April 27, 2004
Editor’s Note: The following was written by Bob Moran of the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz.
MESA, Ariz – (Former NFL standout) Pat Tillman’s combat death in Afghanistan last week calls to mind a great athlete from another generation who made the ultimate sacrifice in preserving our freedoms.
Nile Kinnick, the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Iowa, dropped out of law school (he’d spurned pro football) to enlist in the Navy four months before Pearl Harbor.
Two years later in June, while training in Venezuela, his plane crashed in the Caribbean Sea.
There were those in the state who thought Kinnick, the grandson of an Iowa governor, would eventually be president.
The Nile Kinnicks and Pat Tillmans are indeed rare, special people who should always be remembered. You wonder, though, if time will eventually render both just names on walls. They are true role models, true heroes. Nile Kinnick was someone all college football players should know. Just as Pat Tillman will be.
Such was his character. Such was his interest in helping his fellow man. Such was his popularity.
A learned man – Phi Beta Kappa, national honor society, senior class president – with exceptional oratory skills, there is just no telling the impact he would have had on this country.
Talk about the all-American boy, he was it. He even had matinee-idol looks.
He moved an audience with his acceptance speech after winning the Heisman.
He later beat out Joe DiMaggio for The Associated Press’ male athlete of the year award. Later, in a letter to his parents, he explained why he enlisted before America had been drawn into the World War II.
“There is no reason in the world why we shouldn’t fight for the preservation of a chance to live freely,” he said. “No reason why we shouldn’t suffer to uphold that which we want to endure.”
It took three decades before the family would allow Kinnick to be immortalized with tributes, not wanting his wartime service to be distinguished from others.
But he obviously was special.
And so his likeness is on the coin used for the coin toss at every Big Ten football game.
The Hawkeyes play in Kinnick Stadium.
The Nile Kinnicks and Pat Tillmans are indeed rare, special people who should always be remembered.You wonder, though, if time will eventually render both just names on walls.
They are true role models, true heroes.
Nile Kinnick was someone all college football players should know. Just as Pat Tillman will be.
Any team that visits Iowa for the first time should know about the special turf they’re about to compete on out of respect for Kinnick, out of respect for the game.
Pat Tillman certainly would have listened to the story of Nile Kinnick.