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Listen: Nile Kinnick's legendary 1939 Heisman Trophy speech

Des Moines Register

On Dec. 6, 1939, Iowa running back Nile Kinnick became the only Iowa college athlete to win the Heisman Trophy, perhaps the most prestigious individual award in all of sports.

Nile Kinnick, right, holds the Heisman Trophy in 1939.

Kinnick was involved in 16 of Iowa's 19 touchdowns in 1939, a season which saw the Hawkeyes finish ninth in the Associated Press poll. An Adel native, Kinnick passed 638 yards and 11 touchdowns and ran for 374 yards in his award-winning season. 

Kinnick's Heisman speech has been immortalized and part of it is played before Iowa home football games, in the stadium named after him. Kinnick died in 1943, during a training flight, when his plane experienced engine problems and crashed into the Gulf of Paria off the coast of Venezuela. 

Nile Kinnick, third from right, stands behind a welcome sign waiting for him at Floyd Bennett airport when he arrived Dec. 7, 1939 in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Second from right is Iowa coach Eddie Anderson.

Here's the speech Kinnick made to loud applause, on this day in 1939, that lives on: 

Thank you very, very kindly, Mr. Holcombe.

It seems to me that everyone is letting their superlatives run away with them this evening. But nonetheless, I want you to know that I'm mighty, mighty happy to accept this trophy this evening.

Every football player in these United States dreams about winning that trophy and of this fine trip to New York. Every player considers that trophy the acme in recognition of this kind. And the fact that I'm actually receiving this trophy tonight almost overwhelms me. And I know that all those boys who've gone before me must have felt somewhat the same way.

From my own personal viewpoint, I consider my winning this award as indirectly a great tribute to the new coaching staff at the University of Iowa headed by Dr. Eddie Anderson and to my teammates sitting back in Iowa City. A finer man and a better coach never hit these United States, and a finer bunch of boys and a more courageous bunch of boys never graced the gridirons of the Midwest than that Iowa team of 1939. I wish that they all might be with me tonight to receive this trophy. They certainly deserve it.

I want to take this grand opportunity to thank, collectively, all the sportswriters and all the sportscasters and all those who have seen fit, have seen their way clear, to cast a ballot in my favor for this trophy. And I also want to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Prince and his committee, the Heisman Award committee, and all those connected with the Downtown Athletic Club for this trophy and for the fine time that they're showing me. And not only for that, but for making this fine and worthy trophy available to the football players of this country.

And, finally, if you'll permit me, I'd like to make a comment which, in my mind, is indicative, perhaps, of the greater significance of football and sports emphasis in general in this country, and that is: I thank God I was warring on the gridirons of the Midwest and not on the battlefields of Europe. I can speak confidently and positively that the players of this country would much more, much rather struggle and fight to win a Heisman award than a Croix de Guerre.

Thank you.