John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE
Talking Kansas football highs and lows with a die hard Jayhawk fan
In the second part of our Fanthropology contest we sit down with the selected winner from our first segment and talk a little more in depth about their journey as a die hard Jayhawk fans. The winner from round one was "I Need More Esteban" who has been a RCT reader, commenter, etc for quite some time. He's from Lawrence, living in LA and his journey through the Mangino years speaks to a generation of Jayhawk football fans, the same generation who desperately wants Charlie Weis to get Jayhawk football back to competitiveness. With that in mind, here's a Q&A style convo between Este and myself.
I'll kick it off by just asking about a moment where you really stuck it out as a fan when it was bad. For me I can remember going to KU v Wyoming over the Thanksgiving Holiday in 2001. The game was moved because of Sept 11th, Terry Allen had been fired and the program was in arguably worse condition than when Turner Gill left. I took my now wife to the game, we sat in the ran and drank hot chocolate to stay warm. There were MAYBE 8k people there, it was a sad sight. I remember thinking at that point that football would never matter at Kansas, but hoping my dedication would someday give me something to cheer for.
Kansas football was never that good for me growing up, I think it's why I focused on basketball that much more because football was so depressing. I was pretty young during the Glen Mason years but his last season with June Henley and LT Levine I remember real well and it was a pleasant surprise to watch KU compete and I loved it. Once Terry Allen started, things were bad but I still followed KU Football as much as I could stand. I still remember listening to a game in 1999 against Nebraska on the radio with Bob and Max where we almost beat them but fell short by a touchdown. To be honest, that's all I really remember from the Terry Allen years, that's how bad they were and how damaging it was to the program. A local kid who lived KU sports wasn't even interested. Going to a BCS bowl was essentially unthinkable.
The low moment during my years at KU was low because we were so damn close to being respectable but in one game, appeared that we would never quite get there. It was my sophomore year of college, I had moved from the dorms after freshman year and was living with one of my best friends near campus. It was the 2004 season and KU had been competitive , despite many QB issues that plagued Mangino's early years, we barely lost to Nebraska in Lincoln and then broke the streak of 11 straight losses against Kansas State, one of the most memorable football games I've ever been to. Since that streak buster, KU had lost 3 straight and was sitting at 3-6 with high-powered Texas headed by Vince Young coming to town. My roommate and I had done the usual Friday night partying and woke up Saturday morning not really ready to go to Memorial and watch KU get pounded. With the game actually televised (rare then), we decided to just watch on TV from our couch while we rehydrated. To our amazement at halftime, KU led 9-7. We discussed whether we should head to the stadium to watch this unfold but then both agreed that Texas would come out and pull away in the 2nd half. It didn't happen; the 3rd Quarter went by with UT only managing a pair of Field Goals. Those Mangino defenses fought hard. Then early in the 4th, KU punched in a score and led 16-13 with less than a quarter to go. My roommate and I looked at each other and still weren't sure. Then on our next drive a long throw to Simmons down to the goal line and we didn't even wait for them to punch it in. We threw some clothes on and tore out for the stadium. Running hungover is never fun but we did it the 10 or so blocks to the stadium. We got inside just in time to watch Texas pull to within 3 on a crazy 18 yard Vince Young TD. There were only 4 minutes left at this point and I was in shock, going through the years with Terry Allen made me believe a win like this against the all-mighty Texas could never happen but we were only 4 minutes away. Then a phantom pass-interference call against Charles Gordon that would have sealed the game was called and everything changed. KU was forced to punt. On 4th and 18 for Texas in their own territory, the entire student section was ready to go nuts. There is no way that our stingy defense could give up 18 yards. Then Vince Young scrambled for that 18 yards and a few plays later Texas scored the go ahead touchdown. We were stunned, after all that, after we had it right in our grasp, we could just not beat the football powers of our conference.
We walked away from the stadium that day very proud of how the team played but also just wondering what is the point? We'll never be good enough to pull those games out and beat the big boys. Later that night, we would watch as Mark Mangino and KU were all over Sportscenter. "Dollar Signs" gave us hope that Mark Mangino wasn't going to stand for Kansas being irrelevant in the Big 12 or college football.
A few years later, he would deliver.
So with that as your backdrop as the low. What was the point where you felt like Kansas was actually going to turn a corner and do something special?
As far as a time I felt KU would turn the corner. I'd love to say it was 2006 during that 6-6 season where many Kansas fans were supremely disappointed coming off of a Bowl game season and a lot of players coming back. Although, I did believe we were really close to doing something special, I wasn't convinced until after game 1 of 2007 against Central Michigan. Central Michigan was a solid mid-major program so it wasn't a total cupcake but the utter whooping that KU laid on them that day told me all I needed to know about this team being different than any others I'd seen at Kansas. Kansas won the game 52-7 and dominated in every phase. 260 yards passing, two 100 yard rushers, a 100 yard receiver and a special teams touchdown in a 77 yard punt return. There was one particular play that gave me foreshadowing into how special Todd Reesing was going to be when he threw a 50+ yard bomb for a TD in the 2nd quarter. It wasn't until that game that I truly believed we'd turned a corner.
What was your high? And how did that process change you as a Kansas football fan?
The high would easily be the Orange Bowl win against Virginia Tech. Winning that bowl game was awesome and it was the only time I've been able to celebrate on the streets of Downtown Mass. street for a football victory.
But the high for a game that I attended would unfortunately be a loss that prevented Kansas from playing in their first Big 12 Championship in history. The 2007 Border War game against Missouri @ Arrowhead was a game with stakes that I'm not sure KU will ever top. Not only was it a huge rivalry game in Kansas City at a neutral site, but the two teams were ranked #2 and #4 at the time with the winner to advance to their first Big 12 Championship and a win away from likely playing for a National Championship. My roommate and I left Lawrence for KC before 7 AM to make it to ESPN's College Gameday. I remember driving there and being so jacked up that Kansas was actually going to be on College Gameday and was the center of the college football world for that weekend.. It was freezing cold and snowing on the roads but we made it to Arrowhead along with the thousands of other Kansas and Missouri fans. Gameday was a little underwhelming because of the huge turnout and us not really able to hear much but it was still real cool to say we'd gone. We went to lunch and still had 7 hours till game time and like 2 or 3 until the gates even opened. We had nothing else to do so decided to head to the stadium and just wait until they opened the gates. Wow, was that a great decision. I'd say we got to Arrowhead at about 1 pm and were the 10th-15th car in line, close enough to see the entrance easily. As many know who went to this game, traffic was apparently Los Angeles like on I-70 leading up to the stadium. I talked with some friends that were in stand still lines many miles away from the stadium. Meanwhile, my roommate and I along with the others crazy enough to get there when we did, began the tailgating right outside the Arrowhead gates. We finally got in and hours later all of our friends and tailgating groups did too. I won't say there was anything special about the tailgating than normal, just that everyone knew we were about to embark on one of the biggest games in our school's history. It was definitely a celebration of how far that team had come that season and how close they were to greatness. Inside the game, it was unbelievably cold in the upper deck of Arrowhead and the game didn't really go our way. After being down big for most of the game, KU did mount a late game comeback to make it close. However, it wasn't enough and we left pretty much heartbroken that this team that surprised us all season couldn't do it one more time. Not only did we lose that huge game, but we lost it to our biggest, most hated rival.
It's definitely hard for me to say a game that the Jayhawks lost would be the high of my time going to football games as a student at Kansas but the magnitude of the game that day makes it no contest. Thankfully, a month later they would surprise everyone one last time in Miami by beating Virginia Tech and proving they belonged near the top of college football that year.
The game and season changed me as a Kansas football fan. I've now seen that it's possible for this program to be one of the best in the country in any given season. Before that season, I never would have imagined it possible. I think many Kansas football fans feel the same way and why the current struggles since that season have been so hard to stomach. My hope is that the current regime can bring back the toughness that the program had when Mangino roamed the sidelines and give another generation of Kansas students some of the great memories that I had in my time at KU.
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