After an embarrassing home loss to Nicholls State to start the season, KU Football has won its last two contests: With the win against Central Michigan, KU broke a 46-game road losing streak spanning almost nine years; with the 55-14 drumming of Rutgers this past weekend, Kansas has now won back-to-back FBS games for the first time this decade. Hardly a murderers’ row, but hey – a streak is a streak.
As wins for the rest of this year might be few and far between, we here at KU BALLS thought we would take a moment to celebrate the current win streak with some of the KU Football artifacts in our collection. Sure, the “B” in KU BALLS stands for basketball, but we have a wide range of memorabilia from all sports in celebration of the University of Kansas’ rich history in athletics – every day, the hundreds of visitors to KU BALLS are pleasantly surprised to see all of the football, track, baseball, and other, non-basketball artifacts in our collection.
Obviously any celebration has to start with the three Jayhawks enshrined in Canton – Gale Sayers, John Riggins, and Mike McCormack. The first two should be well-known to all KU fans, but McCormack might be a bit under-the-radar given he graduated in 1951 and was an offensive tackle. McCormack – in an tie-in to the “S” in KU BALLS – was Seattle’s head coach for a season and then general manager for the Seahawks for seven years after that. A few years after that, McCormack was hired by the Carolina Panthers as their President and GM where he was so instrumental to the franchise that they erected a statue of him outside of their stadium.
Another outstanding Jayhawk and Lawrence native, John Hadl, is in the College Football Hall of Fame. He literally played everywhere at KU – quarterback, halfback, defensive back, punt returner and even punter. Amazingly, he led the country in punting average in 1959, was an All-American at halfback in 1960, and an All-American at quarterback in 1961. You can see why he was selected KU’s Player of the Century.
Despite playing in the ’60s and ’70s NFL – eras dominated by running backs and conservative play – Hadl was a forerunner to today’s pass-heavy game as a gun-slinging quarterback, throwing for 33K yards and 244 touchdowns. That’s more than a slew of Hall of Fame luminaries including Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Len Dawson, Joe Namath, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach and Kurt Warner. Sprinkle in an AFL title, multiple Pro Bowl/All-Star Game appearances, and a host of other accomplishments, and its easy to see why Hadl should also be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ray Evans is also an inductee to the College Football Hall of Fame due to his accomplishments as an All-American halfback, but he was also an All-American guard under Phog Allen. Widely thought of as the greatest athlete ever to attend KU, Evans went on to play both professional football and basketball, and was even offered a contract to play baseball with the New York Yankees.
Coach Fam, as Don Fambrough was known, loved to talk about two things: How he was the only head coach to ever be fired twice from the same university, and how much he hated Missouri. He softened a bit as he got older, but not by much – his pregame speeches to the team before KU played MU and his Missouri-related anecdotes grew so legendary they were even referenced by NPR.
While I was in college in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Glen Mason was at the beginning of his tenure at KU, working through a few tough seasons before bringing KU to respectability – or at least mediocrity.
My biggest wish for KU however, was to finally. Beat. Nebraska. We hadn’t done so since before I was born, and every year was an exercise in futility – with the nadir of the “rivalry” coming in 1986 when Nebraska crushed the Jayhawks 70-0 in Lawrence. I attended the first half of that game and will never forget the amount of red that colored the stands – it was essentially a home game for them. I left at halftime when the score was 35-0, a score made even more depressing with the fact Nebraska was doing whatever they wanted against KU with their backup quarterback. “Only” 20 years later, KU finally exacted its revenge…
Most recently, of course – well, until the current win streak, that is – KU’s 2008 victory in the Orange Bowl ranks as its biggest achievement. Although the lone loss that season to Missouri was disappointing, it really was – as the Sports Illustrated above states – a dream season. Even Don Johnson got excited:
Right before Thanksgiving ’07, KU was ranked second in the nation – with three number one votes! Even though Kansas “only” finished seventh, it was the most amazing year KU football had enjoyed since their previous Orange Bowl appearance following the 1968 season.
Obviously KU Basketball winning the NCAA title in San Antonio later in 2008 stole a bit of the thunder from KU Football, but it helped show that not only could Kansas support two elite teams, but that it was possible to begin with.
Here is hoping that KU Football is able to return to glory sometime soon – or at least somewhat stabilize before conference alignment rears its head again…