Friday, October 10, 2014
BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA: Nile Kinnick
(July 9, 1918-June 2, 1943)
—student, athlete, and naval airman—was born in Adel, Iowa. His father, Nile Clark Kinnick, was a farm manager in Adel, and his maternal grandfather, George W. Clark, was a former governor of Iowa. As a youth, Kinnick excelled in several sports. He played American Legion baseball, catching for future Hall of Famer Bob Feller, and in 1930 he led the Adel Junior High football team to an undefeated season. In three seasons of high school basketball, Kinnick scored more than 1,000 points.
During the Great Depression, as the Kinnicks fell on hard times, Kinnick's father found work with the Federal Land Bank in Omaha. Kinnick finished his last two years of high school at Benson High School in Omaha, then enrolled at the State University of Iowa (now University of Iowa), where he excelled academically. As a freshman, he played on the baseball, basketball, and football teams. In his sophomore year, he dropped baseball, and as a junior he dropped basketball, in order to concentrate on his studies and football. After successful freshman and sophomore football seasons, Kinnick struggled his junior year with a painful ankle injury for which, as a Christian Scientist, he refused treatment.
In 1939, Kinnick's senior season, he became the undisputed star of a team that became known as the "Ironmen" because the roster was so thin that key players were forced to play 60 full minutes in several games. Kinnick played an amazing 402 consecutive minutes until he was injured in the final game of the season. The undermanned Hawkeyes compiled a surprising season record of 6-1-1, highlighted by dramatic wins over Notre Dame and Minnesota. Notre Dame arrived in Iowa City with a six-game winning streak and was ranked number one in the nation. Kinnick scored the Hawkeyes' only touchdown and converted the crucial extra point in the 7-6 upset, and he booted a spectacular 63-yard punt in the final minutes to pin the Irish near their own goal line and preserve the win. Against the powerful Minnesota squad, the Hawkeyes fell behind 9-0, but Kinnick threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to secure the 13-9 victory.
After his first year in law school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy Air Corps Reserve and was called to active duty three days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. On June 2, 1943, Kinnick took off on a routine training flight from the carrier USS Lexington, which was on a shakedown cruise in the Caribbean Sea. After his plane developed mechanical difficulties, Kinnick attempted a water landing, but when rescuers reached the crash site, neither the plane nor his body was found.