This Saturday, the 2012 Heisman Trophy will be awarded in Times Square, New York.  The presentation starts at 8 PM and will be broadcast on ESPN.  At, that means it’s time to look back at the great Heisman candidates Iowa has had over the years – most notably, 1939 Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick.  All this week, there will be posts about Nile Kinnick and the other great Hawkeyes who have made a run at college football’s biggest prize.

Iowa’s Nile Kinnick

As most Hawkeye fans know, Nile Kinnick died on a World War II training flight in 1943.  The following year, the University of Iowa produced the first documentary ever made about the school’s only Heisman Trophy winner.

Thanks to the beauty of 21st century technology and Youtube, you can watch the video for yourself below.

I love this video, as it definitely has that vintage feel.  The retro quality is evident from the very start with the “Iowa’s Nile Kinnick” title card and the old-school school song (remember…in 1944, the Iowa Fight Song hadn’t debuted yet!)  I believe that the narrator of this film was a man named Earle Murphy, but I could be wrong on that one.

Iowa’s Nile Kinnick – Commentary

The first line of the documentary that strikes me as interesting is, “He played 402 of a possible 420 minutes in major games of 1939.”  That’s a true statement…as long as you include the word “major”.  The Hawkeyes played eight games in 1939, beginning with the season opener against South Dakota.  Iowa won their opener, 41-0, and several Hawkeyes – including Kinnick – were benched for most of the second half in the blowout.  Beginning with Iowa’s second game of the year against Indiana, Nile Kinnick embarked on a streak of consecutive minutes played that reached 402 until he was sidelined with a separated shoulder in the season finale.

The “possible 420 minutes”, then, refers to Iowa’s final seven games that followed the South Dakota victory (seven games at 60 minutes each gets you the 420 minutes).  My point is that Nile Kinnick played 402 consecutive minutes and 402 of a possible 420 minutes in major games.  But that’s an important distinction, and some have simply said that Kinnick played 402 of 420 minutes that season.  That’s not quite correct.  I’m a nitpicker in that sense (hey, I’m a writer…cut me some slack!), so I just wanted to point that out.

Anyway, this video is extremely informative.  Who really recalls that Kinnick “was voted the Captain’s Cup, as captain of all the great players from 1938 through 1942?”

I love the footage of the “pep meeting” following the victory over Minnesota, especially the scenes from 3:55-4:20 of Dr. Eddie Anderson and Captain Erwin Prasse.   First of all, Anderson looks pretty dapper in a dress hat.  Second, it’s great to see Prasse reveling in the festivities next to Kinnick, who was quick to defer the credit back to his teammates.  As the narrator put it, “The awards at that time must have been heartwarming to the Hawks, who so gallantly with so few had made their mark in 1939.”

The footage from 4:25-4:45 is classic Kinnick.  You see that image used over and over again (especially on Big Ten Network commercials).  But it’s hard to believe that this documentary was shot just months following Kinnick’s abrupt death.  You can hear how fresh the mourning is in the following quote about Kinnick.  “But a few months ago, he walked the campus of Iowa in the vigor of perfect youth.  His feet were swift, his hands strong and sure, his eyes clear and far-sighted, his mind quick like the running of lightning from cloud to earth.”  Yet abruptly, tragically, he was gone.

By now, everyone has surely heard Kinnick’s remarkable Heisman Trophy speech.  But it’s great to hear it again, accompanied by footage of Kinnick traveling to New York and accepting the award.  There is some excellent video in this documentary, and the audio really captures the spirit of what Nile Kinnick meant to the university.  All in all, this documentary was very well-done.

“Probably Nile wouldn’t like the idea of becoming a football legend at Iowa.  He was proud of his achievements, certainly, but he didn’t think they constituted anything that any other young man willing to work in the development of his ability could not attain.  Surely Nile Kinnick won’t mind if Iowans who loved him for what he was and for the gallant life for which he stood never forget him and make him a brilliant legend about which the fathers of the future can tell their sons…

Perhaps there have been better football players at Iowa than this fabulous young man, better individuals at different phases of the game.  Who knows for sure?  Kinnick has a place alone in the annals of Iowa athletics; he will never be replaced.  Nile Kinnick will always be a measuring stick to Iowans.  Iowans want to help develop other young men in the Kinnick mold, young men who show promise of similar abilities.  The highest tribute that could be paid to an Iowa athlete would be, ‘He’s another Nile Kinnick.'”

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