I'm part of a small contingent of young shakers and movers from Lawrence, future big-money KU boosters (it was hoped) who were being treated to a road trip to Lincoln by the KU athletic department.
I was a work-study student, making minimum wage doing "gopher" work for
assistant AD Mike Hamrick, who would later be the AD at UNLV and is now
at Marshall, his alma mater. Mike invited me to drive the van for the
trip. In exchange, I got an expenses paid weekend in Lincoln for the
I should've said I had other plans.
The Bugeaters drilled Kansas, 67-13. The score was 42-0 at halftime
with Nebraska going for two after each of their first two TDs against a
Kansas team that would go 4-6-1. Dr. Tom was at his RUTSing best that
The Huskers had 680 yards of total offense for the game, including 567
yards rushing on 66 carries. That's 8.6 yards a pop, kids.
RB Mike Rozier had 230 yards rushing…at halftime. By the time he took a
seat on the Nebraska bench midway through the third quarter, he had 285
– then a school record – and four touchdowns. Rozier won the Heisman
A lot of Rozier's yards came running behind offensive lineman Dean
Steinkuhler. At halftime, Steinkuhler used to entertain the capacity
crowd by eating a baby and kicking puppies through the stadium
goalposts. He won both the Outland and Lombardi Trophies that year.
Cornhusker WR Irving Fryar caught a couple of passes for nice gains
that day. He was the first pick in the 1984 NFL draft.
The guy who stuck out to me, though, was quarterback Turner Gill. He
did his fair share of damage by running the triple option like he was
born to it. He had 41 yards on seven carries and completed five of 13
passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.
Gill wasn't the best player on the field. Hell, the bum only finished
fourth in the Heisman voting that year. He did, however, look like the
smartest. He made good decisions all afternoon (with the exception of
one interception) and sent my Jayhawks home with their tail feathers
between their legs. You could tell by the way he played and the way he
carried himself that Gill was a leader who respected the game and took
pride in his performance, in his team and in himself. He played like a
coach on the field. In short, Turner Gill played like a winner.
But I couldn't even grudgingly give him any respect. He'd just starred
in the worst football game I'd ever attended. I would hate him forever.
Or until last Monday, whichever came first.
Turner Gill, the man I vowed to hate, stepped up to the Mrkonic
Auditorium microphone Monday morning and blew everyone away. He said
all the right things, and he said them like he meant them. He even gave
the crowd a "Rock Chalk Jayhawk, KU," thanks to some coaching from his
With 1983 barely discernable in my rearview mirror, I was reminded of
why everyone but me loved Turner Gill back then. I'm convinced now that
the same qualities that made him so good that cold, crappy day in
Lincoln will be the same ones that will make him successful in Lawrence.
Gill's measured, cool approach reminds me a lot of his former mentor
and coach, Dr. Tom Osborne. Like him or not, Osborne was the picture of
confidence and control on the Cornhusker sideline all those years. Look
for Gill to bring the same deliberate approach to coaching in this
conference as he did playing in it. If he can instill in his Jayhawks
that same level of quiet confidence, I like our chances in years to
Clearly he learned the value of surrounding himself with quality
people. On the field, he knew he owed his success to studs like Rozier,
Fryar and Steinkuhler. On the sideline, he saw Osborne surrounded by
the best assistants in the country. He even became one of those
assistants after his playing days were over, tutoring Heisman winner
Eric Crouch and coaching arguably the greatest QB in Cornhusker
history, Tommie Frazier.
Gill hadn't even been introduced as Jayhawks head coach before he'd
already secured the services of Chuck Long and Carl Torbush, two of the
better known and more respected coaches in the country.
Finally, if you weren't motivated to strap on a helmet and pads and eat
broken glass by Gill's news conference, you'd better check your pulse.
I'm old and fat and I want to play for the guy, for crying out loud.
That was the same leadership and pride and passion for the game that I
saw that day in Lincoln.
This time, however, you could add tremendous excitement to the mix:
excitement to be the head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks.
Turner Gill? Oh, We Go Way Back...
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