Top 10 Biggest Cy-Hawk Games

By RossWB on September 10, 2021 at 12:08 pm
go hawks go
© Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

This year's Cy-Hawk showdown, in case you hadn't heard, figures to be a pretty big game and there's more on the line than just in-state bragging rights. Confirming a spot in the Top 10 and notching a big non-conference victory for future bowl/playoff consideration is also on the table. If this game lives up to the (considerable) pre-game hype, it will certainly deserve a spot on this list of the Top 10 Biggest Cy-Hawk games of all time, likely near the very stop of the rankings. But what other games comprise that list? Let's take a peek and count them down. 

10) 2015: Iowa 31, Iowa State 17

You can't put together a 12-0 regular season without clearing every hurdle in your path and the Cyclones, in Paul Rhoads' final season in charge, put a scare into Iowa in this game. They had defeated Iowa in Iowa City the year prior, part of a miserable 0-4 performance against trophy rivals for the Hawkeyes, and in fact had won three of the last four in the series heading into this game. After righting the ship (mostly) against Iowa State in the back half of the '00s, Ferentz had seemingly lost his grip on the Iowa-Iowa State series -- and the Iowa job as a whole -- in the early '10s. 2015 was the start of Ferentz's third (?) act at Iowa and this dramatic comeback win early in the season was a key part of that year's greatness. Iowa trailed 17-10 at halftime and though they outscored ISU 21-0 in the second half, the game was tied with just over two minutes to go in the fourth quarter. A late TD pass from CJ Beathard to Riley McCarron and a Jordan Canzeri TD run gave Iowa the lead (and breathing room), but this was a nervy game that set the stage for bigger things over the rest of 2015.

9) 1979: Iowa 30, Iowa State 14

As Mark noted in a great post earlier this week, this game came early in the return of the Cy-Hawk series after its 43-year hiatus. It came at a time when it wasn't fully clear who the dominant team in the state was yet (if anything, it was more likely to be Iowa State in the late '70s). This particular game was the introduction of one Hayden Fry to the Cy-Hawk series. Not only did it end up being his first-ever win over Iowa State at Iowa, it was his first win at Iowa, full stop. It took him a while to establish complete and utter dominance over the Cyclones, but he got his first taste of victory over our red-and-gold rivals right here. 

8) 2003: Iowa 40, Iowa State 21

Speaking of Iowa coaches getting their first win over Iowa State... This was a big -- and necessary -- victory for Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, even if it came against a truly lowly Iowa State squad. Ferentz had lost his first four games against Iowa State, including the last game in 2002 in truly gut-wrenching come-from-ahead fashion. That his struggles came immediately after his predecessor had won 15 of his last 16 games against the Cyclones only heaped more pressure on him to finally get the ISU monkey off his back. A lot of the pressure on Ferentz had abated after the amazing 2002 season -- 11-2 overall, an 8-0 Big Ten championship, and a trip to the Orange Bowl will do that -- but there was a glaring lack of a checkmark next to "Beat Iowa State" on his Iowa to-do list. He crossed off that item in emphatic fashion in 2003, using smothering defense and special teams and a solid game from Nate Chandler to cruise to a lopsided win in Ames. 

7) 1894: Iowa State 16, Iowa 8

The first-ever Cy-Hawk game has to be on here somewhere, right? These two in-state rivals tussled for the very first time back in 1894, with Iowa State -- or rather, Iowa Agricultural College, as they were known at the time -- coming out on top. It's a little hard to discern what happened in the game from the write-up in The Daily Iowan from October 2, 1894, but it seems that Iowa blew a halftime lead, there were a lot (A LOT) of fumbles, and a threat by Iowa State to quit at halftime "on account of alleged unfair decisions." Also, Iowa State halfback Bert German was not only their best player (and team captain ) and their head coach -- he was also a former Hawkeye; he played baseball and football at the State University of Iowa (and Purdue!) before going to Iowa State to finish his playing career. TRAITOR. 

6) 2019: Iowa 18, Iowa State 17

The previous holder of the Biggest Cy-Hawk Game Ever (tm) was... the last Cy-Hawk game actually played! The 2021 iteration of the game is the first-ever to feature ranked teams on both sides, but it wasn't supposed to be breaking ground in that category. The 2019 game was meant to be the first between ranked Iowa and Iowa State teams, as both teams entered the season ranked in the Top 25. Iowa State failed to hold up their end of the bargain, though, winning their opening week battle against UNI in 3OT, but losing the war of public opinion and falling out of the Top 25 after that game and a bye in Week 2. College GameDay still came to Ames for the Cy-Hawk clash, though, and the hype hit levels rarely seen before or since in the Cy-Hawk series (especially on a national level). A lengthy weather delay turned the game itself into a marathon, one that Iowa survived thanks to Keith Duncan's pinpoint placekicking -- and a certain punt return pratfall

5) 1983: Iowa 51, Iowa State 10

No one knew it at the time, but this game ended up kicking off an era of dominance that shaped the football reality in Iowa for decades to come. Iowa won 15 games in a row over Iowa State, firmly establishing themselves as the top team in the state as well as, often, one of the top teams in the Big Ten and occasionally even one of the top teams in the nation. Iowa State became not just the clear second fiddle in the state of Iowa, but became one of the worst major conference teams in much of the '80s and '90s. The gap between the teams was big from a competitive standpoint in this game, but the gap between the programs only grew larger and over the next decade and a half. 

4) 2002: Iowa State 36, Iowa 31

Is this too high for this game? Maybe. But two decades on its memory still lingers as one of most thrilling, most memorable, and (if you're an Iowa fan) most painful games in the history of the series. 2002 became one of the most memorable and enjoyable seasons of Iowa football ever, but it was impossible to see that coming from the ashes of this defeat, when Iowa blew a 24-7 halftime lead behind a second-half surge from Seneca Wallace (and an untimely injury to Brad Banks). Iowa State used this victory to springboard into a 6-1 start and eventual (brief) Top 10 ranking before collapsing like a poorly-built deck of cards in a windstorm over the back half of the season; Iowa used this defeat to springboard into an 11-1 regular season and first Big Ten championship in over a decade. Did this loss cost Iowa a shot at a national championship? Probably not, considering that Miami and Ohio State were also undefeated in 2002 (someone was always going to be the odd man out in that scenario and it almost certainly would have been Iowa). But it was the lone blemish on an otherwise incredible season (until the Orange Bowl, at least). 

3) 1998: Iowa State 27, Iowa 9

Iowa's 1983 win marked the beginning of several new eras -- for Iowa, for Iowa State, and for the Cy-Hawk series as a whole (Iowa State had 4-2 edge in the modern incarnation of the series before Iowa ran off 15 consecutive victories) -- but that era ended and a new era began in stunning fashion in 1998. The result was a shocker in the moment -- Iowa State could actually beat Iowa after all?! -- though it made more sense as the season progressed and it became clear that Iowa, in Fry's final season as head coach, had run out of the magic that had carried them for most of the past two decades. But the loss put an end to an era of lopsided Iowa dominance against Iowa State. Unlike 1998, this result didn't lead to a complete 180 in favor of one team in the series, but it did usher in the current highly competitive Cy-Hawk era. Since 1998 Iowa has a 12-10 edge in the series and 11 of those games have been decided by seven or fewer points. 

2) 1934: Iowa State 31, Iowa 6

The last Cy-Hawk game for over 40 years? Yeah, that deserves a prominent position on this countdown. The 1934-1977 hiatus was the longest in the history of the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry, but it was not the first. Iowa and Iowa State also skipped the Roaring '20s on the gridiron, going from 1920 to 1933 without any games against one another. That hiatus was spurred by a recommendation from United States Commissioner of Education Philander Claxton (what a name) in 1916, who urged the games be stopped due to escalating tension between the programs (and their fans). His advice was heeded after the 1920 game (won by Iowa, 14-10), but over a decade later, Iowa and Iowa State decided to give it a go again in 1933 and 1934. The two programs split those games (Iowa blasted the Cyclones 27-7 in Iowa City in 1933, while Iowa State returned the favor 31-6 in an upset in Ames a year later) but tensions, it turned out, had not cooled. The series again went on hiatus, with Iowa's athletic director at the time Ossie Solem refusing to return calls about resuming the series. And, so for over four decades, Iowa and Iowa State did not meet on the football field, until...

1) 1977: Iowa 12, Iowa State 10

No other Cy-Hawk game in history has been preceded by literal decades of anticipation. But that was the case for this clash in 1977, the first football game between Iowa and Iowa State since the series had ended in acrimony 43 years earlier. The resumption of the series was the result of public clamor, state legislative pressure, the influence of Iowa governor Robert Ray, secret meetings between athletic directors, and the decision of an independent arbiter. Whew! (You can read more about that whole process here.) Iowa State was favored going into the game and ISU coach Earle Bruce pulled out all the stops, including having the Cyclones don those infamous "BEAT IOWA" jerseys. SPOILER: They did not. The first Cy-Hawk game in over 40 years affirmed that Iowa is, was, and forever will be a Hawkeye State. 


2-0. #blessed

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