Nile Kinnick & Coach Anderson
Nile Kinnick & Coach Anderson

No sooner had Nile Kinnick told the audience at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club that “I thank God I was born to the gridirons of the middle west and not to the battlefields of Europe,” than all eyes focused on that continent. In quick succession in 1940, Belgium, France, and the Netherlands fell before the German swastika. The world was changing with as much speed as the blitzkrieg offense Hitler’s panzer divisions made famous. In the wake of global conflict, football changed, too.

A blow was delivered to Big Ten football when University of Chicago Chancellor Robert N. Hutchins announced that his school would drop football as an intercollegiate sport. The once-mighty Maroons, coached for many years by the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg, had not scored a point in 1939, while opponents tallied 192 against them.

September 7
The Daily Iowan, the University of Iowa’s student newspaper, announced that Heisman winner Nile Kinnick, who was to enroll in law school at the UI, had been appointed “assistant in athletics" to work with the freshman football squad.

The scene in downtown Iowa City after the Hawkeyes beat Notre Dame
The scene in downtown Iowa City after the Hawkeyes beat Notre Dame

November 15
Despite the loss of several Ironmen—including Kinnick, Erwin Prasse, and Dick “Whitey” Evans—the Hawkeyes opened the season with gusto, skunking South Dakota and beating Wisconsin. Then followed three consecutive losses, before another miracle game versus Notre Dame.

Late in the fourth quarter, Ken Pettit recovered an Irish fumble in Iowa territory. Fullback Bill Green took over from there, scoring the game’s only touchdown on a short run to win the game, 7-0. The Hawkeye victory snapped Notre Dame’s six-game winning streak, making Iowa the only school in the nation able to boast of a perfect record (3-0) against the Fighting Irish.

While Green was the man who rushed for all of Iowa’s net yardage that day, others celebrated, too. According to The Daily Iowan’s account, “Nile Kinnick, cool, calm and collected while he’s on a football team, pranced up and down the dressing room almost jabbering in his excitement." Watch highlights from the "Miracle Game."

Fans in Iowa City picked up on the merrymaking the instant they heard the radio report confirming the outcome of the game. Unrehearsed cheerleaders perched on the traffic signal at the intersection of Washington and Clinton streets, leading a number of yells and singing “On Iowa.” The student newspaper noted that after a snake dance proceeded north on Clinton, “an accordion player and a bugler joined the cheerleaders on the steps of Old Capitol and added discordant though enthusiastic accompaniment to the general clamor.”

It was the highlight of the football year. At the end of the season, the Hawkeyes stood dead even, with four wins and four losses.

Copyright 2009

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Gridiron Glory - 100 + Years of Iowa Hawkeye Football