Kinnick-signed football purchased by Phi Kappa Psi


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Sports connects communities. Through sports, fans can vicariously experience victory, and they can also be pushed to succeed in their own lives. This is why sports memorabilia is so important, said Phi Kappa Psi fraternity Alumni Association President John Greenwood.

The fraternity purchased a football last week signed by the 1939 Hawkeye football team, including Heisman Award winner Nile Kinnick — the ball was found in the basement of a West Des Moines house by Iowa Rep. Josh Byrnes.

Brand Newland, a board member of the Phi Kappa Psi’s housing corporation, handled the purchase of the ball. He said that the fraternity is always eager to get a hold of Kinnick memorabilia, because Kinnick himself was a member of the fraternity in 1938 and 1939.

“We have a unique relationship with such a key figure,” Newland said. “We take it on as our responsibility to maintain that legacy.”

Kinnick was an important figure in the history of Phi Kappa Psi, Greenwood said.

“Nile Kinnick … exemplified everything it is to be a student,” Greenwood said. “It’s a reminder of what we can work to emulate.”

Phi Kappa Psi has a history in collecting memorabilia. The members had a large collection before most of it unfortunately was destroyed in a fire in 1994, Newland said. Currently, the members are working to build up their collection.

“A lot of that [was] irreplaceable,” he said. “When we get a chance to bring something back into our collection … we jump at the opportunity.”

The fraternity also has a large, 75-pound bronze bust of Kinnick. Shortly before the fire, the bust had been stolen from the fraternity as part of a practical joke, and thus was untouched by the fire, Greenwood said. The bust is on display in the fraternity’s house.

Phi Kappa Psi member John Ohlrich said the fraternity currently owns some other Kinnick memorabilia including photos and one of Kinnick’s helmets.

For Ohlrich, artifacts such as these help him remember the history of Phi Kappa Psi.

“You can actually have a physical piece of remembrance,” Ohlrich said. “It shows the legacy of the fraternity.”

In addition to being an inspiration, Greenwood said, Kinnick’s legacy draws together various communities in Iowa City.

“Sports … really unites us as a community,” Greenwood said. “A representation of the best of those days really helps us reminisce and helps us be united.”

Newland said that artifacts from Kinnick’s life are rare and important historical items.

“It’s a link to a guy who is now a legend,” Newland said. “There are many stories about Nile, but the reality is he lived a very short life. There just wasn’t a lot captured about his life.”

Kinnick was 24 years old, just short of turning 25, when he died serving in the U.S. Navy in 1943 during a training flight.

The fraternity is working with the University of Iowa to have the football on public display, Greenwood said.

“We’re looking to work with the university … to have a couple of unique things available,” he said.
Iowa Athletics Communication Director Steven Roe said in an email that UI athletics officials will be meeting with Phi Kappa Psi representatives Friday to discuss the ball.

Matt Morlan, another member of the fraternity, said that through these memorabilia, he can remember Kinnick and be inspired to succeed.

“The man was everything,” Morlan said. “He pushes me to do my best.”

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