History fo the Big Game
by Mark Janssen
A football field is a football field is a football field.
At least that's the message being pounded home this week by Kansas State coach Bill Snyder as his Wildcats prepare to travel to the University of Nebraska Saturday for a 2:36 p.m. kickoff on ABC Television.
''Our goal is to keep the game where it belongs,'' said Snyder. ''Their surface (Field Turf) is the same as ours, the width and length of the field is exactly the same, the uprights are in the same spot ... we need to keep the game in this familiar environment.
''How easy is that?'' asked Snyder. ''I don't know.''
The fact is, Kansas State has not won on Nebraska's home turf in the last 17 tries dating back to Nov. 9, 1968, when Vince Gibson coached and Lynn Dickey quarterbacked the Wildcats to a 12-0 victory.
Gibson says the game, which ended an eight-game losing streak to Nebraska, ''... was a win that even had some of our own fans in disbelief. They were in shock and awe.''
Since Gibson's win, KSU coaches Ellis Rainsberger, Jim Dickey, Stan Parrish and Bill Snyder have been winless in Lincoln.
That spans the presidential terms of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and a second-generation George Bush.
Losing K-State quarterbacks have included Dickey, Dennis Morrison, Steve Grogan, Wendell Henrickson, Dan Manucci, Darrell Dickey (twice), Stan Weber, Randy Williams, Carl Straw (twice), Paul Watson, Chad May, Brian Kavanagh, Michael Bishop, Jonathan Beasley and Ell Roberson, who will get another chance on Saturday.
Snyder wonders if, at least in part, it's a case of mind over matter.
''Maybe it's the anticipation that it is supposed to be hard,'' Snyder said of playing at Nebraska. As he says, ''Noise is noise,'' whether it be at Oklahoma, Texas A&M or any other 70,000-plus seat stadium.
There have been years where Snyder said that the Wildcats had played well enough to win, but didn't. One of those times was their last trip North when the Wildcats lost 31-21 after leading at the half, 14-13.
''In the second half we just went out and laid an egg,'' said Andrew Shull, then a sophomore defensive end for the Wildcats.
Now, Shull says, ''This is huge for anybody who has ever played at K-State, and for everybody that will play at K-State. It's a huge game, and we realize that.''
K-State has indeed lost 17 straight games played in Lincoln, which includes four times when the Wildcats were a ranked team — 1970, (51-13), 1995 (39-25), 1997 (56-26) and 1999 (41-15).
Nebraska has scored at least 51 points eight times and at least 31 points in every game. The Cornhuskers won the 17 games by an average of almost 33.7 points per game.
Heading into Saturday's game in the 73,918-seat Memorial Stadium, which will be sold out for the 262nd consecutive game, here are some reflections on the 17-game Wildcat losing streak in Lincoln.
Gibson: The last winner Vince Gibson defeated Nebraska in 1968, but that is all.
In 1969, K-State lost 10-7 in what would begin a string of 29 straight Big Red wins in games played in Lincoln, Manhattan and even Tokyo, Japan.
''I don't know if I hated going up there because it was always so cold, or because I dreaded it because they were so much better than we were,'' said Gibson, who now lives in New Orleans, where he heads Spectacular Sports Special Travel Agency.
With an SEC background prior to his arrival at Kansas State in 1967, Gibson said of playing at NU, ''The atmosphere is like those at Tennessee and LSU. They always had good teams and were well coached, and No. 3 was the fact that their fans were really into it. That red was something else.''
While defeating NU 12-0 in 1968, and only losing games 16-14 in 1967 and 10-7 in 1969, Gibson's last five losses were by 38, 27, 52, 29 and 28 points.
Six of those losses were to Bob Devaney-coached teams, and the final two against Tom Osborne.
''Bob was a class act. He enjoyed living and was fun to be around,'' Gibson said. ''Tom was a good coach, but low key. Bob was fun to be around. If you didn't like Bob Devaney, then there was something wrong with you.''
Rainsberger: Never a chance The Ellis Rainsberger three-year era from 1975-1977 included 21 Big 8 games and 21 losses. Three of those were to the Cornhuskers — 12-0, 51-0 and 26-9 — when the Big Red was ranked No. 3, No. 3 and No. 9.
''They were a program of awesome power and speed,'' said Rainsberger, now a scout in the National Football League. ''We certainly couldn't match up with them with either skilled athletes or linemen.''
So much so, Rainsberger admits, ''Deep down, I think there was always an amount of doubt in our mind. There was a realism just watching the film that it might be a long day. We were hopeful, but with the understanding that a lot of things would have to go our way to even be competitive.''
Dickey: Boys vs. Men Jim Dickey wasn't only concerned about losing games at Nebraska, but also getting his 19-year-old Wildcats injured by the 22-and 23-year-old Cornhuskers.
''They were playing men with their redshirt program and we were playing boys,'' said Dickey, who watched Nebraska hang numbers like 48, 55, 49, 42, 51 and 62 on the scoreboard during his six winless games against NU.
''When you had the hosses that Tom (Osborne) did, I'm not sure he could have done anything about the margins,'' Dickey recalled. ''It's hard to fuss when it was their third- and fourth-teamers getting some of those points.''
Dickey, who now lives in Houston, said it was a time that he was honest with his players.
''We told them that if we play our best and they play their best, we're probably going to lose,'' Dickey said. ''But if we play our best and they stub their toe ... well, you see upsets every week.''
Chuckling, Dickey added, ''I don't remember all the scores and I'm not sure if I want to hear them again.'' Dickey said that he experienced only two or three schools where the fans truly made a difference in a game, and that Nebraska was one of those.
''Places like Oklahoma cheer their team, but nothing like they do at Nebraska,'' Dickey said. ''We felt we really had to restrict out check-offs at the line of scrimmage because there was no way to hear.''
Parrish: 'Heavens no!' Stan Parrish went a collective 2-30-1 in his three K-State seasons from 1986-88, which included three losses to Nebraska — 38-0, 56-3 and 48-3.
They were games, Parrish, now the quarterback coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said, ''I don't believe they even prepared for us.''
And, he admits, ''Heavens no,'' when asked if there was a team belief that they could defeat the Cornhuskers.
''Our best against their worst still wouldn't have been good enough. Did we think we could win? Heavens no!'' Parrish said. ''I don't know of a player we had who could have started for them.''
Plus, Parrish found, that there was the Power of Osborne that he had to contend with in the snowy game played on Nov. 1, 1986.
With it still a game at the half on a snow-packed field, Parrish said, ''At the half, Tom ordered that the field be swept clean. I blew a gasket. He wanted to get rid of that two or three inches of snow to get that speed going and run Kansas State out of the ballpark.''
Final score: NU 38, KSU 0.
Snyder: Playin' them tough In 1998, after nine straight losses, Snyder's No. 2 ranked Wildcats defeated No. 11 Nebraska, 40-30, ending a 29-game losing streak to the Cornhuskers.
But Snyder, as the others, has felt the pain that Nebraska can inflict on a football team. In one of the early meetings in Lincoln, NU posted 723 yards on the Wildcats.
Even when K-State had 340- and 489-yard passing games, it wasn't good enough to win.
Heck, Snyder even took one of his home dates with Nebraska to Tokyo, but the Wildcats lost 38-24 in the Coca-Cola Bowl.
With wins over Nebraska in each of the last three games at KSU Stadium — 1998, 40-30; 2000, 29-28; 2002, 49-13 — the Cornhuskers have become the Wildcat football arch-rival.
Added to the flavor of this year's game is the fact that the winner will have a one-game advantage in the Big 12 North Division with one week remaining.
On Saturday's game, Snyder said, ''I think it would be an important step for all of the youngsters that played here and had the opportunity, but didn't have success playing in Lincoln.
''The bottom line of it is that it keeps you alive to have an opportunity to play for a divisional championship,'' Snyder said.
Oh, where was Snyder in 1968, when Dickey led the Wildcats to that 12-0 win in Lincoln.
He was a 29-year-old prep coach at Indio (Calif.) High School.
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