Happy 100th Birthday, Nile Kinnick

By Patrick Vint on July 9, 2018 at 1:27 pm
Nile and John
Nile Kinnick (Public domain)

Nile Kinnick was born on July 9, 1918.  Today would have been his 100th birthday.

So let's start here, with some of the only footage that we have of Iowa's only Heisman Trophy winner in action: The 1939 Notre Dame game, played on Armistice Day (because World War II was two months old), which Iowa won 7-6.

The Wikipedia entry for the game includes this absurd sequence:

Toward the end of the second quarter, Kinnick made a touchdown saving tackle on a Notre Dame run at the Notre Dame 41-yard line. On the next play, a Notre Dame pass was intercepted by Kinnick at the Iowa 45-yard line, and Kinnick dodged several tacklers to return the ball 20 yards with less than two minutes remaining in the first half.

On the next play, Kinnick fired a pass for Dean in the end zone, but it was intercepted by Steve Sitko at the goal line. Sitko returned the ball for a few yards before being hit hard by Andruska, forcing a fumble. Dean and Evans recovered at the Notre Dame 4-yard line. Rushes by Kinnick and Dean for no gain brought up third down, and Notre Dame called a time out. Kinnick shifted to right halfback on third down and carried the ball over the goal line for the touchdown with forty seconds remaining in the half. Kinnick added the extra point under a heavy rush to give Iowa a 7-0 halftime lead.

Legend has it that the run was originally designed to go right, but Kinnick requested the play go left instead to protect two ribs he had previously broken.

Oh yeah, and in a game where the teams combined for 13 points, Kinnick was Iowa's punter, too.  He set the school record that day for punts in a game (16) and punt yardage (731) that still stand today.  The final Iowa offensive possession ended with Kinnick punting a 63-yarder into the coffin corner that went out at the Notre Dame 6 yard line.

Kinnick played all but 18 minutes of Iowa's eight games that year.  He had a hand in 107 of Iowa's 130 points scored.  He threw just 31 passes that season, but averaged more than 20 yards per attempt, with 11 going for touchdowns.  The eight interceptions he recorded on defense was only recently matched by Desmond King and Joshua Jackson, and his record has never been broken.  He still holds the record for most punt return yards in a single game, though Kevonte Martin-Manley nearly passed him against Western Michigan five years ago. 

Kinnick won the Heisman, and gave the greatest Heisman acceptance speech ever given.  He could have gone pro, but instead he went to law school.  And while he was third in his class at the end of his first year, he decided to join the Naval Air Reserve three days before Pearl Harbor.

Eighteen months later, while on a training flight in the Gulf of Mexico, Kinnick's plane suffered a debilitating oil leak, and he died while executing an emergency water landing.  He was 24 years old.

Iowa renamed its stadium after him in 1972, and it remains Kinnick Stadium to this day.  It is not the first Kinnick Stadium, though: When the United States occupied Japan following the end of the war, it informally renamed the stadium originally being built for the 1940 Summer Olympics "Nile Kinnick Stadium".

All of that in 24 years.  Just imagine what would have happened if he had a hundred.

Happy birthday, Nile.


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