Saturday afternoon's 40-37 last-minute win over arch rival Missouri couldn't have come at a better time for the Jayhawks. It bumped the Jayhawks' record to 7-5. The victory will make the next few days waiting for that Insight Bowl invitation a lot more tolerable. Then there's that whole Civil War, Quantrill, burning-and-raping-and-killing-innocent-people thing.
And anyone who doesn't enjoy watching 40,000 Missouri fans walk
silently out of Arrowhead Stadium to return to their meth labs, walnut
bowls and porn shops, disappointed, just doesn't know funny.
But maybe the most enjoyable aspect of the win was that it was clear
how much it meant to a coach and team who had had more than their share
of bad breaks and found themselves on the short end of the stick more
often than not this season.
A smiling KU coach Mark Mangino was succinct in his assessment of the
“It's probably the guttiest, most courageous
performance we've had by our football team since I've been the head
football coach,” he said.
Almost from the opening kickoff of the season, the 2008 Jayhawks were
the polar opposite of the 2007 crew. Last season's squad stayed
relatively-injury free, and all the cosmic tumblers fell into place en
route to a 12-1 record, including an Orange Bowl win, and a top 10
During the off-season, these Jayhawks looked forward to matching up
with Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. They had a boatload of starters
back on both sides of the ball and wanted to prove the naysayers wrong.
The Jayhawks wanted to banish the word “fluke” from
those critics' vocabularies.
It didn't take long for the injury bug and a lack of depth to take
their toll. Those much-anticipated match-ups with the Big 12's big boys
ended up being blowouts. With each starter that went down –
Dexton Fields, Caleb Blakesley, Darrell Stuckey –
expectations of an eight- or nine-win season went with them.
“This year's been a huge fight, and a lot of guys battled
little dings,” acknowledged linebacker Mike Rivera.
Mangino said, “If I had to discuss injuries today, a roll of
toilet paper wouldn't be long enough for all the names and injuries
that would be on it.”
“We are a very banged-up team. We're beat up. We had some
guys limping around for two weeks. How some of them played today, the
only way I can describe it is courage, because there were some kids
that I didn't think were going to be able to play.”
Even as late as Saturday, the Jayhawks were staring a 6-6 record
squarely in the face with just 1:45 left against the
#12-ranked MU Tigers. A minute and 18 seconds later, quarterback Todd Reesing connected with receiver Kerry Meier (who else?) for the
game-winning score. By the way, Meier, who made a school record 14
catches at his receiver spot Saturday, spent most of the week
practicing at quarterback because Reesing couldn't raise his arm above
his shoulder on Monday.
Nothing will make up for a season which the Jayhawks approached with
the idea of further establishing themselves among college football's
best. Saturday's dramatic win, however, will go a long way toward
taking that bad taste out of the Jayhawks' beaks.
Rivera said he and his teammates never felt sorry for themselves. They
just kept – dare I say it? – kept sawing wood.
“We just kept fighting every week. Getting this win is huge
for our team and the morale. It's something we really wanted and I'm
proud we went out there today and won that game,” he said.
Mangino expressed his gratitude and pride in his entire team and talked
about the pride he has in his M*A*S*H* unit of a football team.
“There aren't words that I can really use with my limited
vocabulary to describe the feeling I have for all of our players, but
especially the kids who really had to fight through the last month of
the season, the last couple weeks,” he said. “It
was impressive to watch those kids. I'm proud to be associated with
them. You're just so glad because they showed courage, because they've
given everything they have to the program. They were rewarded
So while the team's hopes of another double-digit win season or a
conference championship may have fallen by the wayside early, the
Jayhawks never lost sight of a winning season and a second consecutive
bowl trip – the first time KU has ever played in consecutive
post-seasons. That focus and determination made Saturday's victory
possible. Maybe seeing that dedication pay off made it just a little
“One of the shortest-term goals you have is to have a winning
season, and we wanted to have a winning season,” Mangino
said. “We don't talk about ones that got away. What we always
say here at Kansas, we're focused on the present, always mindful of the
future. At least we finished on a strong note, and we'll get ready to
play in a bowl game. Our players are excited about that. Let's go get
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