This Saturday, Sept. 29, the State University of Iowa will dedicate a statue to their famous 1939 Heisman Trophy Winner, Nile Kinnick.

Kinnick played both ways, as did all of the players in those days. As he is honored on Saturday, with the unveiling of a statue by Larry Nowlan — noted sculptor from Vermont, Clinton will also be honoring Russell Busk, of Lyons, who was on that team with the “Ironmen.”

Both Kinnick and Busk served as quarterbacks. Busk was only 5 feet, 71/2 inches tall and tipped the scales at 152 pounds; Kinnick was only slightly larger. Yet they were each outstanding athletes, and both men were incredibly fast. Kinnick became an All-American, and Busk achieved wide acclaim at the time — playing on all the special teams and, occasionally, as quarterback.

That position did it all in the days of the single wing.… including punting, ball-carrying, and receiving punts. In the 1940 College All-Star Game in Chicago against the Green Bay Packers, Kinnick is remembered for scoring four touchdowns and kicking two extra points.

While at Lyons High School, Russell Busk was so fast that “No one could stop him!” He starred in all sports, playing on teams with Lenny Dose, Joe Cunningham, Glenn Petersen, the Smith brothers and many other excellent players of that era. He was in the class of 1936… as Lyons delivered two decades of domination over the Irish of St. Mary’s, with wins in 17 straight years. At my history slide shows, I always kidded Lenny Dose about that, saying, “Of course you beat St. Mary's, you had thirteen players on the field!” — (But, that was their entire team!)

It was just a precursor to Busk's university experience, when the Iowa squad totaled about 25 players from all four classes — (today, the Hawkeyes have more like 100 members who come out) — and, usually, the 11 “Ironmen” played the bulk of the game. A few, like Russell Busk, also filled in and played on special teams. Busk played a lot, however, and often showed his exceptional speed and shiftiness.

You may recall the Des Moines paper’s sports pages… which was known as “The Peach” Section, due to its color… being easily spotted in the center of the paper. They cleverly devised aerial pictures of football plays and, in one such 1938 occurrence, it depicts Russell Busk intercepting a pass and returning it 35 yards in a crucial game against eastern power Colgate, in a 14-0 win.

Iowa new Coach, Dr. Eddie Anderson, was an exceptional leader, who’d be known for developing big winners at Iowa. (He got a medical degree during the War years). They won almost all of their games in 1939, after not being able to win much the year before.

Nile Kinnick was a superb student as well as football player.

He would, undoubtedly, have gone on to a distinguished career in law, had he not died in an airplane/ aircraft carrier accident during World War II — after which the Iowa Hawkeye's stadium was named for him.

The name Russell Busk, though, is typically forgotten. An ardent few locals still recall the small yet lighting-fast running back, who became a high school star throughout the state and is well-remembered for his football exploits.

In one game at Iowa, however, “Little” Russell Busk would outdo Kinnick and garner all the headlines as star of the game.

He was an absolutely essential part of the 1939 team that finished 9th in the nation .… and which produced Heisman Trophy Winner Nile Kinnick.

Just once, Busk basked in the limelight with this headline, “Nile Kinnick Takes Backseat to Iowa's Little Russell Busk.” He stole the show in one memorable game — against a highly acclaimed team — when he performed admirably as a stand-in for Kinnick.

The Lyons group shown in the picture was one of the first of a long line of Lyons powerhouse teams that would spawn many other fine players.

The names are many. Some, like these few examples, many of you will recall: Jim Pirch, Clarence McArdle, DeWayne Spooner, George Stremlow, Richard Stumbaugh, Lenny Dose, Gene Veit, The Waldorfs, Linds, Thoms, and mighty running back Jim Young. They were led by Coaches Harry Kamer, Mike Darda and then, later, by very famous Hall of Fame coach, John Crimmings.

After coaching for years in Iowa high schools, Russell Busk, the handsome little man returned to Clinton and worked as a district manager for Clinton Foods. Then, during his retirement years, he was often seen on Fifth Avenue South conversing with business people en route. He was gregarious and friendly to all he met while doing “the loop” each day. He died June 10, 1982, at the age of 64. His father, Frank, was a well-known local bowler who’d passed away just nine years earlier, in 1973.



Next week: Back to the Modocs — Carrie Helfert Oake has been found, alive and well in the Quad-Cities, at 96 years young. Turns out, reports of her demise were greatly exaggerated.



Gary Herrity is the Clinton Herald’s historical columnist.

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