clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:


Reflections on the sportswriting of yore and a particularly momentous meeting between Iowa and Minnesota legends.

Chicago Tribune

While this is, of course, HATE WEEK, that doesn't mean that we can't remember the immense shared history between Iowa and Minnesota.  Friend of the Pants @BenjaminJDawson (aka, White Speed Receiver) found this wonderful picture from the 1939 Iowa-Minnesota game, which features the only Heisman Trophy winners from both programs: Nile Kinnick (the 1939 winner for Iowa) and Bruce Smith (the 1941 winner for Minnesota).

You can get a better glimpse of the picture here, in The Chicago Tribune archives.

I encourage you to click there and read the article as well because it's a fabulous example of sportswriting from 75 years ago, when the form was very, very different than it is today.  A few excerpts follow:

Iowa Whips Minnesota, 13-9

Iowa City, Ia., Nov. 18 -- Iowa's mighty little band of Iron men this afternoon transcended all their earlier amazingly dramatic acts by scoring two fourth quarter touchdowns to beat Minnesota, 13 to 9.

I love the fact that beating a team 13-9 was sufficient to warrant a headline indicating that the winning team "whipped" the losing team.

Kinnick Stops Gopher Rally.

This time Kinnick's drop kick try was blocked, but it made little difference. With a four point deficit, Minnesota had to score the equivalent of a touchdown or a safety and field goal to win. Not a chance, said the Iron men, and everybody knew they meant it when, in the last seconds of play, Kinnick intercepted a Gopher pass and returned it to midfield.

The trouble with writing about Iowa is that you have to skim over heroes when you tell about the guys who score the points. Today, as usual, the seven habitual 60 minute men, and 10 others who would have been glad to go 60 minutes, all distinguished themselves. The little troupe found the 60 minute business a terrific assignment against ramming, banging Minnesota.  But they took it and they loved it and they had enough to thwart, outthink and outspeed the fine Gopher legion in the last 15 minutes of the torturous going.

Everything about the paragraph beginning with "The trouble with writing about Iowa..." is just marvelous.

Franck Scores for Gophers.

We, along with the 50,000 other witnesses to Iowa's greatest homecoming, are still atwitter, but we are going to pull the record together for you.  And, if you don't mind, we're going to start with the detail of that eventful fourth quarter and move backward. After all, somebody may want to know that the first points of the game were made on a field goal by Joe Mernik, Gopher sophomore quarterback, in the eighth minute of the second quarter, and George Franck drove into the coffin corner for a touchdown after 12 minutes of the third quarter.

iowa's breathtaking behavior started seconds after the final quarter began. Hal Van Every had kicked over the goal. Both sides were offside. Van Every had another chance to punt out of bounds but again he kicked over the goal and this time it stuck as a touchback. Iowa required four plays to take the ball from its own 20 yard line to its first touchdown.

The most fascinating thing about this article (and most other sportswriting of the time) is the tone, which is unfailingly congenial and conversational.  There's a better sense of the sportswriter being a storyteller than you'd get from virtually all game recaps today, which tend to be more concerned with dry recitations of facts and events.  Reading this article feels like having the sportswriter plop down on a stool next to you at a bar and breathlessly tell you about a game he had just witnessed.  There's a bond between the writer and the audience that you rarely see in modern mainstream sportswriting.

Gophers Score on Power.

The Minnesota touchdown began to materialize midway in the third quarter, after Kinnick had punted out of bounds on the Minnesota 29 yard line. Then began a bruising march which carried the Gophers to the Iowa 5 yard line. On fourth down and four to go, Franck sped around his left end, going out of bounds inches beyond the goal line. Mernik's attempted conversion was blocked.

The descriptions in this recap often feel a bit more vivid than the descriptions of the action you might read in a contemporary recap.  Which makes sense -- in 1939, unless you were at the game yourself, you were essentially wholly reliant on the eyes of the sportswriter and his ability to convey what he saw, so it makes sense that you might want better, richer descriptions of the action.

Again, do read the entire article -- it's a lot of fun.