Sunday, June 24, 2007

Heisman Heroes: Nile Kinnick

A friend of mine recently loaned me a book called "The Heisman: Great American Stories of the Men Who Won," by Bill Pennington. I'm only through the first couple of chapters, but if they're any indication, what a fantastic read this is going to be.

Pennington's first player profile is on Nile Kinnick, the 1939 Heisman winner for whom Iowa's Kinnick Stadium is named. It's actually named partially in honor of his brother Benjamin as well, as both ultimately were killed in service of their country in World War II.

Nile Kinnick played for Iowa through two awful seasons in 1937-38 before leading the Hawkeyes to a 6-1-1 record in the year of his Heisman campaign. But what struck me most about Kinnick was not the accolades, nor even the photograph of the determined go-ahead touchdown against Notre Dame that still adorns offices at the University of Iowa. Rather, this young Republican, who gave an eloquent introduction for Wendall Wilkie on Wilkie's visit to Iowa during the 1940 presidential campaign, put his law career on hold to join the U.S. Navy Air Corps on Dec. 4, 1941. Note that not only was this prior to the institution of the draft, it also was three days BEFORE the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Of his decision to join, Kinnick wrote to his brother George: "I would be lacking in appreciation for all America has done for me if I did not offer what little I had to her."

Kinnick met his end on June 2, 1943, when on a training run in the Carribbean he ditched his plane in the sea rather than risk jamming an overcrowded carrier deck with his oil-hemorraging Grumman F4F Wildcat. Search parties were immediately dispatched for him, but he was never found. One last heroic effort by a man whose courage and selflessness we all should aspire to emulate.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bring back Badger baseball

Loathe as I am to give The Capital Times in Madison any undue credit, one of their sports columnists wrote an interesting piece raising the possibility of reanimating the University of Wisconsin's baseball program, dormant since the end of the spring 1991 season.

Apparently, UW Athletics Director Barry Alvarez mentioned, off-handedly on a radio show, the possibility of bringing back the baseball program. This is good news for those of us bitter with former university president Donna Shalala, who spearheaded the demise of the program as a means of reducing a $1.9 million budget shortfall.

Wisconsin, the only Big Ten team without a baseball program, deserves another avenue to shine in the national spotlight, especially given the ESPN-driven increase in interest for the College World Series.

To that end, the Cap Times notes that Wisconsinites should be paying close attention to the Anteaters of the University of California-Irvine, who are progressing through the CWS this year after reviving their own program. It was killed in 1992, the year after the Badgers, and has since jumped from NCAA Division II to Division I.

Well, go Anteaters: Zot, zot, zot!

Update: Oregon State beat Cal-Irvine 7-1 in their elimination game today, so the Anteaters' storied season is over. ... And yes, it was the Beavers-'Eaters game ... so SOMEbody had to go down!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ron Paul: Back to the Future?

Just found myself chatting up some of the attributes of Ron Paul (R-Texas), who is running for president. He's still one of 10 in a crowded field, but he stands out in a very important way. He's a Libertarian. And he's very much a throwback to what the Republican Party once represented, particularly as it stood under Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater.

Paul favors abolishing a laundry list of federal agencies and departments, everything from Education to Energy to the IRS, all in favor of state control. I fear he's the last of a dying breed of true Republicans. Sadly, evidence of this comes in his dismissal by his fellow Republican presidential candidates as the kooky comic relief; the Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel of the right.

No one has been more complicit in his marginalization than Fox News, which hosted the GOP's second debate, added a text-message poll at the end of the event, then downplayed the fact that Paul actually led their (completely unscientific) poll immediately afterward, and ultimately finished second.

My cynical side tells me the big networks - not just Fox, but all of them - want to maintain the Left/Right status quo, as well as wars in Iraq and everywhere else, because conflict makes good ratings. I think my cynical side happens to be right; as right as Ron Paul.

(Gas today is $3.09/3.19/3.29/Diesel 2.99 ... no bitching about 'Big Oil' gouging us today.)