Pharos-Tribune

Z_CNHI News Service

June 5, 2014

Heisman winner's legacy wasn't about football

If you've heard of Nile Kinnick, you’ve never forgotten his story. If you haven't, it’s a relatively short one with a sad ending.

I’ve been thinking about Kinnick as I read about preparations for the 70th anniversary of the Normandy invasion – the greatest military operation in history. The Allies' surprise attack along a 50-mile stretch of French shoreline changed the course of World War II and the history of the world.

Kinnick’s story is similar to those of other brave young men who willingly went to war to battle for something more important than a weekend football game or a fraternity  party.

Kinnick was a student-athlete in the truest sense. He was honored for outstanding play at the University of Iowa. He received accolades for his classroom achievements as well.

It was odd that Kinnick picked Iowa. The Hawkeyes weren’t very good, and Minnesota, a Big Ten power, was a possibility. But Iowa offered a chance to reverse the fortunes of a losing program. Kinnick's decision was an early sign of his determination.

Neither championships nor victories were part of his initial years in Iowa City, but the 1939 season was going to be different. Kinnick all but guaranteed it.

“For three years, nay for 15 years, I have been preparing for this last year of football,” he wrote in a letter to his parents. “I anticipate becoming the roughest, toughest all-around back to hit this conference.”

The Hawkeyes finished with a 6-1-1 record. Kinnick was involved in 16 of Iowa’s 19 touchdowns, and the team finished 9th in the final Associated Press poll. He won most major sports awards handed out that year - including AP's Male Athlete of the Year, for which he beat out Joe DiMaggio, Byron Nelson and Joe Louis.

It was when he captured the Heisman Trophy that Kinnick wowed the crowd. He closed his speech with an observation about the likelihood of America going to war:

“If you’ll permit me,” he said, “I’d like to make a comment which, in my mind, is indicative perhaps of the greater significance of football and sports emphasis in general in this country. And that is I thank God I was warring on 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.”

Sensing that war was imminent, Kinnick joined the Naval Air Corps in 1941 and reported to duty. Three days later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

A true All-American and a gifted philosopher, Kinnick left his mark, playing on the gridiron while watched by thousands and in personal correspondence.

“It is the lot of our generation to serve as military men first, and then, with an idealism undaunted, to enlist with as much zeal to form a lasting peace. All will come right, our cause is just and righteous. This country will not lose,” he wrote to a friend.

On June 2, 1943, Kinnick’s plane lifted off the aircraft carrier USS Lexington on a routine training flight. About an hour into the exercise, his F4F Wildcat developed a serious oil leak. Without lubrication and losing altitude, Kinnick, 24, was forced to attempt a landing at sea - off the coast of Venezuela.

Rescue boats arrived minutes later but only found an oil slick. There was no sight of the plane or Kinnick. He was never to be seen again.

More than 420,000 Americans died in World War II. Not all were acclaimed athletes or intellectuals. But all were heroes.

As warriors and wonderers return to Normandy to honor those whose deeds rewrote history, Kinnick’s words are worth recalling:

“It will be a long and bitter road to victory, but victory there will be, and with it the U.S. will have gained the world prestige she long ago should have earned.”

They are the words of a champion and a patriot.

 Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Z_CNHI News Service
  • sleepchart.jpg America’s sleep-deprived cities

    Americans might run on sleep, but those living in the country's largest cities don't appear to run on much.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Who should pay for your kids ACT?

    Thirteen states paid for 11th-grade students in all public high schools to take the ACT college admission test this year, with several more planning to join them in 2015.

    August 20, 2014

  • Pets.jpg Why do people look like their pets?

    As much as we might quibble over the virtues and vices of Canis domesticus, however, and over whether human nature is any better or worse than dog nature, even dog fanciers don't usually want to look like a dog.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Another stumble begs questions about Notre Dame

    Notre Dame's vaunted reputation for formidable athletics and serious academics is again sullied by a cheating scandal. Maybe the high standards of the Fighting Irish are just too good to be true.

    August 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ice bucket challenge trending up

    Internet trends are a dime a dozen these days. Everything from Tebowing to planking to the cinnamon challenge can cause a wave of social media activity that can last for weeks before fizzling out.

    August 19, 2014

  • Five myths about presidential vacations

    In the nuclear age, presidents may have only minutes to make a decision that could affect the entire world. They don't so much leave the White House as they take a miniature version of it with them wherever they go.

    August 15, 2014

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Debate filled with 'hate' gives Hamas a pass

    Political invective is dialed to the max, and everyone who disagrees is a "hater." But the hate police, who are so eager to cast labels, are ignoring the real wells of contempt in the Middle East.

    August 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg OU player's suspension shows pitfalls of addressing sexual assault on campus

    The University of Oklahoma's leading tackler is suspended for the season - or maybe not. Frank Shannon is still practicing with the Sooners amid a court battle over whether OU can discipline him after a sexual assault investigation. The tough issue of addressing assault on campus isn't just OU's problem.

    August 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Can 6 seconds launch a career? A generation of Vine stars sure hopes so.

    A year ago, Shawn Mendes filmed himself singing a tentative acoustic cover of the Justin Bieber song "As Long as You Love Me" and put the results on Vine. He wasn't expecting much response. "I didn't really want anything to happen; I just kind of wanted to see what people would think," says Mendes, 16. "I posted that first Vine and woke up the next morning with 10,000 followers. That was pretty cool."

    August 14, 2014

  • Freshman.jpg 8 crucial tips for college freshmen

    With school starting back up around the country, no one has a bigger deer-in-the-headlights look than college freshmen.

    August 14, 2014 1 Photo

Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

Does Indiana need a statewide water management plan and an administrator to implement it?

Yes
No
Unsure
     View Results
Featured Ads
AP Video
Changes Coming to No-Fly List Raw: IDF Footage Said to Show Airstrikes Police: Ferguson More Peaceful Raw: Aftermath of Airstrike in Gaza Raw: Thousands March on Pakistani Parliament Raw: World's Oldest Man Lives in Japan Fire Crews Tame Yosemite Fire Raw: Police Weapon Drawn Near Protesters, Media Raw: Deadly Landslides in Japan Raw: Explosions in Gaza As Airstrikes Resume Arrests Witnessed in Ferguson Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape Texas Gov. Perry: Indictment 'a Political Act' US Officials: Video Shows American's Beheading Video Shows Ferguson Cop Months Before Shooting Water Bottles Recalled for Safety Researcher Testing On-Field Concussion Scanners
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.