934. He had 304 all-purpose yards in his first Big Ten game, a win over Northwestern. He returned an interception 80 yards for a touchdown against Ohio State.

It wasn’t all football glory and acceptance for the player. Not even close.

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A story done in 2005 by Minnesota Public Radio describes some of the things Simmons endured in his playing career. This quote is in that story:

“The problems were when you played another team that did not have a black, for some reason or other, then they would pick on this one man.”

The person who said that? Ronald Reagan, a sportscaster for some Iowa radio stations from 1932 to 1937.

In 1988, Simmons told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that opposing players said “Let’s get that n — r over there. Come on n — r, you’re not going to run today.”

Minnesota beat the Hawkeyes 48-12 in 1934. The all-white Gophers reportedly singled out Simmons, knocking him out of the game three times with brutal hits that were considered excessive and dirty. He didn’t play in the second half. Iowa’s fans were incensed at the Gophers for a year, a long time for anger and hate to fester.

“If the officials stand for any rough tactics like Minnesota used last year, I’m sure the crowd won’t,” stated Iowa Gov. Clyde Herring the day before the Gophers-Hawkeyes game in 1935.

Minnesota Attorney General Harry Peterson told Herring his comment was “calculated to incite a riot” and “evidences an unsportsmanlike, cowardly and contemptible frame of mind.”

However, Minnesota Gov. Floyd Olson made a more-diplomatic move, and sent Herring a telegram to try to lower the fever.

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“Dear Clyde, Minnesota folks excited over your statement about the Iowa crowd lynching the Minnesota football team. I have assured them that you are a law-abiding gentleman and are only trying to get our goat. The Minnesota team will tackle clean, but, oh! how hard, Clyde. If you seriously think Iowa has any chance to win, I will bet you a Minnesota prize hog against an Iowa prize hog that Minnesota wins today. The loser must deliver the hog in person to the winner. Accept my bet thru a reporter. You are getting odds because Minnesota raises better hogs than Iowa. My best personal regards and condolences.”

Herring accepted the wager. Minnesota won, 13-6. The game was incident-free.

The pig was named Floyd of Rosedale as a nod to Minnesota’s governor and the Iowa farm from which it came. Herring did deliver it Olson’s office in St. Paul the following week. That in itself is enough reason to call Floyd of Rosedale college football’s best trophy.

Olson and the hog died a month apart the following year. The governor had stomach cancer. The hog had cholera. It hadn’t been vaccinated.

There’s no vaccine for racism. George Floyd’s death and how it happened were and are felt profoundly. Fueled by anger and pain, many of Kirk Ferentz’s African American former Iowa players made statements about their old team that surprised the public.

It began on June 5 with former Iowa player James Daniels tweeting “There are too many racial disparities in the Iowa football program. Black players have been treated unfairly for far too long.” Dozens of former Hawkeyes quickly joined the discussion.

Their voices were heard. In late July, Daniels tweeted “So much positive change within the Iowa football program and athletic department. It is amazing to see!”

Daniels now plays pro football in Chicago. Simmons taught in the Chicago public school system for 38 years.

“We beat the team,” Minnesota player Bob Weld was quoted in that Minnesota Public Radio story about the 1935 game in Iowa City, “but we didn’t beat Ozzie.”

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The Hawkeyes and Gophers meet again Friday night in Minneapolis, with a terrific trophy on the line.

Its name is Floyd.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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