Nile Kinnick Recognized as Big Ten Icon

Jan. 18, 2011

IOWA CITY, Iowa – – Iowa’s Nile Kinnick has been named Big Ten Icon No. 7. The announcement came today from Big Ten Network officials in Chicago. Iowa’s only Heisman Trophy winner is the fourth former Hawkeye named to the elite Big Ten Icon list. Hawkeyes, named earlier, included football’s Alex Karras (33rd) and Chuck Long (43rd) and wrestling’s Tom Brands (50th).

Presented by Discover and hosted by Keith Jackson, Big Ten Icons continues immediately following the Indiana vs. Iowa men’s basketball game Sunday at approximately 4 p.m. CT on Sunday with a profile of the revered 1939 Heisman Trophy winner and namesake of the Hawkeyes’ football stadium.

The episode includes one-on-one interviews with former Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke, Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta, former Hawkeye athletic director Bump Elliott, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz, broadcasters Bob Brooks, Gary Dolphin and Ron Gonder and many others.

Kinnick’s jersey number 24 is one of only two numbers retired by the Hawkeyes. He was inducted into the inaugural class of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.

The native of Adel, Iowa, stood just 5-foot-8 and weighed 170 pounds, but did it all for the Hawkeyes, serving as a halfback, defensive back and punter on the football team, and was the basketball team’s second-leading scorer as a sophomore.

As a senior, Kinnick was elected the University of Iowa’s class president. On the football field, the 1939 Hawkeyes were known as “The Ironmen,” still regarded as one of the best teams in school history. The Hawkeyes posted a 6-1-1 record under new coach Eddie Anderson, and Kinnick earned much of the credit. He threw for 638 yards and 11 touchdowns on only 31 passes, and ran for 374 yards and five touchdowns. In all, Kinnick accounted for 107 of Iowa’s 130 points – and that was just on offense. Defensively, Kinnick set a new Iowa record with eight interceptions that still stands today.

Kinnick not only won the Heisman Trophy, but was a consensus first team All-American, the winner of the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football, as the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player; the Walter Camp Award; the Maxwell Award; and the Associated Press’ Male Athlete of the Year, trumping New York Yankees great Joe DiMaggio and boxing champion Joe Louis.

At the Heisman dinner in New York, two years before the United States entered World War II, Kinnick delivered a passionate, patriotic speech that reportedly caused the 700 people in attendance to give him a standing ovation. The Boston Post’s Bill Cunningham covered the event and wrote, “This country’s OK as long as it’s producing Nile Kinnicks. The football part is incidental.”

At his graduation the following spring, Kinnick delivered the commencement speech for the university’s class of 1940. He turned down several opportunities to play professional football and a contract offer from the Yankees, and elected to attend Iowa law school, where he was third in his class after one year. Kinnick joined the Naval Air Reserve in 1941 and was training to be a fighter pilot. He died in June 1943 during a routine training flight off the coast of Venezuela.

In an essay for, former Chicago Tribune sports editor Dan McGrath wrote that Kinnick and fellow Ironmen, “pretty much rescued University of Iowa football during a magical 1939 season that still stirs the imagination 71 years after it took place.” To read the essay on Kinnick and learn more about his accomplishments, visit his Big Ten Icons locker at

The No. 1 Big Ten Icon will be revealed in March 2011 in conjunction with the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament. Big Ten Icons is the network’s most ambitious multi-platform initiative to date. The program is counting down the top 50 student-athletes in Big Ten history, based solely on their collegiate playing careers. All student-athletes from current Big Ten schools are eligible for the network’s list.

Fans can visit to see a complete roster of Big Ten Icons, which also features essays, video and other key facts about each Icon’s career.


No. 20 Charles Woodson, Michigan football (1995-97)
No. 19 Suzy Favor Hamilton, Wisconsin track and field (1987-91)
No. 18 Jack Nicklaus, Ohio State golf (1959-61)
No. 17 Steve Alford, Indiana basketball (1983-87)
No. 16 John Cappelletti, Penn State football (1971-74)
No. 15 Dave Winfield, Minnesota baseball/basketball (1970-73)
No. 14 Otto Graham, Northwestern football/basketball/baseball (1940-44)
No. 13 Ron Dayne, Wisconsin football (1996-2000)
No. 12 John Wooden, Purdue basketball (1930-32)
No. 11 Mark Spitz, Indiana swimming (1968-72)
No. 10 Isiah Thomas, Indiana basketball (1979-81)
No. 9 Rick Mount, Purdue basketball (1967-70)
No. 8 Jerry Lucas, Ohio State basketball (1959-62)
No. 7 Nile Kinnick, Iowa football/basketball (1937-39)