Searching for a game picture of Jack Trice

While searching for Jack Trice’s jersey number, I kept out hope for finding more pictures of Trice, especially during a game. Only a small handful of pictures of Trice at Iowa State exist and the last pictures were from the spring game in 1923. Everyone I talked to at Iowa State from the archives to the athletic department told me there were no game pictures with Trice from the Simpson and Minnesota games that fall. Was this true?

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Iowa State College’s 1923 schedule had four home and four away games:

September 29 – SIMPSON

October 6 – at Minnesota

October 13 – at Missouri

October 20 – KANSAS STATE

October 27 – at Washington (Mo.)

November 3 – at Drake

November 17 – NEBRASKA

November 24 – GRINNELL

Pictures of the games themselves are exceedingly rare. Would we be able to find any pictures of him on the gridiron? During a visit to the Des Moines Library, we flitted through microfilm rolls that teased us with dark pictures of the Simpson game. I knew he was in these pictures and I spent hours in Photoshop trying to tease out details, but ultimately had to admit failure. Note: one of the pictures shows the cannon being fired during the opening kickoff.

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Unfortunately, there were no original papers to compare with and incredibly enough, no one had the foresight to save any originals or negatives of early Des Moines history. As Bill Bryson wrote in his memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid:

“The (Register and Tribune) library was the complete visual history of Des Moines in the twentieth century. . . nearly all of the old pictures were thrown out some years ago.

‘They needed the space,’ Jo Ann Donaldson, the present librarian told me with a slightly apologetic look.

I found this a little hard to take in. ‘They didn’t give them to the state historical society?’ I asked.

She shook her head.

‘Or the city library? Or a university?’

She shook her head twice more. ‘They were recycled for the silver in the paper,’ she told me.”

I talked with the Warren County Historical Society who had actual copies of the 1923 Indianola newspapers in their archives. The Indianola Herald and Indianola Tribune reported on the game, but offered no pictures. We had a similar outcome with the Iowa State Student paper.

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ISU special collections librarian Becky Jordan confirmed only one original picture still remains from the 1923 season and it is in such terrible shape that the yearbook would be a better source. So, the Iowa State College yearbook offered the best–but most unlikely–chance to find Trice’s picture in a  game. While sitting in the ISU special collections room last month, we flipped through the yearbooks again. The 1924 version, which recapped the 1922 season offered a great series of captioned pictures of the season. However, the 1925 version had unlabeled pictures on every page in what appeared to be chronological order. One of the very first pages about football featured a team picture clearly taken after Trice’s death–the entire team has black memorial armbands on their left arms.

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Based on circumstantial evidence, I suspect this was taken either before or after the Grinnell game that concluded the 1923 season. I had seen the game pictures many times before, but this time the black armbands featured prominently in my mind. In the 1925 yearbook, there were exactly eight unlabeled game pictures of the 1923 season. Was Trice hiding in any of the pictures? The chronological game recaps had one game picture at the bottom of each page. I looked at each picture closely.

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The first two game pictures were on pages that discussed the Simpson, Minnesota, and Missouri games. After close analysis of the pictures, I determined both were from the Minnesota game thanks to two distinctive landmarks: the castle turret of the Minnesota Armory, and a set of poles behind the end zone. Trice wasn’t visible in them, but was he just out of the frame or in the scrum? It is quite possible he is in the pile behind the player numbered 32 in the first picture below. Had he been removed from the game by this point? It’s impossible to know.

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The following pages recap the Missouri, Kansas Aggie (now State), and Washington (Mo.) games and the pictures show Beardshear Hall and State Gym in the background. Also, in the first picture, we can see the first appearance of the black memorial armbands on two players. It’s reasonable to assume this is the Kansas Aggie game. (The Missouri game was played in a rainstorm, so it wouldn’t be a surprise that no pictures exist from the game.) The second is too muddled to make out any details.

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On the next page, we can see the best view of the black memorial armbands in game action. I suspect this is a home game and probably the Kansas Aggie game again, because Beardshear Hall again appears to be behind the trees and the outline of the trees appear similar to other pictures.

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The next picture under the Nebraska recap is another home game, which we know because the white house in the background appears in labelled pictures of Cyclone home games in other yearbooks. As the yearbook concludes the season, we see two more pictures, both with visible memorial armbands.

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It looked like none of the pictures had Trice in them, but I found myself still staring at them over and over. Suddenly, the picture underneath the summary of the Ames – Nebraska game leaped out at me. It was clearly a home game. But wait, where were the black armbands? The previous three pictures and the next two pictures all had the armbands in them. Maybe this wasn’t the Nebraska game. I looked closer at the picture and my blood ran cold. Here was the ghost of Jack Trice running right at me. Could it be?

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Without assuming anything, we know there were four home games in the 1923 season. Trice was alive for one of them, thus three of the four probably had the black armbands. Not necessarily though. This picture has quite a few contrasting oval jersey designs on the opposing team. We checked the Kansas Aggie, Nebraska, and Grinnell yearbooks–none of them showed their football teams with those jerseys. The Kansas Aggie team had solid colored jerseys, while Nebraska had either solid jerseys or vertical friction strips, and Grinnell also had solid colored jerseys. Looking in the Simpson yearbook, we can see that over half of the entire team is wearing those contrasting oval jerseys. Since the yearbook photos appeared to be in general chronological order, it was a surprise to see the Simpson game towards the end.

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Interestingly enough, the Nebraska team in 1922 had the oval jersey design, so perhaps the editors of the yearbook mistook Simpson as Nebraska at a quick glance. By looking at the 1923 jerseys of all Cyclone opponents, we know this has to be the Simpson game. Also, during this era, substitutions were considered a big deal as most players played straight through. If a player was taken out, it appeared in the box score. After a check of multiple newspapers, we confirmed that Jack didn’t come out of the game at all. Therefore, we know that Trice is on the playing field in any picture of the Simpson game.

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Trice’s position of right tackle provides another clue. Looking at the picture closer, we see that Ames is on the offensive and one of the backfield players is carrying the ball to the left of the picture. Since he was on the right side of the line, the orientation of the picture means he would be further away from the camera than almost everyone else and it appears this way. Almost all of the 22 players are visible in the full picture, and it’s only logical that the only players not visible would be the backfield or ends–not the linemen in the middle of the field.

Another inescapable fact–Ames players had striped socks, while Simpson didn’t. We can see the faint outline of two stripes on the left leg. Finally, we should consider the most obvious fact of all–Trice was the only black player on the field that day. All of the other players have light colored faces and hands, but he appears to have the same brown color as his brown helmet. Further tinkering around in Photoshop only solidifies the fact that this player has the darkest skin on the gridiron. All of these facts together are impossible to ignore.

I strongly believe this picture hiding under the yearbook recap of the Nebraska game features the only picture of Jack Trice in action during the Simpson game. I believe this picture was overlooked due to the placement in the yearbook, and because it was easy to confuse the black armband with the space between the two friction strips on the elbow. Just like his jersey number, it appears this picture of Jack Trice was hiding in plain sight.

Now I wonder–are there any pictures of the Minnesota game that may have Trice in them? Minneapolis was much bigger and more important than Des Moines during the 1920s and interest in the University of Minnesota football team was much bigger than Iowa State. Consider in 1923, the Minnesota stadium seated 27,000 people while State Field only seated 5,600. Certainly, coverage–including pictures–would be exponentially greater than the Simpson game. The thrill of the hunt continues.

Next time, we will explore whether Jack Trice ever wore a gold jersey. It has been commonly believed that he wore a cardinal jersey with gold vertical strips, but did he? The answer isn’t that simple.

Thank you to Simpson College librarian Cyd Dyer, tireless ISU librarian Becky Jordan and the special collections team, and the Warren County Historical Society for their help!

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