"The Cornbelt Comet"
RB | Senior | University of Iowa
Kinnick won Iowa’s first Heisman while leading his team to a 6-1-1 record.
Born in Adel, Iowa, Kinnick was the grandson of a governor and a star athlete in football and basketball at Adel High for three years before the family moved to Omaha, Neb., after his junior year.
Kinnick grew to be 5-8 and 170 pounds and, after failing a football tryout with Minnesota, he went to Iowa. His shifty running style helped earn him the nickname “The Cornbelt Comet.”
The Hawkeyes struggled in those days, though. The team went 1-7 when Kinnick was all-Big Ten as a sophomore in 1937 and 1-6-1 in 1938 when Kinnick was slowed to a near halt by an ankle injury suffered in the opening game.
In 1939, Kinnick was on the field an average of 57 minutes per game. He played 402 consecutive minutes against Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue, Notre Dame, Minnesota and Northwestern before a separated shoulder in the season-finale against the Wildcats forced him to the sideline.
A halfback who was the team’s main passer, Kinnick threw for 638 yards and 11 touchdowns as well as rushing for 374 yards on 106 carries (3.5-yard average). He also made 11-of-17 dropkick conversion attempts and scored 41 points. By passing, running or kicking, Kinnick was directly involved in 107 of Iowa’s 130 points that season. He also made eight interceptions.
He finished his career with 1,674 yards rushing, 18 interceptions (an Iowa record that lasted half a century) and an average of 39.9 yards per punt.
Kinnick was named the Big Ten MVP award as well as the winner of the Walter Camp and Maxwell awards, plus the Heisman Trophy. In his acceptance speech at the Heisman Dinner, Kinnick reflected the prevailing isolationist mood of the country, saying that he thanked God he had been born in America, “where they have football fields instead of in Europe where they have battlefields.” And he added that he knew, “the football players of this country had rather battle for such medals as the Heisman Trophy than for such medals as the Croix de Guerre and the Iron Cross.”
During World War II, Nile was a pilot attached to an aircraft carrier in the Caribbean. In June 1943, he crash-landed his fighter in the sea and was killed in action.
Kinnick was elected to the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame in 1951.