#28 Nile Kinnick


Nile Kinnick's greatest accomplishments were to be in an arena far removed from the athletic fields on which he starred.

Many forecast a sterling political career for the Phi Beta Kappa halfback who spurned professional football for law school after his graduation from Iowa in 1939. He sadly never got a chance to fulfill those aspirations after being killed when his World War II fighter plane crashed into the Caribbean Sea during a training flight in 1943.

Many consider Kinnick's speech while accepting the 1939 Heisman Trophy one of the event's most eloquent.

"I thank God I was warring on the gridirons of the Midwest," Kinnick said, "and not on the battlefields of Europe."

Born in Adel, Iowa, Kinnick moved with his family to Omaha in 1934. In his one year at Benson High School, Kinnick was all-state second team in football and All-Nebraska in basketball.

Kinnick returned to Iowa for college and played on teams that went 2-13-1 as a sophomore and junior. He then led a dramatic turnaround as the 1939 Iowa "Ironmen’" went 6-1-1, including upsets of national powers Notre Dame and Minnesota.

The Iron Man of the Ironmen, Kinnick rushed for 374 yards and passed for 638 and 11 touchdowns — on 31 completions. He punted, played defense and rarely left the field, playing 402 consecutive minutes before being knocked from a game with a separated shoulder.

Kinnick won the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards after the 1939 season and was named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951, was named Iowa's greatest player in a fan vote in 1989 and was picked as a defensive back on Sports Illustrated's all-time team for the first 100 years of college football.

The stadium at Iowa was renamed in his honor in 1972, and in 2007, the school unveiled a statue of Kinnick near the stadium's main entrance. The stadium at Omaha Northwest is also named after Kinnick, and in 2007, he was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Omaha Sports Hall of Fame.

Quick facts about Kinnick

Played for: Omaha Benson High and Iowa Hawkeyes

Best moment as an athlete: In a 7-6 win over Notre Dame in 1939, Kinnick unleashed a 63-yard punt against a heavy rush, pinning the Fighting Irish on their 6-yard line late in the game. Kinnick punted 16 times that day as Iowa, using only 15 players, pulled off the upset.

Nebraska 100: 2005 edition

Kinnick was No. 26 in the inaugural Nebraska 100 list in 2005. See more about the 2005 list »