Week 6: TCU
Well that was a full day
The story for this game began around noon on Thursday. Mike and I met for lunch at the Ladybird Diner on Mass. Fittingly, we were in a booth. There was a brief discussion about the upcoming game and the preceding taping of College Gameday, which I think ended with both of us under the impression that the other was more gung-ho on getting up-front and thus arriving to the scene as early as we could.
To be less than romantic about it, I will admit that I was more interested in the idea of College Gameday coming to Lawrence than the reality of it. Mike and I became veterans of the basketball version of College Gameday during our time at KU (a combined women’s and men’s basketball band performed every time they taped from Allen Fieldhouse) but my memories of the experience of it have faded in the interim. What I primarily remember are two things: The first is that we had to get up very early for it, and the second is that, for the only times in my life, I sat through the full three-hour broadcast of an episode of College Gameday, which is at its heart a studio show previewing and discussing all matter of the sport at hand regardless of its relevance to the people in attendance, complete with commercial breaks, which can be sort of a boring experience to the attendees.
Even knowing this, I didn’t even question whether I’d try to make it to the taping. Regardless of what my past experiences might tell me could be the case, I yielded my judgment to the mindset that I’ve tried to take to a number of decisions surrounding this season: What would I at age twenty think? I’ve really tried to fulfill promises that I made to myself, about how I’d act and what I’d do and how deeply and fully I’d appreciate each moment when we finally had the type of season I yearned for back when I was suffering with my face right to the grindstone of that winless 2015 season. I’m sure that I thought to myself at some point, ‘if we ever get Gameday on campus, I’m gonna be there.’
I played the scene out in my mind, of me at my age walking into that old apartment at the Reserve, sitting on our cat-clawed pleather couch, and looking me at twenty in the eyes and saying ‘In 2022, the Jayhawks started 5-0, and we got Gameday, but I missed it because I was too sleepy and I work a full-time job and honestly I’m quite happy with it but I’m very cognizant of how much sleep I get or don’t get and it just didn’t make sense to put myself through getting up that early for what ultimately is a three-hour long talk show about college football in general.’ Every time I ran that scene, it ended with me at 20’s hands around me at 27’s throat, so I decided to go through with it.
On Friday afternoon, Mike texted me the realities of what getting there and actually being up-front would entail: We’d have to probably find parking sometime between 4:30 and 5:00 AM in order to get there when gates open at 6, two hours before taping, in order to get places in ‘The Pit’ down right behind the desk, where they hand out all the Home Depot helmets and you get your signs on TV during the standard talking-head shots rather than having to hope for it from the skycam panning over the whole crowd. In ‘The Pit’, spectators are not allowed food, nor drink, nor bags. Signs would be vetted by security.
It was at this moment that I recognized that I have, to some extent, grown up. In many others, I am still something of a child, too, and I came to grapple with my existence as a grown adult on Saturday, both in a positive, responsible sense and a negative, boring sense. I’ve come up with a fake analytic for this, Expected Grown-Uppedness (xGU), to rate where I personally saw myself on the spectrum of where I was in this sense. It’s not based in statistics, but I have come up with something of a College Football Playoff-style list of factors which define it.1
On Friday afternoon, I had to make the pragmatic phone call to say “I’d like to go, but I’d rather just get there when the taping starts instead of trying to get myself up at 4.”
Length and Quality of Sleep Chosen Over Getting in Close Proximity to Rece Davis: Added xGU +1.22 | Total xGU +1.22
Mike picked me up at about 7:30am. We drove to campus and parked in a Red-Permit ONLY gravel staff parking lot behind a different gravel parking lot that we only learned of through a campus-wide e-mail from Friday.
Used Employment Status to Prioritize Parking: Added xGU +.044 | Total xGU +1.66
I had a sign made up. I toiled long and hard on it, and I ended up writing my former roommate’s name down on a paper bag from the grocery store, which is also what me at 20 would have done. He wanted to be there and also I thought it was funny given his profession as a meteorologist to say that I wanted to get his name on TV for once.2 We got to the site right at about 8:00 AM, just in time for the broadcast to start, and our seats weren’t too bad. I could clearly make out Pat McAfee’s visage from that distance.
I doubt that I ended up getting on the broadcast. I was struck by how many different college teams were represented around us. I saw a Utah State polo, a Clemson pawprint flag, the standard Washington State flags, an Oregon State shirt, and there was a sizeable chunk of TCU people who made it out. Crimson and Blue dominated the clothing and signage surrounding us, as I expected. I wish I could remember any of the signs in specific, what struck me primarily were the recurring themes of KU being a ‘football school’ and in particular a lot of responses to the mayor of New York saying something along the lines of “Kansas doesn’t have a brand” in comparison to New York’s, presenting our athletic prowess as a response.3 A lot of them had paragraphs of text, I’m no expert, but when your ideal situation is getting a brief glimpse of your sign in a crowd shot on TV for a moment, you might want to reduce your signwork to 6-10 words and some iconography.
Our sign quality doesn’t matter, though, there was something excellent about simply having the chance to see College Gameday on the hill, it’s more rhetorical than anything else, a statement that Kansas Football matters on the national level. Rece Davis listed the names of our top performers like he lists the names of those on any other good team’s roster on any other week. I can remember seeing an episode from Week 1 in 2015, when it came time to pick our game, Davis asked his co-hosts what the name of our new coach was as a trivia question, and nobody could come up with it. They talked of our upcoming game against TCU as a potential show of offensive prowess between two good quarterbacks. It’s an unusual feeling, normally Kansas gets discussed at best as a novelty or a Chris Fallica against-the-spread pick when the line’s bigger than it could feasibly reach before the opposing coach puts in the second-string.
We watched that first segment, then the second about the Pac-12’s slate of games, and we made it about halfway through the third segment, which went in deep on BYU and Notre Dame’s upcoming matchup in Las Vegas, before we figured we’d seen enough to say that we were there. Lee Corso didn’t make the trip out, unfortunately, so I didn’t get to see him put on a Jayhawk or Frog head, that might’ve kept me there. We walked parallel to the loose rows that made up the crowd to get to the parking lot where my parents had set up their tailgate where we had breakfast casserole and Irish Coffees.
Made Established Coffee Cocktail Instead of Vodka Coffee Again: Added xGU +.12 | Total xGU +1.78
My friends and I ended up sitting from a different vantage point, this week we had to pair a few reserved seats with a General Admission ticket, so we all found our way to a GA section. GA is weird at Memorial Stadium this year, it used to be the entire bowl was normal GA and then the sections adjacent to the band were the student section, but they’ve made nearly the entirety of the bowl save for the zone behind the Field Goal Club and one little wedge behind the band reserved seating, so we had to get to that little wedge early in order not to end up in the coveted view obstructed by sousaphone seats. I love the viewpoint that we had from that angle, we got a good look at the campus vistas behind both the open end on the South side and above the enclosed bowl on the North side, we could see everything, and though I know the game was a sellout, there was still some good wiggle room in our little section, we were fairly comfortable, and behind our bleachers there was a sort of empty row, one which I suppose could be taken up as standing room but never was, which became the alley in which I had space to turn and throw my hat in frustration. It makes me feel like Yosemite Sam, who is a funny cartoon character you’re supposed to laugh at, and I like to add a comic flair to it by pairing a loud “GAH!” every time I do so. I think it is the healthiest manner of expressing frustration I’ve developed as a sports fan.
It became something of a mix between a regular GA and the students after much of the main student section was taken up, thankfully it brought about less of the red-faced, forehead veins-popping, teeth-clenching impotently furious middle-aged men crowd that makes up the section in which I’ve been the past two games.4 Also, and I don’t think I’ve commented on this, the expectation seemed to be more or less that we’d stand for the whole game, which my legs are still thankfully good with, and I prefer to the stand-up sit-down ballet of my prior section. There was more of that bud burning smell I came to associate with Petco Park than in the other section, which featured absolutely none of it, than I’ve ever associated with Memorial Stadium. I was surprised to find it put me off a little bit.
Smell of Marijuana Now Apparently Gross: xGU +.65 | Total xGU +2.43
What followed, at least in the first half, was something of a continuation of the Iowa State game, some good offensive football thwarted by defensive stops on crucial short-distance downs, with relatively little scoring. For what felt like the first time this season, the breaks started to go in the opposite direction of the Jayhawks. In the second quarter, Jalon Daniels stretched the ball out towards the goal line on a run only to drop it, the fumble recovered by TCU. TCU’s Max Duggan hit Quentin Johnson three straight times to pick up 83 yards, a quick drive finished with a one-yard touchdown run that put the Frogs up 10-0. It took less than three minutes for the Jayhawks to go from imminent position to take the lead to being down by ten points. On the next KU drive, Daniels would be sacked and leave the game for good, only showing back up on the sidelines in street clothes with his arm in a sling in the second half while Jason Bean (The Bean Man) took over for the second half.
The Bean man is a serviceable collegiate quarterback. At points, he looked like a genuinely good player last season - he’s an excellent running quarterback with a strong arm, his main issue is inaccuracy, exacerbated when he decides to throw while scrambling. He reminds me of Michael Cummings, who I perennially overrate primarily because he was the only thing close to serviceable as a KU quarterback during my time in college, who was stuck in backup purgatory despite always performing better than the starters (Dayne Crist, Jake Heaps, Montel Cozart) under Weis from 2012 to 14, then finally taking over full-time under Clint Bowen wherein he performed well. He was set up to be the full-time starter in 2015, but he tore his ACL on a hit by a safety during the Spring Game… I still think we don’t go winless in 2015 if we start the year with Cummings instead of Cozart under center…
Going On and On About a Player Seen in Youth - xGU +1.10 | Total xGU +3.53
Sorry. As the Marching Jayhawks took the field for halftime I started to really succumb to a discomforting sensation: my lips, which had become sunburnt over the course of the morning. I felt around my pockets for one of the several tubes of Burt’s Bees that I had looked at on my coffee table that morning and had made certain to bring along with me… but there was none there. I’d actually first recognized this as we walked towards the stadium, but it only started to become severely problematic during the band’s halftime show, a tribute to the music of One Direction, a band that I now realize has been broken up since 2016, whose music I didn’t particularly care about (save for that “Best Song Ever”) during their heyday but nonetheless evokes something resembling nostalgia somewhere within me. Not enough nostalgia to overcome the pain of the chapped lips, but there was something there.
After the band stepped off the field to end the show, I elected to take myself on something of an emergency chapped lips journey. Chapped lips are not necessarily debilitating or anything but it was getting bad enough that I needed a remedy. I had three plans of action to undertake:
Plan A: First Aid
This isn’t something that should take up emergency first aid services, which I figured would be the first hurdle to jump, but I know most standard First Aid kits have some petroleum jelly in them, and I’m sure professional-grade first aid kits have triple antibiotic ointment, or at least they should, and I can’t imagine the people working for First Aid would be all that hesitant to let me have some for my quite badly chapped lips. What I found was a bit more disconcerting, which was absolutely no human presence at any of the designated First Aid stations. Had I a real emergency, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Maybe I missed something, but that might be something for the program to look into.
Plan B: Rally House Locations
I knew from experience, were I to visit any of the many Rally House locations in Lawrence and the surrounding Kansas City area, I would see some sort of clip thing that one might put some kind of tincture or medicinal salve in. In the heat of the moment, judgment and memory clouded, I didn’t recognize that those are little hand sanitizer holders that I was thinking about, but my brain somehow transposed those into the existence of little chap stick holders, which might be sold with little chapsticks, or at least little Vaselines, at one of the Rally House locations in Memorial Stadium. These products, which do not exist, the creations of a suffering imagination, were not sold at the Rally House locations in Memorial Stadium, which only sell t-shirts and sweatshirts.
Plan C: My Mom Probably Packed Some
I had, at this point, gone on something of a journey crisscrossing both sides of the stadium. I’ve drawn up a helpful diagram to illustrate my quest path:
Eventually, mercifully during a change in possession so that I wasn’t drawing the ire of the ireful people surrounding them, I made it up to my parents’ section. My cousin, a sophomore at Colorado, had made the drive out to Lawrence for the game (which is one of things that might make you double-take if you think about it, someone coming to Lawrence to escape bad football), so I got to say hi to him, and had to debase myself, 27, to ask my mother if she had packed chapstick. She had, thankfully, and she told me to hold on to it. This ended the chapstick journey, repaired my damaged lips, but severely damaged my ego.
Had to Ask Mom for Chap Stick: xGU Added -5.9 | Total xGU -2.37
I figured that’d cause a severe hit to the xGU rating, unsurprised but certainly disappointed by the algorithm’s reaction to the conclusion of the chapstick journey.
I got back to my seat only about three minutes into what would prove to be the most astounding work of offensive football that I’ve ever seen. We had 13 points scored in the first half hour of the game. In the fifteen minutes of the third quarter alone, we saw 42, three touchdowns from both sides. Jason Bean and Max Duggan turned into Drew Bledsoe and Dan Marino for that quarter. I love defensive football, and I love the ground game, but I took absolute joy in watching this aerial duel unfold in the third. Luke Grimm made an unnecessarily fantastic back-of-endzone catch for a go-ahead touchdown, getting both feet in like an NFL receiver (and I’m starting to let myself wonder if he might turn out to be one someday, he’s made huge strides this season and has time left to develop in college still). TCU’s Duggan hit Derius Davis out of the backfield, who very nearly stepped out of bounds at the 44 yard line, but ultimately didn’t, and streaked down the remainder of the field to score and tie the game back up. This was one of those breaks that KU had been getting in weeks prior. If Davis had stepped a few inches to the left, that’s a seven yard gain, it would’ve been second down and three or four
Bean, then, made one of the few mistakes to which he succumbed in this game, missing Grimm very badly on a short curl that ended up in the hands of a TCU defensive back. With a short field, TCU progressed up to the goal line where Duggan was able to finish off the drive and give TCU a 23-17 lead, after which I saw maybe the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen on the football field:
The broadcast didn’t show it, only catching the try from the back angle, which makes me appreciate it more that I only have it in memory: TCU’s kicker managed to kick the ball through the uprights and directly into a trash can under the deck in the Field Goal Club. I know it wasn’t intentional, but really consider how tough of an ask that is: He had to kick from twenty yards out from the goalpost itself already, then there’s roughly another twenty-five between the goalpost and the can, which is already beneath an overhang, and he had to fit that ball within a box maybe a square foot and a half in size about four feet off of the ground. I don’t think anyone could do that intentionally. That’s like a full-court shot in basketball in length, but launched with the feet, with an oblong ball, outdoors, and into a receptacle not meant to take it.
And then, in the intentional realm, Bean responded with a fantastic downfield shot to Quentin Skinner, who caught the ball diving to the ground in the endzone to tie the game back up at 24. I felt myself unsure of how to react to the Jayhawks staying in a game like this, to us taking a deficit and immediately responding. My mind went back to the two games against TCU that I saw in college (2014 and 2016), both of them upset bids, in which KU took a lead and clung to it throughout the second half before ultimately giving it up and failing to get it back. This just wasn’t the case on Saturday. I’m used to competitive football in Memorial Stadium being the result of one good team making mistakes and the Jayhawks capitalizing with gumption and shoe polish and hot glue to somehow piece together a competitive scoreline, but this was simply an offensive showcase between two good teams.5 Even when TCU scored, I always took a second to appreciate how dramatic the game had become. These weren’t fluke scores, either. Grimm had the toe-tapping in the back of the endzone, KU’s Quentin Skinner made two of the most impressive diving receptions for touchdowns that I’ve ever seen, TCU’s Quentin Johnston made incredibly athletic catches and broke off long runs after each.
In fact, this may have been the greatest statistical performance in the history of men named Quentin. The two Quentins on the field Saturday combined for 304 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. I haven’t done deep enough research into this to say for certain, but I can’t find any specifically statistically excellent games from Quentin Jammer, whose main calling card was his consistency, and who was infamously criticized for getting few interceptions, and, somewhat surprisingly, despite their ascents in the mid-to-late 1990s mostly lining up, Quentin Tarantino and Quentin “Fatboy Slim” Cook never had a date in which their works peaked at the same time. I’m fairly confident that we witnessed statistically the best performance in Quentin history on Saturday.
The euphoria brought about by the game’s constant fireworks kept me rolling through the fourth quarter. I found myself upset when KU gave up points, but not so upset that it was self-deleterious, and I also found myself very aware of keeping my posture straight and my breathing consistent after the lowercase ‘r’ phenomenon of last weekend. I watched a referee intercept a long-snap, another thing I’d never seen before on a football field, and I just rolled with it.
It came down to a score-or-lose final drive for the Jayhawks, which stalled as Bean missed Skinner on a fourth down crossing route over the middle of the field, a play which, were the Jayhawks more fortunate, could have earned a flag for a defensive hold on the TCU defensive back covering Skinner. Duggan knelt, TCU ended up victorious. As this happened, I kept finding myself looking out towards the open South end of the stadium, awestruck by the picturesque stratus cloud coverage which seemed to frame the backdrop of the stadium so perfectly. I’ve been letting myself succumb to awe regarding nature more often this year and this was an instance of such, it absolutely took the edge off, to the point that I ended up not all that emotionally torn to shreds by the result.
Moved by Nature to the Point of Dampened Disappointment: xGU Added +2.10 | Total xGU -0.27
The Horned Frogs had tore my heart out twice before in this stadium, once during that near-upset bid of 2014 in which the Jayhawks took a big lead before the Frogs spent the second half remembering that they were a Top 5 team in the nation (and might’ve made the playoff had they both not let KU hang around in that game and had their brand been more attractive to potential ESPN advertisers and viewers) and again in 2016, which came down to a miraculous hook-and-lateral fourth down conversion, only for KU’s kicker, cult hero Matt Wyman, to miss the would-be 54-yard game-winner wide right. As we lost both of those games, I felt my lower lip quivering, and if we hadn’t had to play the fight song immediately after the clock hit zeroes, I probably would’ve broken down to my knees and dissolved into tears.6 This was not what happened on Saturday. I left the stadium in a mood that wasn’t jovial, but not so heartbroken that I couldn’t speak or anything. It felt normal, it felt like the way that most college football fans feel after a loss in a close game. I still think our team is good, and even if Daniels’ injury is long-term, then I have faith that the Bean man can get us to a sixth win. This season might be closer to 2003 than 2007, a strong start and a star quarterback injured in a key game that changes the season’s priority from contending for the conference to making a bowl game. That’s all that matters, that’s all that really ever mattered to me this year, and I have some faith they’ll be able to find that sixth win somewhere in the next six games.
At Peace and Lucid With Sporting Event Loss Considered in Larger Context: xGU added +0.34 | Total xGU +.07
AND THERE WE ARE BABY! THAT’S POSITIVE, THAT’S GROWTH ON THE BOARD BABY! THE MATH DOES NOT LIE AND JOE BUSH HAS GROWN SLIGHTLY SOMEWHAT AS A RESULT OF THIS GAME AND THIS EXPERIENCE. ROCK CHALK!
Volume of inner child voice, volume of inner theoretical fatherhood voice, number of times I was internally reminded that my parents were married and employed full time and owned a house at 27, flashbacks to childhood, moments of wonderment, internal acceptance of moments of wonderment, amount of time I spent doing poor impressions of historical political leaders discussing theoretically embarrassing things, number of Beavis and Butthead impressions, number of things I felt shame for, depth of shame felt when shame was felt, sensible purchasing decisions, instances in which concepts of hydration, caloric intake, sleep schedule and quality took precedent over short-term pleasures, remembrance of necessity of the application of sunscreen.
Rejected signs were: “BENNY HARVEY RIP” | “COOKIE BLAIR” | “WRONG WAY DOWN A ONE WAY STREET” | STRAY CAT J FROM TUMBLR | “MUKHTAR MVP” | “SCHEDULE MISSOURI” | IMAGE OF COOKIE BLAIR FROM THE VIDEO GAME COOKIE’S BUSTLE WITH TEXT LIKE “AS FOR DREAMS WE HAVE ENOUGH AND MORE TO SPARE” | “WAH OH IT WAS GOOOOOOD ALIVIN WITH YOU WAH OH” | PHOTO OF MARK MANGINO WITH ORANGE BOWL MASCOT | “FIRE BRADY HOKE''
I apologize for burying this in a footnote – but this is not something to be all that upset about from a Kansan perspective. “Brand” is a nice way of saying “facade”. The empty, the insecure, and the ingenuine traffic in branding. If you can reduce yourself to an easily identifiable brand, you are at best lying to obscure a lack of substance to others, and at worst lying to obscure a lack of substance to yourself, which is something natural for a city that rests so firmly and heavily on its age-old laurels and mythos. This is like getting your priorities questioned by a person trying to levy their former Vine Influencer status for respect in 2022, this is not something that anyone with a modicum of self respect gets upset about.
Which is not to say anything malicious of the people who actually make New York City what it is, who are normal, self-respecting, good, special people like there are so many of in any other city, and there are plenty of them, but they’re not the New York he’s talking about in that quote, they’re the New York he’ll do what he can to ensure get priced out and replaced with empty AirBNB spaces.
From what I’ve been told, two intoxicated middle-aged men got in a fistfight a few rows down from where we would’ve been if we had been there, which I’m sort of sad I missed, but that fact does bolster my hypothesis that the section has something of a Negative Emotional Aura, one likely worsened by the midday sun.
The question started to creep into my mind, too: Was I watching the best college football game I’ve ever seen in-person? Now, a few days removed, I can’t think of that many better. KU/K-State in 2004, KU/Texas in 2004, KU/TCU in 2014, and I’ll throw in San Diego State/Arizona State in 2018 are typically what I point to as the best CFB games I’ve seen live, and I think this was better than those. The harder question is whether this was the best sporting event I’ve ever seen live, and it’s up there. I did the math and I have it in fourth as it stands.
Footnote: I remember leaving that 2016 game in something of an embarrassed state that I’d been reduced almost to crying as a pseudo-adult at the end of a football game, I remember repeating like “I can’t get too deep, don’t let me get too deep” and I remembered that was from a song, and I put that song (What I Am, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians) on via Spotify when I was showering after the game (Also about a week or two after which I paid for Spotify Premium for the first time in my life) and found myself adoring the rest of the album (Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars) to the point that it’s still one of my favorite albums. Weird turn of events there, firstly that I can look up and state that I first listened to that album in full on October 8th, 2016, also that if Matt Wyman hits that kick I might not have thought to listen to it at all, also now if you hear me muttering “Edieeee… Edieeee…” during a key moment in a sporting event you’ll know that’s me telling myself to take a step back, breathe, and not get too deep.
The graveyard of Burts Bees that I had on my coffee table when I came back on Saturday. Absolutely ridiculous that I somehow forgot to pick even one of them up.