Iowa Remembers, Cal Jones on MLK Day

Story by Ty Travis

Calvin Jack Jones made a name for himself at the University of Iowa. The Ohio native is only one of two Iowa football players to have his jersey number retired by the school. Cal was also the first Hawkeye and African-American, to win the Outland Trophy.

It was not Cal’s first decision to play at Iowa, as he had an offer from the great coach, Woody Hayes, and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Both of Cal’s friends, Eddie Vincent and Frank Gilliam, accepted scholarships to play for the Hawkeyes in 1952. It is reported, while the trio were saying their goodbyes, Cal changed his mind and decided to head to Iowa City with his friends.

When asked to Cal why he flipped on OSU and decided to play at Iowa, he stated, “I’ll tell you why I came out here. They treated me like a white man, and I like it here. I’m going to stay.”

It is also to note that Iowa was investigated and found there was not any wrongdoing in Cal’s flip, this was conducted by Big Ten commissioner, Tug Wilson.

The “Steubenville Trio” came to Iowa at troubling football times, as the Hawkeyes has only one winning season in the previous ten years. But the trio would contribute to a major change their first year and the Hawkeyes finished 9th in the final AP Poll. Cal was named a first team All-American.

The following year, Cal would not stop his individual efforts and was named consensus first team All-American honors. Cal was the first college football player to be on the cover of the Sports Illustrated magazine (September 27, 1954).


Calvin Jones, Iowa Football Guard
September 27, 1954
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credit: Mark Kauffman

Iowa football struggled in 1955, with a 3-5-1 record. As for Cal Jones, he continued with another consensus first team All-American. This was the year (1955) that Jones had also won the Outland Trophy, which goes to the United States’ top lineman. Cal also finished tenth in the balloting for the Heisman Trophy that year, which is a feat of its own but even more for a lineman.

Cal graduated from Iowa with a 3.0 grade point average and went in the ninth round of the 1956 NFL draft, selected by the Detroit Lions. Cal refused to sign with the team as the NFL paid black players less than whites. Cal chose to head even further north, to Canada and signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Cal’s rookie season ended with him being invited to play in the WIFU (Western interprovincial Football union) All-Star game. Unfortunately, this would-be Cal’s final football game.

Iowa qualified for the Rose Bowl in the 1956 season and Cal’s plans were to travel to Pasadena to watch

his long-time friend, Frank Gilliam, in Gilliam’s final collegiate game. (Frank had sat out the previous season with a broken leg)

December 9, 1956, Cal had missed his early morning flight from Vancouver, so an afternoon flight had to be scheduled. The Trans-Canada Air Line Flight 810 (Vancouver to Calgary), had crashed and killed all 62 people aboard, including Cal Jones.

The Iowa Hawkeyes defeated Oregon State in the 1957 Rose Bowl (35-19); the team dedicated Iowa first Rose Bowl appearance to Cal’s memory and sent the game ball to Talitha Jones, Cal’s mother.

Cal Jones is currently the only three-time first team All-America in Iowa history. Jones was inducted into the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame in 1971 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980.


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