On July 8, my wife Ashley and I welcomed our son, Kinnick Anthony Rozendaal, into the world. While Ashley came up with the name of our daughter Magnolia June, Kinnick Anthony was a name I proposed. It’s a name with a lot of meaning behind it, and Ashley asked me if I could explain for her readers here.
I’ll start with the first name: Kinnick. As some of you may know, I grew up in Iowa and I am a big fan and loyal alumnus of the University of Iowa. I have also written several books on Iowa Hawkeye sports.
When we tell people here in Maryland that we named our son Kinnick, the most common response we get is, “Kinnick? Huh. Well, congratulations!” Needless to say, the majority of folks out here don’t understand the meaning behind the name, but almost all of our friends back in Iowa do.
Our son Kinnick is named after Nile Kinnick, who is perhaps best known for winning the 1939 Heisman Trophy at the University of Iowa. Some people probably think it’s foolish to name your son after a football player; I’d counter that calling Kinnick a mere football player severely shortchanges him.
I have written about Nile Kinnick fairly extensively, and I could easily write an entire book about his amazing accomplishments. But I’ll spare you all that detail here and instead highlight a few things you should know about Nile Kinnick.
First and foremost, Kinnick was a great guy and universally liked. No one who knew him during his lifetime had a bad thing to say about him. Kinnick was a Christian Scientist and a man of strong faith. He was kind, considerate, polite, and humble…a genuinely terrific human being.
Nile Kinnick’s grandfather graduated from the University of Iowa College of Law and was a two-term governor of the state of Iowa. After Nile graduated high school, he decided to follow in his grandpa’s footsteps and enroll at the University of Iowa. Nile Kinnick excelled at several sports, but it was his senior season of football in 1939 that stamped his name into Iowa immortality.
Little was expected of the Hawkeye football team in 1939. The Great Depression had hit the agricultural state of Iowa particularly hard, and the Hawkeye football team reflected those struggles. The Hawkeyes had finished among the worst three teams in the Big Ten standings eight of the last nine years, and they were naturally picked to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten in 1939 as well.
Back in those days, football players played both offense and defense. As injuries began to take their toll on an already small Iowa roster, a number of Hawkeye players were forced to play all sixty minutes of the game, never leaving the field. This small band of sixty-minute men for the 1939 Hawkeyes became known as the Ironmen.
Nile Kinnick was Iowa’s best player and inspirational leader. Kinnick played quarterback on offense, defensive back on defense, handled punts and kickoffs, and was the primary returner of punts and kickoffs. He refused to leave the field and famously played start to finish in six straight games that season.
The 1939 Hawkeyes stunned the sports world by going 6-1-1, narrowly missing out on the Big Ten title and finishing in the top ten of the national rankings. The Hawkeyes pulled memorable upsets of then-national powerhouses Notre Dame and Minnesota and won several games in dramatic fashion in the fourth quarter.
The one constant in Iowa’s success that year was Nile Kinnick. In true Ironman fashion, Kinnick played 402 consecutive minutes for the Hawkeyes in 1939. Kinnick set 14 school records, six of which still stand today, almost eighty years later.
The entire 1939 Iowa football team earned national acclaim, but no one more so than Nile Kinnick. Kinnick captured almost every major college football award that year, including the Heisman Trophy.
Kinnick was the true ideal of a student-athlete; he was intelligent and thoughtful beyond his years. His contemplative nature was on full display when he traveled to New York to accept the 1939 Heisman Trophy. He took the stage to receive the award and promptly delivered what many still consider to be the greatest speech in the history of the award.
With war breaking out in Europe and the United States still two years away from engaging in the conflict that would come to be known as World War II, Nile Kinnick concluded his 1939 Heisman Trophy acceptance speech with these words:
“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 the Heisman award than the Croix de Guerre. Thank you.”
Kinnick had an opportunity to pursue professional football, but he instead enrolled at the University of Iowa College of Law like his grandfather before him. As the grandson of a former Iowa governor, many observers believed that Nile Kinnick’s fame, charisma, and intelligence would lead to a successful political career of his own someday.
But World War II beckoned, and Nile Kinnick enrolled in the Naval Air Reserve in 1941. Kinnick explained his decision by writing, “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 Kinnick entered military training to become a fighter pilot. On June 2, 1943, Ensign Kinnick was on a routine training flight when his plane developed a serious oil leak. Kinnick executed an emergency water landing, and although rescue boats arrived on the scene a mere eight minutes later, they found only an oil slick. His body was never recovered. Nile Kinnick was the first Heisman Trophy winner to die; he was just 24 years old.
Today, Nile Kinnick is still fondly remembered in Iowa as a statewide hero. The University of Iowa named their football stadium in his honor in 1972, which certainly helps keep his memory alive. Yes, Nile Kinnick was an athlete, but he was so much more: a scholar, a patriot, a man of faith…just an all-around amazing person.
I’ll end the Kinnick section of this post with one of my favorite quotes of his, a quote my son will be advised to take to heart. Keep in mind, Nile Kinnick wrote the following statement right after his 20th birthday in a letter to his younger brother. Such intelligent and articulate thought from someone so young is pretty amazing and well worth honoring.
“To be a tough, rugged boy is every lad’s ambition. But to be a gentleman: to be kindly, charitable, and thoughtful, as well as tough and rugged, is much more to be desired. And he who can be both is much the better man and usually much tougher in the long run.”
Kinnick’s middle name, Anthony, has a special history in my family. It dates all the way back to when the Rozendaals first came to America. My great-great-grandfather, Willem Rozendaal, served in the Dutch Army and immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands in 1888. Willem settled down in central Iowa and got married in 1890; he and his wife Jane had (get ready for it) eleven children.
Willem’s firstborn son was my great-grandfather, Peter Rozendaal. He was born in 1892 and was in his mid-twenties when World War I broke out. The military draft was in effect in those days, and in a family as large as the Rozendaals, someone would have to enlist to satisfy the draft requirement.
As the eldest son, Peter was the natural choice to be drafted. But in those days (not unlike the Hunger Games), it was permissible for a sibling to step in and take his brother’s place.
Peter’s younger brother, Anthony, did just that. According to the family history, Anthony offered to serve in the army because he felt he was better spiritually prepared in case of death. Needless to say, Anthony knew the risks he would face by signing up for service.
You can probably guess the next chapter in this story. I wish I could tell you of the courageous feats Anthony performed on the battlefield while fighting against the Central Powers, but that’s not reality.
The Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 was the deadliest pandemic in human history. It killed roughly four percent of the entire global population in the span of about 18 months. It is estimated that anywhere from 50 to 100 million people died of Spanish flu during that time.
My great-granduncle Anthony was one of those fatalities. He became ill on the ship en route to Europe and died on October 14, 1918, four days after arriving in France and before he ever saw combat. Anthony Rozendaal was 22 years old.
When word reached Iowa that Anthony had died, the Rozendaal family took it hard, but perhaps no one took it harder than Peter. After all, Peter knew that his younger brother had died taking his place; otherwise, that would have been him.
As a tribute, my great-grandfather named his first son Wilbur Anthony Rozendaal, giving him the middle name of his deceased brother. Wilbur was my grandfather, and he named one of his sons William Anthony Rozendaal, which is my dad Bill. Dad gave me the name Neal Anthony Rozendaal, and now I’m passing the name along to my own son, in memory of a man who died taking the place of his great-great-grandfather.
I’m very proud of what the name Kinnick Anthony Rozendaal represents. Both names carry significance in commemoration of two men who died in service of their country during times of war. Little baby Kinnick has no idea of any of this, of course, but I look forward to him discovering years from now just how special his name is.