He was a KU freshman at the time, a legal drinker, as back then, patrons could imbibe 3.2 beer at the tender age of 18. He was still close to a decade away from donning a slick brown tuxedo for his wedding.
Everything was so simple then. KU was on its way to an Orange Bowl berth, and the state of Jayhawk football was strong. The win over Nebraska was nice, sure, especially in Lincoln, but it was hardly an aberration. In fact, the feat happened just the previous year.
Then came 1969. Nebraska disrupted the KU two-game win streak, but there was nothing in the cards that told that same student, now a sophomore, that he wouldn’t see KU beat Nebraska again until he was of retirement age. I, as his first-born son, hadn’t seen KU beat Nebraska ever – not in grade school, not in high school and not during my four years at KU.
Sure I was there for some close calls – the 1999 thriller springs to mind, and I went to the game last year where dropped touchdown passes and missed opportunities doomed the Jayhawks to a 14-8 loss. I was also there for a lot of those 56 to 3 pastings where the Nebraska I-Backs seemed to average 20 yards per carry and I found myself wishing that KU could simply have one of their third or fourth string runners – I wasn’t picky.
At my young age, I hadn’t seen two things coming into this year – a pope other than John Paul, and a victory over Nebraska in pigskin athletics. As of Saturday, I have now seen both.
Jim Williamson and I talked about our columns last night, as we walked away from Memorial Stadium, with the cheers from Kevin Kane’s touchdown return still bouncing off the walls, and we decided that the best way to write them was to sit on them for a night. It would give it a better chance to soak in, we said.
I’m not sure that it helped. I still have the same thoughts and emotions running through me today, but with slightly more clarity. So here goes:
That was the most excited I have ever been when watching or listening to a football game. This is no token statement either. I come from a mixed household – my mom’s side worships the dark side to the east, and I grew up despising everything Missouri. I relish in any victory over the Tigers.
Then, there was the Colorado victory in 1995 in Boulder that I listened to intently on the radio, not sure exactly what was happening. When I called my dad to tell him, there was a long silence before he asked me if I was kidding. Thinking more recently, I was standing on the sidelines right on the corner when Mark Simmons made his touchdown catch, and later, John Randle burst in, carrying Wildcats on his back to break the Kansas State streak.
But there was nothing like the victory over Nebraska. As Mark Mangino would say after the game, the best part about winning going away is that nobody can take it from you. There will be no Missouri fans blaming the wind, and there was no narrow escape by virtue of an offensive pass interference penalty.
For sixty minutes on Saturday, especially in the second half, Kansas was the superior team on the field. They bullied the ‘Huskers, much the same way those same Cornhuskers pushed around the Jayhawks the previous 36 years. They ran all over Nebraska, bulldozing to 213 rushing yards at 4.8 yards per pop. Kansas also did it through the air, passing for 215 yards, and averaging more than 13 yards for every completed pass.
On the flip side, the defense was typically brilliant. Charlton Keith, perhaps watching film of former Nebraska defensive ends terrorizing linemen finished with eight tackles, three for loss and a sack. The linebackers were fast and finished off ball carriers before they had a chance. The defensive backs blanketed Nebraska’s receivers.
The special teams added a score on a blocked punt, and by the time everything was said and done, the goalposts ended up in Potter’s Lake after a 40-15 lashing.
Now, I know that this wasn’t the Nebraska of old. I remember those national championship teams, the 1995 version that bullied and beat up a very capable Kansas squad on its way to college football immortality. Keith, for all his splendor, was working against a redshirt freshman offensive tackle. It used to seem that the Huskers didn’t even look at lineman until their fourth year – one year for redshirting / weightlifting / researching better living through chemistry, two years to get used to the offense, and a shot at the starting job as a fourth-year corn-and-creatine-fed monster.
Nebraska’s linebacking corps has been decimated by injuries. Zac Taylor is in his first year in Lincoln. But even in those years when the Cornhuskers weren’t head and shoulders better than the Jayhawks, they still found a way to win.
Not so this year.
For all of the post-game talk from Jayhawk players after the game, a comment from Mark Simmons stood out the most. Sporting a smile that comes only with performing well in a huge win, as well as the smile of someone who had recently been offered chili by a particularly rabid and boxer-clad KU fan, Simmons was asked what meant the most, setting the Kansas receptions record a couple of weeks ago, or this win.
“It’s definitely the win,” Simmons said. “Records are made to be broken, and somebody will break mine. But a game like this, nobody can take away that feeling.”
Here’s to a much better record in the next 36.