Week 7: Oklahoma
A Return to Form of Sorts
I cannot shake the feeling that I should be more broken up about this.
I sort of wish that I was more devastated, that I could break out into poetic self-pity for several hundred words here about how desperately I just wanted this team to defeat Oklahoma once more before they left the conference, and how burnt and betrayed I was by their narrow escape in Lawrence last fall, and how badly I wanted them to fall to us for the first time since I was two years old. Shouldn’t this have ruined the weekend, or at least ruined the rest of Saturday? Shouldn’t this post be littered with invective and bitter disappointment?
It won’t be. Last week, I made comedy out of judging my personal sense of growth and maturity, which at least lent that question importance and gravitas, and this week, I judged it with the sort of mundane, nearly boring eye that tends to accompany actual growth and change. The Jayhawks looked to be in trouble from the start, and they never quite got back in it. I accepted it and moved on with the day.
I’ve been looking for a good instance to refer back to the 2017 Football Hell as I’ve written each of these, and I figure that this is as good of a time as any, as the Kansas team that went to Norman this Saturday looked not that far off from the Beaty-era Jayhawks and lost in a relatively similar fashion, and I’m sort of fascinated in retrospect by the sheer bitterness that I got through those posts –
“I don’t expect anything, and you shouldn’t either. The pomp and excitement of the beginning of what was supposed to be the turnaround year has revealed itself to be just that – shoe polish and hot glue masking more bad football.”
“A loss like this isn’t surprising. Getting disappointed at KU games at this point is like going to a live taping of Wipeout and getting disappointed when someone hits their face on a huge red ball and falls into the filthy water. To watch KU football is to understand lowliness, and the low is what we come here for, I guess.”
“I could give a shit if David Beaty’s there next year, he’s not a good coach and he hasn’t shown signs of improvement in any facet of the program but he has a young team and maybe they’ll get better next year. Who knows? Who cares?”
There is something a bit embarrassing about these, but I appreciate them. I appreciate the vulnerability. I can remember how afraid I was of ever writing anything that I might deign to find embarrassing in a few years time, so to see me at twenty-two being honest, outward, and uncool in my bitterness is a little refreshing. I’ve also started to appreciate that there was a time in which the Jayhawks’ failure on the football field could affect me to the point at which I was beating the ground with my fists and cursing god. Pathetic as my preening might read with a few years between, I’ll admit that I miss feeling that angst so intensely. I only feel angst and bitterness like that nowadays for things with real stakes, like financial hardship, or mortality, or Sporting Kansas City losses. I just cannot muster up the intent to do it that way.
I suppose that I can try. It’d read something like:
They fucking got me again. A few weeks of success, even a valiant loss finally had me believing, but they’re the same team that I’ve known all too well, from that first time I watched them get blown out on the astroturf in the late nineties as a little kid before I even understood what was going on, and I’ve watched them lose as a college student on failed fake punts and fumblerooskies, and now I’ve watched them lose in a painfully familiar way, a ten-point loss, probably a “moral victory,” but a loss, a loss, a fucking loss all the same. I bought in whole-hog, full-bore, and now I’m stuck picking up the pieces of another Saturday afternoon wasted to that fucking bird with his big smile and his buckled shoes. The jerseys only read “JAYHAWK” this week, but they might as well have said “GULLIBLE” on them this week, because they made me fucking look.
Yeah, see? It’d be awkward and contrived and I’d try too hard to do it. For what it’s worth, all of the blood dripping and shirt-rending of 2017 was genuine and therefore easy to write. I don’t know if I’ve just cooled down with age, or if losing the parallel effort I put into the season via the band leaves me less broken when those efforts fail, or if I have a better perspective given the amount of winning that came during the season’s early weeks. It is easier to stomach a loss in which the team falls to 5-2 on the season, one which happened with the starting running back and quarterback both injured (and later the starting cornerback)
I’m also not engaging in online communities surrounding the Jayhawks the way that I used to be. I used to check that #kufball hashtag every day for news, and by virtue of the relatively small number of people engaging with that hashtag on a daily basis, I was able to not just follow along with it, but I established something of an existence within that ersatz community. I haven’t had a Twitter account since March of this year and before that hadn’t used it with any frequency since Spring 2021 or so, which was a positive development in about every sense, but it has taken away some of what made me feel that I was privy to something important and in constant development back in 2017. I used to worry about the team, or the team’s fans or I, myself, getting ridiculed on Twitter after losses, but I don’t look at it anymore so I don’t know if it’s happening (though I can assume) and do not care if it is or not.
I will admit that it might have helped me, or at least made things more interesting, if I were still using the site last week. On Tuesday, at 4:39 PM, I received a text linking to a Tweet from a Lawrence Journal-World journalist detailing that Jalon Daniels sustained a shoulder injury in the TCU game which would see him sidelined for the rest of the season.
I had mentally prepared for this. I expected him to be out for at least a few games, having seen his arm in a sling last weekend, and there’s only about a month and a half left in the season as it is. This is a shame, as he’s an excellent player and a joy to see perform, but Jason Bean’s performance in the second half against TCU had me feeling that the team would be able to pick up many of the pieces left by Daniels’ absence – I have not shifted my mindset away from six wins being more than acceptable. We need to get one more win and I’ll be ecstatic, just bowl eligibility will be enough for me. I was at work in Overland Park when I saw that text, I got off at 6PM and drove home.
At 7:17 PM on Tuesday I received another text, this one a link to a tweet from Daniels himself refuting the injury report. Four minutes later, at 7:21 PM, I received a link to a tweet from Lance Leipold with photographic evidence of Daniels moving both of his arms. At that point I was teetering over two camps mentally, first being that somebody misunderstood some report they got from a contact at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and Daniels might’ve sustained something relatively minor in reality, and the second being that the coach and quarterback maybe potentially doth protest too much, and that there was some strategic advantage to the other team not knowing which quarterback they’ll face in the coming week and they didn’t want that information getting out. Regardless, this presented a level of genuine off-field intrigue that the Jayhawks haven’t had in years. It was on the front page of the ESPN website, it was the talk of the college football Reddit board. There was no national-level intrigue of this sort during the Cozart/Willis/Stanley quarterback quagmire of 2016. In some sense, we could consider this an example of the strides that Kansas football has made under Leipold.
The guy who first broke the news ended up getting publicly excommunicated (again via Tweet) by the Journal-World’s sports editor, which I think lends credence to the idea of somebody doth protesting too much, as that’s a job where one really needs to be on good terms with the movers and shakers at the helm of KU Athletics and I can see the guy who broke the news becoming something of a fall guy.
The intrigue of Tuesday evening provided higher entertainment value than the game itself. The quarterback controversy turned out to be a moot point, as Jason Bean started, and once the game actually began at 11 AM on Saturday, the offense turned out not to be the Jayhawks’ problem anyway.
It wasn’t over by halftime, but it seemed clear from the early going that the defense just was not going to keep the Jayhawks in the game. It didn’t matter all that much to me – I was busy for much of the first quarter cooking a brunch smorgasbord of pancakes, sausage, and eggs for my friends, which is unfortunate as the first quarter was about the only part of the game in which both teams looked evenly matched.
This may have been what took the edge off of this game. The Jayhawks lost, but they lost as I shared a lovely mid-morning meal with my friends, and we had a good time together regardless of the outcome. The fellowship and deliciousness which often surrounds football, I feel, is as important to the value of football (or indeed any sport which brings this about) as any result on the field of play can bring.
With all that said, the mood in my living room turned dour as Oklahoma broke off three straight touchdowns in the second quarter to go up 35-14. KU brought it back to 35-21 by half, but it seemed clear that they were well outmatched on the defensive end by that point. OU started the third with a touchdown to go back up by three touchdowns, and at that point our collective concentration and will to continue suffering through the game had broken.
Since about March, I’ve had a second, smaller television sitting on the stereo tower to the left of my normal television. I very rarely use it as there’s very rarely an instance in which I find it all that important to have more than one game going at once, plus I worry about the power of two televisions going to my head. On Saturday, I was able to make use of it, as the first game of the MLS Playoffs between FC Cincinnati and the New York Red Bulls started at the same time that the KU/OU game kicked off.
In one of the most unforeseeable events of all time, somebody else asked me to put the soccer game on the big TV. I didn’t suggest it! I didn’t force it on them! I had six people watching a Major League Soccer playoff game in my living room on Saturday by choice!This left us with two soccer streams going between the two TVs, which was just confusing, especially as one was in Spanish and the other in English, so we did the natural thing, loaded up YouTube, and put a Top 40 NBA Nutshots Countdown video on the little one.
We continued this way for a while, flipping back between that game and KU every now and then. We saw Lawrence Arnold’s touchdown catch, which brought the deficit back to only two touchdowns, but I think we officially called time of death on the game when OU scored on the next possession to go up by 21 points for the third time.
We ended up just playing Halo for most of the fourth quarter.
This is, for what it’s worth, what I’m used to with Kansas football. I’ve had several KU half-watch parties before, and we’d managed to avoid them so far this season. I don’t know how I feel about next week. With the poor injury luck that has befallen these Jayhawks since about the fourth week of the season (Daniel Hishaw, Jalon Daniels, now Cobee Bryant all out), I’m starting to feel like this will probably just be a standard loss. I don’t think they’ll get blown out by any means, but I’m really not considering a win to be all that realistic of a prospect. Regardless, I’ll be watching from somewhere.
I should clarify this is a three-person group text, I’m not getting personalized injury reports sent to my phone exclusively by anyone
This was mostly (entirely) for me, as this game in particular intrigued me to the point in which I wanted to see it unfold live. I would’ve done this for four of the six playoff first-round games (RBNY/FCC, Austin/RSL, Dallas/MNUFC, Galaxy/Nashville) but I wouldn’t have cared for Miami/NYC or Montreal/Orlando. Cincinnati’s attack is so volatile that I wanted to see what they looked like against a Red Bulls team that doesn’t really care to do much in terms of scoring, and the game, frankly, delivered!
Which I believe is about the same number of people who were in attendance in Harrison for that game. Zing!
Our KU experience gradually devolved into a deathmatch on Blood Gulch. See you next week!