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Nile Kinnick is the Toughest Heisman Winner Signature

Bill Wagner - Babe Waxpak by Bill Wagner, "Babe Waxpak"
August 3, 2005

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Dear Babe: I am trying to find a Nile Kinnick signature. I have been searching endlessly to find his signature for a private collection. If there's any 8x10 signed photos, that would be even better, but I am certainly satisfied with a signature considering the rarity of the autograph. I am willing to pay top dollar to get an autographed card, signature (perhaps a copy of his war papers), etc. to frame with his picture.
John Neuman, San Diego

Top dollar is exactly what it will take to corral a rare Kinnick signature. Good luck. Kinnick is far and away the toughest signature to find among Heisman winners. Even Syracuse's Ernie Davis, who died of leukemia in May 1963 just 18 months after winning the award, is much easier to find, said Mike Breeden, a Tuff Stuff columnist and autograph expert. "The few sigs I've ever heard of were on either team items, in an autograph book or (on) a scrap of paper," Breeden said.

That jibes with what I've seen over the years. I had a reader with a Kinnick sig on a piece of paper signed in 1939 and another who had a ball signed by the college all-stars who played the NFL champion Green Bay Packers in 1940. That was Kinnick's last competitive game.

Kinnick was a star at Iowa in 1939 when he became Iowa's first and, so far, only Heisman winner. He also won the Walter Camp and Maxwell awards that year as the top collegiate football player. The Associated Press voted him the top male athlete for the year over the likes of Joe Louis and Joe DiMaggio.

Back then, turning pro wasn't the slam-dunk decision it is today for top players. Kinnick passed on pro football, opting for law school. He immediately enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor. A fighter pilot, he died on a training mission when his plane's engine malfunctioned over the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela. He apparently decided it would endanger others to try and land his plane on the carrier, so he made an emergency landing in the water. It first appeared Kinnick was OK, but when rescuers arrived the plane and Kinnick were gone. His body was never recovered.

Kinnick signatures are few and far between and don't come up that often in major auctions. You'll probably have to register with a major auction house such as Lelands.com, MastroNet.com or SportsCardsPlus.com, hoping to see a Kinnick signature show up.

"There's no telling what one would go for these days. It just depends on how many serious collectors are looking for one at any given time," Breeden said.

Dear Babe: I have a Senior Skins Game visor with two pins that is signed by Jack Nicklaus, Peter Jacobsen, Lee Trevino, Chi Chi Rodriguez and one other person whose name is unreadable.
Tony Morales, Long Beach

"I suppose you could present it as a fully signed visor from the event, since they typically have four guys playing in that format," Breeden said. He valued the visor at $50-$100. The plus is having all four golfers. The minuses are that extra signature and the condition of the signatures. Based on the image you enclosed, none looked very bold and Nicklaus, the most important one, is off to one side.

Dear Babe: We have the front page of The Sonoma Index Tribune from Thursday, July 18, 1963. The front page has a picture of Joe DiMaggio in uniform with a bat. He signed his name over the picture. The caption under the picture says that DiMaggio would be in Sonoma the next night to participate in ceremonies for a Babe Ruth League tournament.
Reta Weller, Cottonwood, Calif.

"I'd think it's a $150-$200 item," said Mike Breeden, a Tuff Stuff columnist and autograph expert. "Newspaper and like items typically don't hold up that well over time, so it's something that needs to be stored correctly...It's a 42-year-old DiMag signature, and there aren't many of those around." The best advice is to leave it intact (don't trim out the signed photo), frame it and hang it in a cool, dry spot out of direct light.

About the author
Bill Wagner is a veteran journalist with 37 years in the newspaper business as well as being a former Army combat correspondent in Vietnam. He developed the Babe Waxpak sports card column in the 1980s and took over authorship in 1993, expanding into sports memorabilia and autographs as well as answering questions on cards.

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