Did you know?

Jack Trice, the first black football player at Iowa State University, died as a result of injuries sustained during a football game at the University of Minnesota. His famous “Last Letter” serves as an inspiration, and after his story was lost for years, Iowa State University named their football stadium in honor of Trice.

As an Ohio native, Jack Trice excelled in several sports, including football.  When his high school coach was hired by Iowa State College (now Iowa State University), Trice followed his coach and several teammates to play college football.  Trice was the first African-American to play any sport for Iowa State and faced significant challenges.  In October of 1923, Trice travelled with the Iowa State team to play the University of Minnesota.  While allowed to stay at the same hotel as his teammates, Trice was not permitted to eat in the dining hall with the other young men.  Isolated in his room, Trice wrote the following letter … 

The Curtis Hotel Minneapolis

Oct 5, 1923

To whom it may concern:

My thoughts just before the first real college game of my life. The honor of my race, family, and self are at stake. Everyone is expecting me to do big things. I will! My whole body and soul are to be thrown recklessly about on the field tomorrow. Every time the ball is snapped will be trying to do more than my part.

On all defensive plays, I must break through the opponents line at [sic] stop the play in their territory. Beware of mass interference, fight low with your eyes open and toward the play. Roll block the interference. Watch out for cross bucks and reverse end runs. Be on your toes every minute if you expect to make good.

Jack

— Trice, Jack, “Last Letter,” 5 October 1923. Courtesy of Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives

After penning this letter, Trice played in the game the next day.  Early in the second half of the game, Trice broke his collarbone, but continued to play.  Several plays later,  he executed a maneuver called a ‘rolling block,’ and ended up at the bottom of a pile of players who trampled him.  His injuries caused too much internal damage, and Trice died two days later.  Accusations surfaced, claiming the Minnesota players intentionally stepped on Trice, but no action was taken.

Trice’s story was largely forgotten until the 1970s, when students began to ask the university’s leadership to somehow honor the memory of Iowa State’s first black athlete.   The persistence of students finally paid off in 1997, when Iowa State renamed their football stadium in honor of Trice.  

Statue of Trice on the ISU Campus
Trice’s famous “I will” legacy remembered by ISU students and alums

Uniforms from the Jack Trice era in the 1920s
Honorary patch ISU players wear to honor Trice