VETERAN’S DAY and the University of Iowa’s Nile Kinnick
On November 11th we will remember and honor the millions of men and women throughout our nation’s history who have sacrificed and protected us by serving in one of the branches of our armed forces.
The roster of College Football Hall of Famers includes hundreds of players and coaches who have served and may have made the ultimate sacrifice in every armed conflict this nation has participated dating as far back as the Spanish American War.
One of those players was Iowa’s Nile Kinnick. The 1939 Heisman Trophy winner had one of his greatest games on this date as Iowa hosted Notre Dame. The 5-1 Hawkeyes were coming off a 1-6-1 season and the depth of talent was still lacking. Coach Eddie Anderson was forced to use his starters with little substitution in most games. In this contest seven men played the full 60 minutes with Kinnick doing so for the sixth consecutive game.
A fumble gave Iowa possession of the ball at the ND four yard-line. Kinnick scored from there and then drop-kicked the extra point to give Iowa a 7-0 halftime lead. The Irish opened the fourth quarter with a score off a four-yard run by Milt Piepul, but missed the extra point. The remainder of the game saw the tired and battered Hawkeyes stage numerous defensive stands. But the saving play of the game may have been a 72-yard Kinnick punt from deep in Iowa territory. After time had expired thousands of Iowa fans came out of the stands to carry Kinnick from the field.
The story of Nile Kinnick far exceeds he exploits on the football field. He was the student body president, a Phi Beta Kappa student and the 1940 commencement speaker. Drafted by the NFL’s Brooklyn franchise, he bypassed professional football to pursue a law degree. Being the grandson of a former governor, Nile had political ambitions often writing of the US Senate. These statements combined with his leadership abilities have led many to state that of any past Heisman winner, Kinnick would have been to most logical choice to perhaps become President.
His acceptance speech for the Heisman came three months after Germany had invaded Poland to start World War II. He said, “If you’ll permit me, I’d like to make a comment in my mind, is indicative of perhaps the greater significance of football and sports emphasis in general in this country. And that is I thank God I was warring of the gridirons of the Midwest and not on the battlefields of Europe. I can speak confidently and positively that the players of this country would much more, much rather struggle and fight to win the Heisman award than the Croix de Guerre.”
In August of 1941, Kinnick felt that war was imminent and became a flyer in the Naval Air Corps. He reported for duty three days prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. While serving on the USS Lexington Kinnick was making a training flight of the coast of Venezuela in January, 1943. He craft developed an oil leak and was forced to make an emergency water landing. While rescue boats arrived only eight minutes after the crash neither Kinnick or his plane could be recovered.