In 1922, the 7-0 Drake football team surprised the nation8/31/2016
Four score and 15 years ago, an unpromising group of 23 men assembled for Drake’s first football practice. The team had lost five standout players to graduation, at a time when just 11 athletes started and played both offense and defense. That left coach Oscar Monty “Ossie” Solem less than confident about the upcoming 1922 season.
“The first day of practice brought out a total of 23 men. This indeed did not promise much in the way of a stampede for starting berths of the varsity,” the coach wrote.
The 1920s were a roaring time for college football in America including Drake, which posted a 5-2 record in 1923. Private schools still held their own with big state universities. Cornell of New York, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Lafayette, Washington & Jefferson, SMU, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, Dartmouth, TCU, Stanford and Southern Cal all claimed a version of a national championship in the decade. At the time, Drake was competing in the Missouri Valley Conference with Iowa State, Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Grinnell, Oklahoma A&M (which later became Oklahoma State) and Washington of St. Louis.
Because of the lack of experienced starters, expectations were low for the 1922 Bulldogs. Those expectations did not improve after a season-opening 16-0 victory over Cornell of Iowa, a team the Bulldogs had hammered by 41 points the year before. A road trip to powerful Kansas was next up.
“It was easy to see why nearly every Drake partisan other than the coaches and players was disheartened and discouraged,” wrote Solem.
Drake’s young team rose to the occasion.
“No doubt those that were present will agree that there was never a better example of sheer courage and pluck than was displayed by Drake that day,” wrote Solem of the 6-0 road win against Kansas. “That game proved to be the maker of the Bulldogs. It was no longer a case of letting them out, but of holding them in. Their confidence then told them the rest of the schedule was their meat. ‘One for all and all for Drake’ became the team’s motto,” he continued.
Washington, Iowa State, Colorado A&M (now State), Grinnell and Mississippi A&M would all fall, and only Iowa State kept the margin to a single touchdown.
“The only relevant tribute of justice that can be paid to them is that they were a splendid group of young men of the highest order,” the coach summed up about his team.
Stars of the team included Bill Boelter, Sam Orebaugh and Ken McCuen. All but three of the squad, including Boelter of Idaho, hailed from Iowa high schools. The team received votes as the No. 1 team in the College Football Researchers Association poll. They were invited to the White House for their accomplishments.
Though that would be Drake’s last undefeated season, it was just the beginning of a glorious era. Solem’s teams would win five conference championships in 11 years at Drake before the coach was hired away by the University of Iowa. The success of the 1922 team would inspire Des Moines businessmen to raise money to build a state-of-the-art Drake Stadium within two years. The Bulldogs would play Notre Dame in Chicago, UCLA in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl Stadium (a 28-6 Thanksgiving Day victory for the Bulldogs), Hawaii in Honolulu (in Solem’s final game) and Ole Miss and Florida on the road. Babe Ruth visited the team for homecoming in 1926 and suited up to scrimmage.
Solem also served Drake as its athletics director, basketball coach and Drake Relays director. His 1928 team was the first school of Drake’s size to install lights in its stadium. The Bulldogs defeated Simpson College 41-6 in the first night game at Drake Stadium.
By the end of the 1920s, Iowa State, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas and Kansas State left the conference to form a Big Six, leaving Drake, Grinnell, Washington St. Louis and Oklahoma A&M to join Creighton in a new conference.
Drake football changed a great deal in the decades to come. In the modern era, the most successful squad was the 1981 team with its 10-1 season. Arguably, the most important change happened in 1986 when the school chose to no longer award athletic scholarships to its football players. Even so, Drake has seen its share of success on the gridiron, but none can compare to the incredible season of 1922.
|Drake’s superstars of the 1920s
William George (Bill) Boelter was the son a minister in Gooding, Idaho. He joined the Bulldogs in 1920, one year ahead of coach Ossie Solem, who would turn Drake into a national power during his 11-year term. Boelter twice scored five touchdowns in a game, running out of Solem’s “Minnesota Shift” offense, which employed a running back and two blocking backs behind an unbalanced line. In 1922, Drake finished its only undefeated season by winning at Mississippi State 48-6. Boelter ran 70 yards for one touchdown and at least 35 yards in each of the four others. The 15,000 in attendance were so impressed that newspapers in Mississippi called him “Colonel” Boelter. Drake was 17-4 during Boelter’s three years, piling up 562 points to 115 for the opposition.
After his playing career ended, Boelter spent another 21 years as a coach under Solem at Drake, Iowa and Syracuse.
Lynn King came out of Villisca High School to reach collegiate stardom at Drake beginning in 1928. Described as “pint sized,” King drew the attention of Solem and Boelter by running five kickoffs back for touchdowns his senior year in high school. He started every game for which he was eligible in his Drake career, at quarterback. That included going 3-0 against rival Iowa State. He made the All Missouri Valley team as a quarterback three years in a row and the All Valley second team three years in succession in basketball. In baseball, he played five positions, including pitcher. After college, he set a Texas League record for stolen bases at Houston before moving up to the St. Louis Cardinals where he played for three seasons.
The 1924 Drake team opened the football season at Utah. Sophomore Chuck Everett came off the bench to run 80 yards from scrimmage for one touchdown and 57 yards with a punt to set up another. He gained 212 yards from scrimmage that day, scored four touchdowns and kicked three extra points, playing just half the game. Utah fans gave him a standing ovation.
1922 Drake Football Schedule and Results
|Oct. 1, 1922||Iowa||Haskins Field • Des Moines (Big Four Series)||Cancelled||0-0|
|Oct. 8, 1922||Cornell||Haskins Field • Des Moines||W 16–0||Jan-00|
|Oct. 14, 1922||at Kansas||Memorial Stadium • Lawrence, Kansas||W 6–0||Feb-00|
|Oct. 21, 1922||Washington (Missouri)||Haskins Field • Des Moines||W 31–7||Mar-00|
|Nov. 4, 1922||at Iowa State||State Field • Ames (Big Four Series)||W 14–7||Apr-00|
|Nov. 11, 1922||Colorado A&M||Haskins Field • Des Moines||W 19–6||May-00|
|Nov. 18, 1922||Grinnell||Haskins Field • Des Moines||W 21–0||Jun-00|
|Nov. 25, 1922||at Mississippi A&M||Scott Field • Starkville, Mississippi||W 48–6||Jul-00|