State of the Hogs: No Mildcats

Kansas State is no longer called the Mildcats. The Hogs will have a real team waiting for them in the Cotton Bowl.

Football season generally brings with it a need to make predictions. It requires some speculation and guessing. There might even be need of the Magic 8-Ball.

But I have a prediction for the Cotton Bowl. This will be the best Kansas State team I've seen. The Kansas State that I covered through 14 seasons of traveling around the Big 8 Conference was known as the Mildcats. They were that bad.

I got to see them a lot, too. As the low man on the totem poll at the Tulsa World in 1978, I got to see K-State for what seemed like every week.

There were some years that I covered Oklahoma-KSU, Oklahoma State-KSU and Tulsa-KSU. I saw some beat downs. Eventually, I moved up to Oklahoma-Texas, Arkansas-Texas, Oklahoma-Nebraska and some of the other interesting matchups like Arkansas-Tulsa and Oklahoma-Oklahoma State.

But my boss sent me to some bad games that first two or three years at the World. I also saw Wichita State-Tulsa, Oklahoma-Rice and Arkansas-Rice in that first year. Often I'd summarize six or seven touchdowns by the winner in one paragraph and get on to the comments from the coach.

My first day on the job at the World in 1978 was on the first stop of the Big 8 Skywriters tour. You flew into Kansas City, loaded up with 40 other media types and rode a charter bus to Manhattan, Kan. Wow is all I can say.

In those days, the K-State stadium was something less than Quigley Stadium, my high school stadium at Little Rock Central. There was one real motel choice, an old Holiday Inn.

The good news is that no one treated people any better than Glen Stone, the old sports information director at K-State. Eventually, he got a promotion -- as SID at Texas Christian. He got to keep his purple sports jackets and the realization that he would continue to see bad football.

I remember the talk in the hospitality suite that first night in Manhattan after the work was done. Hospitality suites were pretty good in those days. Good food, good drink. The food in that buffet included great prime rib, fried chicken and two items I'd never tasted before, quiche and Rocky Mountain oysters. The latter was all right, if you dipped it in the right sauce.

The oldtimers eventually explained to the cub reporter about the "oysters." And we went over K-State football history. It's unique and interesting.

From 1960 until 1990 when Bill Snyder arrived to turn K-State into a highly respectable football team, there was not much to see in Manhattan, unless you enjoy seeing home fans tormented.

K-State football was at the height of futility. The Mildcats played more Homecoming games in enemy stadiums than anyone in college football.

During that 30-year period, KSU had 12 seasons with zero Big 8 wins. There were nine more with just one. There was a brief period with Lynn Dickey at quarterback in the late 60s that provided entertaining offense. But it was always bad defense.

Sometimes K-State was so bad on both sides of the ball that the other team did everything it could to try to hold the score down. The oldtimers told me some of those stories that night in the hospitality suite.

One of the ugliest games was also the final game in the series for two coaches, K-State's Doug Weaver and Kansas head man Jack Mitchell, the former Arkansas boss. They played to a 3-3 tie in 1966 and both were fired in a few weeks.

Weaver was a close friend to Missouri coach Dan Devine. There was a game late in Weaver's career that Missouri won 7-0. Devine, trying to hold the score down, punted on every third down.

How Snyder got it done in Manhattan is amazing. There were some good coaches before him that couldn't despite solid effort.

My favorite was Jimmy Dickey, the coach in 1978 to 1985. His training and pedigree was outstanding. And he even had the services of a fine quarterback, his son, Darrell Dickey. A four-year starter from 1979-82, Darrell was a deluxe option runner with some passing ability.

Imagine Ron Calcagni and you'd have it about right. In fact, current K-State quarterback Collin Klein (6-5, 226) is a bigger version of Dickey.

Dickey tried something unusual in 1981. He redshirted a fine senior class, giving another solid group much experience. Then put together a great run in 1982, all the way to the Independence Bowl. That was going to be the launching point for K-State football. But they fell back and Dickey was gone three years later.

Dickey was well liked and respected around the country, like several of his predecessors. Ellis Rainsburger (1975-77) did not fit into that category. Illegal activities followed Rainsburger.

There was one year when the scholarship limits were 30 that Rainsburger signed and enrolled 45. He thought the Wildcats were so bad that they wouldn't get much of a penalty. The school actually announced the complete list on signing day. The NCAA zapped them with much zeal.

Vince Gibson, the coach from 1967-74, was not much better. He played a starting tailback in a JV game under an alias. The front liner scored four touchdowns and was quickly found out.

Oh, back to the Skywriters trip. In those days, there were no media days. The assembled conference writers flew from one town to the next on a Convair 440, seating 44. That first flight in 1978 took us from Manhattan to Columbia. Upon takeoff, a big chunk of nose-wheel tread was found on the runway. So the landing an hour later had to be with all passengers in the emergency brace position.

There were some good lines on the nervous one-hour flight. Some oldtimers passed out phone numbers of lady friends for the different Big 8 towns. One oldtimer said, "There are about to be openings for 40 bad jobs."

The youngest reporter on the trip -- yet to be introduced in the news room at his new job -- made an ill advised remark that made it into print in another Oklahoma paper. He said, "I can't die. No one knows how good I am yet." It was plastered on the bulletin board in the news room when he showed up eight days later.

I am not sure how good the Wildcats will be on Jan. 6. But they will be the best I've ever seen in K-State uniforms.

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