Dec. 21, 2008
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Midway through the football season, Iowa fans began to realize they might be witnessing something special.
Week after week, Saturday after Saturday, game after game, Shonn Greene hammered his way to more than 100 yards rushing. He ran through, around and over opponents, regardless of how many men they put in the box or what kind of defense they used in an attempt to contain him.
When the regular season ended, Greene stood alone as the only player in college football to top 100 yards rushing in every game. His total of 1,729 is an Iowa single-season record, and he has a bowl game remaining to pad that number.
For his consistently brilliant season, Greene was rewarded with an armload of major postseason honors, including the Doak Walker Award that goes to college football's best running back, and the Silver Football Trophy the Chicago Tribune presents to the Big Ten's best player.
Last fall Greene was moving furniture and attending classes at Kirkwood Community College to regain his eligibility at Iowa. This year he has been named to the first team of every All-America squad announced. He is Iowa's first consensus All-America running back since the legendary Nile Kinnick, for whom the stadium Greene played in was named.
And some fans and sports reporters are wondering who is better -- Greene or Kinnick? It's a natural question, and one that is easy to answer.
Greene is by far the better running back. Kinnick, who is the only Iowa player to win the Heisman Trophy, is by far the better all-around player.
Greene enjoyed the best season of any Hawkeye running back in history. He scored 17 touchdowns, one from 75 yards against Purdue and another of 52 yards against Wisconsin. He ran for more than 200 yards in both those games.
Kinnick was certainly a good runner, but he was also a good passer and an exceptional punter, and kicked extra points. And -- oh, yes -- he was a tough and heady defensive back.
Kinnick was certainly a good runner, but he was also a good passer and an exceptional punter, and kicked extra points. And -- oh, yes -- he was a tough and heady defensive back. He routinely played 60 minutes and like many of his teammates, never left the field, which is why we call the 1939 Iowa team "The Ironmen."
There have been many changes in college football in the 69 years between Kinnick and Greene, some for the better, some maybe not.
In Kinnick's day, the players were more versatile and controlled the game once it started --- it was against the rules for coaches to call plays. Iowa coach Eddie Anderson had only two assistants and his salary was about the same as a full professor's.
Kinnick played an eight-game schedule. The Outback Bowl will be the 13th game for Greene.
The Ironmen had no indoor practice facility or lighted outdoor field with artificial turf. They had no state-of-the-art weight training facility and they did not have a learning center to help with academics.
The years roll on and the game changes -- does it ever! Kinnick would probably not recognize the stadium he played in 69 years ago. The size of the players and the speed of the game would no doubt surprise him.
But had he witnessed Shonn Greene's performance in 2008, I'm pretty sure he would have thought: "Hey, this guy's pretty good. He`d have fit right in with the Ironmen."