Iowa PBS – Kinnick: The Documentary.

Perhaps the greatest Iowa Hawkeye football player of all time, Nile Kinnick is brought to life once more in the program – Kinnick: The Documentary – produced and narrated by Scott Siepker. A Heisman Trophy winner, consensus All-American, WWII pilot and child of the Great Depression, Nile Kinnick’s story is one of Iowa legend.

“It is an honor to have produced this documentary,” said producer Scott Siepker. “Nile Kinnick embodies what it means to be a true Iowan, and it has been a pleasure getting to learn more about his life throughout this process. I am proud to partner with Iowa PBS so all Iowans can have the chance to hear this story.”

Kinnick: The Documentary had its broadcast premiere on statewide Iowa PBS Monday, March 6, 2023 at 6:30 p.m. and repeated on-air Sunday, March 12 at 1 p.m. You can access it through Iowa PBS-Passport.
Click here to view the Iowa-PBS Preview Video!

Kudos to Iowa-PBS for presenting this beautifully-made 2022 documentary on Nile Kinnick. So, in honor of Nile Kinnick, and this great presentation – here are some pics taken from the show. Enjoy!

If you want to read more about Nile Kinnick and the 1939 Iron Men – click here.

Nile Clarke Kinnick, Jr. At five-foot-eight-inches tall and 170 pounds, Kinnick did not stand out when walking on the campus of S.U.I. Born in 1918 in Adel – a small farm community west of Des Moines, Kinnick was not heavily recruited by college football coaches even though he did excel in sports. As a young boy, Nile played American Legion baseball, catching for future Hall of Fame baseball star 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.

Nile’s maternal grandfather, George W. Clarke, served two terms as governor of Iowa from 1913 to 1917.

Kinnick’s childhood nickname was June, short for junior. Don was eight years younger than Nile, while George was the youngest. His brothers would be out there practicing with Nile and (he) would be throwing passes (and) punting the ball to them.” producer Scott Siepker said.

With Nile as the team’s undisputed star, the undermanned Hawkeyes on 1939 finished the year ranked ninth in the AP Poll with a 6–1–1 record, with Kinnick throwing for 638 yards and 11 touchdowns on only 31 passes, and running for 374 yards. Nile was involved in 16 of the 19 touchdowns (11 passing, 5 rushing) and was involved in 107 of the 130 points that Iowa scored over eight games. In total, Kinnick played 402 of a possible 420 minutes, setting 14 school records, 6 of which still stand today.

November 11, 1939. The Fighting Irish arrived in Iowa City with a six-game winning streak and were ranked #3 in the nation. Kinnick scored the Hawkeyes’ only touchdown and converted the crucial extra point, booting a spectacular 63-yard punt in the final minutes to pin the Irish near their own goal line, and preserving a 7-6 upset win. The University canceled classes on Monday following the big victory!

Iowa’s Iron Men of College Football – 1939. Unlike today, college football in the Nile Kinnick era was played in a “one platoon” style – which meant the best players on the team would play on both the offense and defense. Many of the 1939 Iron Men played a full 60 minutes of football with no breaks except for time-outs.

At the end of the season, Nile Kinnick won virtually every major award in the country. He was a consensus First-Team All-American, and he appeared on every first team ballot to become the only unanimous selection in the AP voting. He won the Big Ten MVP award by the largest margin in history. He also won the Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Memorial Trophy. Nile Kinnick even won the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, beating out such notables as Joe DiMaggio, Byron Nelson, and the famed boxer, Joe Louis. On November 28, 1939, Nile Kinnick won the Heisman Trophy – becoming – to date – the only Iowa Hawkeye to win college football’s most prestigious award.

After his first year in law school at Iowa, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy Air Corps Reserve and was called to active duty three days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Kinnick was training to be a fighter pilot. On June 2, 1943, Ensign Kinnick was on a routine training flight from the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, which was off the coast of Venezuela in the Gulf of Paria. Kinnick had been flying for over an hour when his Grumman F4F Wildcat developed an oil leak so serious that he could neither reach land nor the Lexington, whose flight deck was in any case crowded with planes preparing for launch. Kinnick followed standard military procedure and executed an emergency landing in the water, but died in the process. Rescue boats arrived on the scene a mere eight minutes later, but they found only an oil slick. His body was never recovered. Nile Kinnick was a month and seven days away from his 25th birthday.

After the war, the SUI student council voted to rename Iowa Stadium after Nile, but his father objected to the plan because he didn’t want his son to be singled out from the many young men who had died in WWII. In 1972, Cedar Rapids Gazette sportswriter Gus Schrader rekindled interest in the re-naming of Iowa Stadium, and this time, the elder Kinnick gave his approval. I (your humble author-Marty Boller) was a senior in the Hawkeye Marching Band in 1972 and remember well that first game played in Nile Kinnick Stadium.

In the Big Ten conference, the coin flipped at the start of every football game bears Kinnick’s image, and each captain of a Big Ten team receives one such coin at the end of the year.

Kinnick Stadium is unique, in that it is the only college football stadium named for a Heisman Trophy winner. In 2006, Iowa finished renovations on Kinnick, and as part of those renovations, the school dedicated a 16-foot bronze statue of Nile, locating it at the new front entrance of the stadium. Included in the ceremonies was a speech by head coach Kirk Ferentz, as well as a fly-over of a replication of the plane Kinnick flew in World War II. Read more here.

(M-0045) 1929 – Kinnick Stadium Brick. When renovations to Kinnick were made in 2006, some of the original 1929 brickwork was removed. This is one of those original bricks.

DYK-March 6, 2023

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Iowa-PBS presents Kinnick: The Documentary, Iowa-PBS

Kinnick: The Documentary, Directors Paul D.H. Benedict, Christopher Cook, Producer Scott Siepker, available at

Nile Kinnick, famed Iowa football player who died in WWII, to be honored with new documentary, Grace Altenhofen, The Des Moines Register, August 3, 2022

Nile Kinnick Digital Collection, University of Iowa Digital Library

Nile Clarke Kinnick, The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa

Nile Kinnick, Wikipedia

Nile Clarke Kinnick, Jr., Find-A-Grave

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