This Day in College Football History – July 9th

Nile Clarke Kinnick, Jr. (July 9, 1918 – June 2, 1943) was a student and a college football player at the University of Iowa. He won the 1939 Heisman Trophy and was a consensus All-American. He died during a training flight while serving as a United States Navy aviator in World War II. Kinnick was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951, and the University of Iowa renamed its football stadium Kinnick Stadium in his honor in 1972. Nile Clarke Kinnick, Jr., was the son of Nile Clark Kinnick, Sr., and Francis Clarke. He had two younger brothers, Ben and George. His maternal grandfather, George W. Clarke, graduated from the University of Iowa in 1878 and served two two-year terms as the Governor of Iowa from 1912 to 1916. Nile’s parents were devoted to the teachings of Christian Science and helped Nile develop values of discipline, hard work, and strong morals. Nile was reportedly constantly thinking about self-improvement and working on turning personal weaknesses into strengths. Nile was also a devout Christian Scientist, and regularly attended the Christian Science branch church in Iowa City, while he was a student at the university. Kinnick began showing athletic aptitude at a young age as well. As a youth, he played on a Junior Legion baseball team with the future major leaguer Bob Feller.

As a 9th year senior at Adel High School, Kinnick led the football team to an undefeated season, and then he scored 485 points for the basketball team, leading them to the district finals. After his junior year of high school, the Kinnick family moved when Nile Kinnick, Sr., took a job in Omaha, Nebraska. Nile was a first-team all-state selection in both football and basketball as a senior, as he started for one year with his brother Ben at the Benson High School in Omaha. He led Benson to a third-place finish in the state basketball and to the city baseball championship.

Kinnick had always been an excellent student as well as an athletic leader, and he could have graduated in 1935, but his parents held him back a year to become thoroughly prepared for the university. He was recruited to Iowa by Coach Ossie Solem in 1936. Kinnick was named the co-captain of the freshman team. He also played baseball and basketball his freshman year. After the 1936 season, Solem left Iowa to go to Syracuse University, and the University of Iowa hired Irl Tubbs to replace him. As a sophomore, Kinnick was terrific, but the Hawkeyes just could not win. Iowa battled Washington, the eventual Pacific Coast Conference champions, to the wire in a 14-0 defeat and then scored an early victory over Bradley University. It was Iowa’s only win of the year. Iowa lost all five Big Ten Conference games in 1937. The “heartbreaking” loss was a 7 – 6 defeat at the hands of Michigan, despite Kinnick’s 74-yard punt return for a touchdown. Sportswriter Bert McGrane wrote, “I can’t recall a single break that favored Iowa…You’d think Iowa would win the toss by accident once in a while.” Iowa had not won the coin toss in 13 games. Kinnick, the lone bright spot of the 1937 season, led the nation in punting and was named first team All-Big Ten and a third team All-American. Kinnick played basketball, too, and he was Iowa’s second leading scorer and the 15th leading scorer in the Big Ten his sophomore year in 1937-38. After a brief stint in baseball that summer, Nile dropped the third sport. In 1938, he hurt his ankle in preseason football practice and was not at full strength for his entire junior year. Kinnick played through the pain, but it hampered his effectiveness. His Christian Science beliefs limited the amount of medical assistance that Kinnick allowed himself to receive from the team doctors, believing that his injury could be overcome by his reliance on prayer for healing.

Kinnick was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection his junior year in 1938. (It was later revealed that he had probably played the 1938 season with a broken ankle. Most contemporaries say that because of Christian Science religion he would not allow himself to be examined by a doctor. In fact, the Christian Science religion does not prohibit medical help, and leaves the choice whether to seek medical attention up to the individual. However, a teammate says that he did not go to a doctor because he had learned a different style of wrapping his ankle and did not want anyone else messing with it. He “went to a doctor when something was wrong with him.”) He also declared that he would not participate in basketball in the upcoming year, citing personal concerns over his school work. After a 1-6-1 season, Irl Tubbs was fired at Iowa, and the doctor, Eddie Anderson, was now the head coach.

Coach Anderson liked Kinnick immediately. He referred to all of his players by their last names, except Kinnick, who was always “Nile”. Anderson favored student-athletes, because he felt that scholars made better players over the long run. He believed the 1939 team could be a good one, but only if the starters played significant minutes. Before the first game, the Des Moines Register had a small note stating that “a set of iron men may be developed to play football for Iowa.” The 1939 Hawkeyes, nicknamed the “Ironmen”, would become one of the greatest teams in school history. Many of Anderson’s players played complete games during that season for the Hawkeyes. In 1939, Iowa finished the year ranked ninth in the AP Poll with a 6-1-1 record. Kinnick threw for 638 yards and 11 touchdowns on only 31 passes and ran for 374 yards. He was involved in 16 of the 19 touchdowns (11 passing, 5 rushing) that Iowa scored and was involved in 107 of the 130 points that Iowa scored that year. He played 402 of a possible 420 minutes that season. All told, Kinnick set 14 school records, six of which still stand over 65 years later.

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 Joe Louis. He was the first college football player to win that award. On November 28, 1939, Nile Kinnick won the Heisman Trophy, becoming the only Iowa Hawkeye to win college football’s most prestigious award. Kinnick’s Heisman Trophy acceptance speech, made approximately two years before the United States entered World War II, is remembered as one of the most eloquent and moving ever given.

But Kinnick left law school after one year and enlisted in the Naval Air Reserve. After completing a speaking tour of Iowa communities and visiting his parents in Omaha, he reported for induction three days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He wrote, “There is no reason in the world why we shouldn’t fight for the preservation of a chance to live freely, no reason why we shouldn’t suffer to uphold that which we want to endure. May God give me the courage to do my duty and not falter.” Later, he added, “Every man whom I’ve admired in history has willingly and courageously served in his country’s armed forces in times of danger. It is not only a duty but an honor to follow their example the best I know how. May God give me the courage and ability to so conduct myself in every situation that my country, my family, and my friends will be proud of me.” Nile was able to return to Iowa one last time in 1942. He visited Adel and saw his father one final time. He then went to Iowa City and watched Iowa’s football game against Washington University from the press box.

Kinnick was training to be a fighter pilot. “The task which lies ahead is adventure as well as duty,” Nile wrote in his final letter to his parents before deploying with the USS Lexington in late May 1943, “and I am anxious to get at it. I feel better in mind and body than I have for ten years and am quite certain I can meet the foe confident and unafraid. ‘I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand. I shall not be moved.’ Truly, we have shared to the full life, love, and laughter. Comforted in the knowledge that your thought and prayer go with us every minute, and sure that your faith and courage will never falter, no matter the outcome, I bid you au revoir.”

On June 2, 1943, Kinnick was on a routine training flight from the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-16), which was off the coast of Venezuela in the Gulf of Paria. Kinnick had been flying for over an hour when his 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 the first Heisman Trophy winner to die; he was a month and seven days away from his 25th birthday. Iowa sportscaster Tait Cummins said, “Kinnick proved one thing, that college athletics could be beautiful. Everything that can be said that is good about college athletics he was. He didn’t represent it…he was it.” There is also some uncertainty about exactly how Kinnick died. Reiter was the only person who claimed to have seen Kinnick clear of the plane and motionless in the water. Reiter died three months later.

Since Kinnick’s body was never found, it is possible that Kinnick was still tethered to the plane. Dick Tosaw, whose brother played high school football with Kinnick, has repeatedly pursued the idea of finding and salvaging Kinnick’s plane, and making a monument at Kinnick Stadium or at Adel-DeSoto-Minburn High School. But the possibility, however remote, that Kinnick’s body is still with the plane led to overwhelming opposition to Tosaw’s efforts. Nile Kinnick Sr. opposed the idea, saying that it would be like digging up his son’s grave. Kinnick’s teammates were also unanimously opposed to the idea. Such strong opposition from Kinnick’s teammates, relatives, and fans scuttled Tosaw’s plans. After Nile Kinnick died in 1943, there was considerable sentiment to rename Iowa Stadium in his honor. However, his father was not comfortable with the idea, stating that Nile was just one of 407,000 Americans who lost their lives in military service during World War II. Ben Kinnick, Nile’s brother, also lost his life in World War II, and Nile Kinnick, Sr. did not think it would be appropriate to single his son out for such an honor. The school reluctantly honored Mr. Kinnick’s wishes. In the early 1970s, Gus Schrader, the sports editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, resurrected the idea. He used his popular column in the paper to rally support for the cause. The movement began to gain support, most importantly when Mr. Kinnick softened his position and indicated he would not stand in the way of putting his son’s name on the stadium.

In the spring of 1972, the Iowa Athletic Board voted to rename the stadium in honor of the school’s only Heisman Trophy winner. The Hawkeyes’ first home game that year was with Oregon State, and a pre-game ceremony on September 23 made it official: Iowa Stadium became known as Kinnick Stadium. Nile’s father took part in the ceremony and seemed genuinely pleased. Kinnick Stadium is the only college football stadium named for a Heisman Trophy winner. In 2006, Iowa finished renovations on Kinnick Stadium. As part of those renovations, the school dedicated a 14-foot bronze statue of Kinnick in front of the stadium on September 1, the day before the opening game. 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. Iowa also placed a 9-foot by 16-foot bronze relief on the wall of the stadium, depicting Kinnick’s 1939 game-winning touchdown run against Notre Dame.

Abe Mickal (July 9, 1912 – September 20, 2001) was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame for his career as a halfback at LSU. Although selected in the 1936 NFL Draft, Mickal did not play professionally. After his sterling college football career, Abe Mickal became a physician and ultimately become a long-term chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Louisiana State University Medical Center in New Orleans, next to and associated with the famous Charity Hospital of New Orleans. Dr. Mickal was instrumental in educating many Louisiana medical students and obstetricians over several decades at LSU. He retired to become Medical Education director at the Kenner Regional Medical Center (formerly St. Jude Hospital) in Kenner, Louisiana. He was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity and is survived by his wife Lois and several children and grandchildren.

 

O.J. Simpson (born July 9, 1947), also nicknamed “The Juice”, is a retired American football player, broadcaster, actor, and convicted felon currently incarcerated at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada. Simpson played college football at the University of Southern California (USC), where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1968. He then played professionally in the National Football League (NFL) as a running back for 11 seasons, with the Buffalo Bills from 1969 to 1977 and with the San Francisco 49ers from 1978 to 1979. Simpson was the first NFL player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season, a mark he set in 1973. While six other players have passed the 2,000-rush yard mark, he stands alone as the only player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a 14-game season; the NFL changed to a 16-game season in 1978. He holds the record for the single season yards-per-game average, which stands at 143.1. Simpson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. After retiring from professional football, he had a career as a football broadcaster and actor. In 1995, he was acquitted of the 1994 murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman after a lengthy and internationally publicized criminal trial, the People v. Simpson. In 1997, a civil court awarded a judgment against Simpson for their wrongful deaths; as of 2007 he had paid little of the $33.5 million judgment. In September 2007, Simpson was arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada, and charged with numerous felonies, including armed robbery and kidnapping. In 2008, he was found guilty and sentenced to 33 years imprisonment, with a minimum of nine years without parole. He is serving his sentence at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nevada.

Simpson was born in San Francisco, the son of Eunice (née Durden; October 23, 1921 – San Francisco, California, November 9, 2001), a hospital administrator, and Jimmy Lee Simpson (Arkansas, January 29, 1920 – San Francisco, California, June 9, 1986), a chef and bank custodian.Simpson’s maternal grandparents were from Louisiana. His aunt gave him the name Orenthal, which supposedly was the name of a French actor she liked. Simpson has one brother, Melvin Leon “Truman” Simpson, one living sister, Shirley Simpson-Baker, and one deceased sister, Carmelita Simpson-Durio. As a child, Simpson developed rickets and wore braces on his legs until the age of five. His parents separated in 1952 and he was raised by his mother. Growing up in San Francisco, Simpson lived in the housing projects of the Potrero Hill neighborhood. In his early teenage years, he joined a street gang called the Persian Warriors and was briefly incarcerated at the San Francisco Youth Guidance Center. At Galileo High School (currently Galileo Academy of Science and Technology) in San Francisco, Simpson played for the school football team, the Galileo Lions. From 1965 to 1966, Simpson was a student at City College of San Francisco, a member of the California Community College system. He played both offense (running back) and defense (defensive back) and was named to the Junior College All-American team as a running back.

Simpson was awarded an athletic scholarship to the University of Southern California, where he played running back for coach John McKay in 1967 and 1968. Simpson led the nation in rushing in 1967 when he ran for 1,543 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. He also led the nation in rushing the next year with 383 carries for 1,880 yards. In 1967, he starred in the 1967 USC vs. UCLA football game and was a Heisman Trophy candidate as a junior, but he did not win the award. His 64-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter tied the game, with the extra point after touchdown providing the win. This was the biggest play in what is regarded as one of the greatest football games of the 20th century. Another dramatic touchdown in the same game is the subject of the Arnold Friberg oil painting, O.J. Simpson Breaks for Daylight. Simpson also won the Walter Camp Award in 1967 and was a two-time consensus All-American. Simpson was an aspiring track athlete, in 1967 he lost a 100m race in Stanford against the then British record holder Menzies Campbell. He ran in the USC sprint relay quartet that broke the world record in the 4×110 yard relay at the NCAA track championships in Provo, Utah in June 1967. (While this time has not been beaten, the IAAF now refers to it as a world’s best, not a world record. The scarcity of events over distances measured in imperial units resulted in the designation change in 1976.) In 1968, he rushed for 1,709 yards and 22 touchdowns, earning the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award, and the Walter Camp Award that year. He still holds the record for the Heisman’s largest margin of victory, defeating runner-up Leroy Keyes by 1,750 points. In the 1969 Rose Bowl, where number two USC faced number one Ohio State, Simpson ran for 171 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown run in a 16–27 loss.

Simpson was drafted by the AFL’s Buffalo Bills, who got first pick in the 1969 AFL-NFL Common Draft after finishing 1–12–1 in 1968. Early in his professional football career, Simpson struggled on poor Buffalo teams, averaging only 622 yards per season for his first three. He first rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 1972, gaining a total of 1,251. In 1973, Simpson rushed for a record 2,003 yards, becoming the first player ever to pass the 2,000-yard mark, and scored 12 touchdowns. Simpson gained more than 1,000 rushing yards for each of his next three seasons. From 1972 to 1976, Simpson averaged 1,540 rushing yards per (14 game) season, 5.1 yards per carry, and he won the NFL rushing title four times. Simpson had the best game of his career during the Thanksgiving game against the Detroit Lions on November 25, 1976, when he rushed for a then record 273 yards on 29 attempts and scoring two touchdowns. Simpson’s 1977 season in Buffalo was cut short by injury.Before the 1978 season, the Bills traded Simpson to the San Francisco 49ers for a series of draft picks. Simpson gained 11,236 rushing yards, placing him 2nd on the NFL’s all-time rushing list when he retired; he now stands at 18th. He was named NFL Player of the Year in 1973, and played in six Pro Bowls. He was the only player in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a 14-game season and he’s the only player to rush for over 200 yards in six different games in his career. Simpson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, his first year of eligibility. Simpson acquired the nickname “Juice” as a play on “O.J.”, an informal abbreviation for “Orange Juice”. “Juice” is also a colloquial synonym for electricity or electrical power, and hence a metaphor for any powerful entity; the Bills’ offensive line at Simpson’s peak was nicknamed “The Electric Company.”

Even before his retirement from football and in the NFL, Simpson embarked on a successful film career with parts in films such as the television mini-series Roots (1977), and the dramatic motion pictures The Klansman (1974), The Towering Inferno (1974), The Cassandra Crossing (1976), Capricorn One (1978), and the comedic Back to the Beach (1987) and The Naked Gun trilogy (1988, 1991, 1994). In 1979, he started his own film production company, Orenthal Productions, which dealt mostly in made-for-TV fare such as the family-oriented Goldie and the Boxer films with Melissa Michaelsen (1979 and 1981) and Cocaine and Blue Eyes (1983), the pilot for a proposed detective series on NBC. NBC was considering whether to air Frogmen, another series starring Simpson, when his arrest canceled the project. Besides his acting career, Simpson worked as a commentator for Monday Night Football and The NFL on NBC. He also appeared in the audience of Saturday Night Live during its second season and hosted an episode during its third season.

On June 24, 1967, Simpson married Marguerite L. Whitley at age nineteen. Together they had three children: Arnelle L. Simpson (born December 4, 1968), Jason L. Simpson (born April 21, 1970), and Aaren Lashone Simpson (born September 24, 1977). In August 1979, five months after the couple divorced, Aaren drowned in the family’s swimming pool a month before her second birthday. Simpson met Nicole Brown in 1977 while she was working as a waitress at the nightclub “The Daisy”. Although still married to his first wife, Simpson began dating Brown. Simpson and Marguerite divorced in March 1979. Brown and Simpson were married on February 2, 1985, five years after his retirement from professional football. The couple had two children, Sydney Brooke Simpson (born October 17, 1985) and Justin Ryan Simpson (born August 6, 1988). The marriage lasted seven years, during which Simpson pleaded no contest to spousal abuse in 1989. Brown filed for divorce on February 25, 1992 citing “irreconcilable differences”. Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were murdered on June 12, 1994. Simpson was charged with their deaths and subsequently acquitted of all criminal charges in a controversial criminal trial with Judge Lance Ito. In the unanimous jury findings of a civil court case in February 1997, Simpson was found liable for the wrongful stabbing deaths of Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown. Simpson stayed in Robert Kardashian’s house during the days following the murders.

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