Week 9: Oklahoma State
I never thought I’d see it again!
Now that the dust has settled and the posts have fallen, I feel like I can state that more outwardly: I did not really consider the events of this last Saturday to be a feasible reality. I mean that in several different senses. I had resigned myself to five wins being the peak, I had no frame of reference for what Kansas beating Oklahoma State in front of my eyes might look like, and I was even skeptical about the idea of us successfully tearing down any goalposts again now that goalpost protection is such a priority for security teams.
At the risk of sounding as cliche as I ever have – last Saturday felt like something of a dream. I didn’t wake up with that same anticipation that I had for the last games I attended. I sort of putzed around in the morning, spending only a little time halfway watching College Gameday and reading previews for the MLS Cup final. I had, in prior weeks, sat down with or made phone calls to people with whom I was attending the game to put a plan in place, but this Saturday, I just kinda rolled with it. I picked Mike up at around 1:00 PM, we made our way up and down the hill to the parking lot with little hassle, I met my parents on the hill, we watched the band, and we made our way inside.
I suppose it’s more or less impossible to match the fanfare of College Gameday, but I was taken aback by how normal this game felt. I don’t think that I mean that in a negative sense, it wasn’t normal in the way that I understand KU Football to normally be most Novembers, where fans move towards the stadium in a sort of slow trudge to the gallows done with a begrudging sense of obligation. This just felt like a normal football game – one the Jayhawks might not win, given that we don’t tend to beat Oklahoma State, but one we’d in all likelihood have a chance in. There was less of the hysteria that accompanied the TCU game (and fewer people), but there was a good crowd that carried a fairly optimistic mood in.
I can’t say that I personally thought the Jayhawks would win this game, but I never tried all that hard to predict the outcome to begin with. The bye week, following the three straight losses, brought me some distance and perspective on the year. Again, like so many seasons before, I felt myself adopting a sense of resignation with regards to this team, an attachment more passive than it had been when they were on the early winning streak. This may have been the least that I’ve thought about a game before watching it this year. I think the most I knew to expect was from my coworker, a Kansas State graduate, who told me of the Cowboys’ woes in Manhattan the weekend prior when forced to rely on their backup quarterback, apparently Mike Gundy’s son, Gunnar. They’d been shut out in Manhattan and FOX cameras apparently caught the kid’s hands shaking in fear as he waited for snaps.
I suppose it’s only reasonable that we didn’t get to see him out there on Saturday. They started another freshman, Garrett Rangel, who struggled just as much, throwing an interception on their first drive, one immediately followed by a 24-yard Devin Neal run, a sequence of Cowboy offensive ineptitude leading to a Devin Neal chunk play, which proved microcosmic of the game as a whole.
This was probably the best wire-to-wire Kansas performance against a Big XII team that I’ve seen since the Iowa State win in 2014. We just had the better team out there on Saturday. We didn’t feast off of fluke turnovers and special teams mishaps. There wasn’t some statistical anomaly that hit Oklahoma State. It’s not like they were getting lengthy drives and missing field goals or anything, the Kansas Jayhawks were simply the superior team out there on Saturday. They never trailed, only gave up one run of multiple unanswered scores (and it was only nine points basically in garbage time), and only gave up two touchdowns total.
After Rangel’s second interception of the game, which came on the second drive of the game, Mike turned to me and said, “Oh, this might just be a blowout win.” I fervently expressed my skepticism about that statement, especially with fifty-five minutes left to go in the game, but I could feel it, too. Something just felt right on Saturday. Nothing really went wrong. Jason Bean didn’t throw any interceptions, there were no fumbles lost, no field goals missed, and only one sort of bad punt in the first half.
The entire experience was like that. The hassles which had accompanied the prior home games basically evaporated – I was able to get multiple drinks and one of those big Papa Keno’s pizza slices without wanting to tear my hair out, the crowding even in that little upper-level concourse was very bearable, the weather was nice and comfortable all day, the sun wasn’t oppressive, we moved around freely, I remembered my chapstick, I even managed to do a few cashless transactions without that much frustration. I think part of this can be chalked up to the concessions people getting enough staff to meet a sellout and being met with less than a sellout. Even with the increased staff for that run of three home sellouts, the stadium felt understaffed, so that added cushion of however many people weren’t there last weekend brought us to what felt like a proper level of staff presence.
The most major hitch came from the frequent injury timeouts, especially in the first quarter, which was so held-up that it ended up taking fifty-five minutes. Games that had started at the same time as ours were getting to halftime right as we started the second quarter. Mike and I started roaming indiscriminately around the stadium as soon as the second quarter started, which meant that I only saw probably the best highlight of the day, Bean’s 73 yard touchdown run, off of a TV from the lower concourses. We migrated Eastwards from about that point on, first taking up refuge in the GA section above the Field Goal club. One of my primary goals for this season was to figure out how to get into the Field Goal club, and one of my secondary goals is to then find a way into the Field Goal club. I wanted to go ask the security guy at steps atop the deck about how to get in to the field goal club (purely reconnaissance purposes, I had no delusions of getting in, unless the ticket in is a Staff ID, and I doubt that it is), but that way was blocked as I guess some of the guys on the men’s basketball team were having an impromptu meet-n-greet right up there and I didn’t want to cause a scene.
If you or anyone you know can tell me how to potentially get into the Field Goal Club, please let me know. I don’t even need to get in, I just want to know how to get in, I don’t even care that much about actually getting in there. I’m not gonna Google it, either.
Regardless, we hung up around the rim of the bowl, right next to John Riggins’s name in the ring of honor, to see Devin Neal pick up something like fifty yards in two plays to set up a short touchdown pass from Bean to Lawrence Arnold. I cringed when Bean threw the ball up to Arnold in one-on-one, a pavlovian reaction I’d developed having seen so many endzone back-corner fades from KU quarterbacks end up in a defensive back’s hands over the course of the 2010s, but Arnold absolutely beat his man on the play and came down with a touchdown that put the Jayhawks up 24-7 at half.
The halftime show was phenomenal, for the record. One of the things you recognize as a former band guy is, whenever there’s a string of road games/bye weeks in a row during the mid-season, the band will string together weeks of rehearsals into something really good, and they did this week with a Latin Jazz show complete with multiple soloists.
The first drive of the second half provided the best microcosm of how this program has changed this season. KU end up with a fourth-and-inches just short of midfield at the 46 yard-line. Leipold and Kotelnicki ran a great play to get the one yard needed, a play-action dump-off to the fullback, Jared Casey. Bean managed to get the ball up over the outstretched arm of a Cowboy defender, Casey stretched upwards to reach the ball, bobbled it for a moment before pulling it down, and picked up the short gain needed to keep the drive alive. I couldn’t help but think after that play had finished just how many things could’ve gone wrong. In previous years, the coach might just punt, or call a simple run up the middle which gets stuffed, or dial up the perfect play only to see it blown up by a defensive rush, or there might be a bad snap, or (David Beaty had a terrible propensity for this) they might line up to punt, call a timeout, talk over the play for two minutes, and end up punting anyway. Other quarterbacks wouldn’t have been able to get the ball up over the defender’s arm, and other receivers wouldn’t have reached it, or would’ve dropped it.
They needed a yard, and Bean and Casey got them about four. That’s what this entire game felt like. It seemed easy and natural for the team to take what they needed and get a little bit more, that is what good teams do against inferior teams. Another fourth down conversion on that drive, this one from the OSU 22, saw Bean escape from a near-certain sack and find Neal out of the backfield, who picked up the necessary three yards and then rode the sideline for another nearly fifteen yards to set up a touchdown pass from Bean to Casey. It just hasn’t happened like that for us in the past.
I was still counting how many possessions Oklahoma State would need in order to come back deep into the fourth quarter. They scored a touchdown, the first passing touchdown of Rangel’s career, on a screen pass with about ten minutes left, and I fell so fully into speaking out my doubts in a way that I hadn’t let myself even consider the very well-founded faith and optimism I should’ve had based on the day’s events. As they lined up for a two-point conversion, I started doing the math - They’d get this to make it a two-possession game, we’d would run the ball three times and fail to get the first down, we’d punt, they’d get the next one, and within minutes it’d go from a rout to a nail-biter.
Then, for the two-pointer, Rangel threw a little swing-out pass, which was completed to his running back, but KU’s OJ Burroughs and Cobee Bryant snuffed that chance out to keep it an eighteen point game.
The difference between the Cowboys needing to score three times versus the Cowboys needing to score twice, considering the fact that there were only ten minutes remaining alongside the KU run offense’s success over the course of the game, was what pushed me over the edge and got me to finally start considering that the Jayhawks would win. We moved down from the edge of the bowl to the bleachers below. The security line began forming in front of the students and the infamous rope unspooled. Students started flooding their ways down forward, ready to rush the field as soon as the clock showed three zeroes.
I think that the first time that I verbalized some concrete statement of belief in the outcome of this game was when I said “We’re going down there, right?” to Mike sometime midway through the fourth. I hadn’t made my way down to the field for the postgame festivities after the Duke and Iowa State games, and I wasn’t all that disappointed that I hadn’t. This one would feel right, though.
I realized in that moment that I hadn’t trespassed on the field (i.e. set foot on the field in a context in which I wasn’t holding an instrument) since the Nebraska game in 20051. It’s strange to think, for someone with such an intense connection to this team, and with field invasion and goalpost destruction presenting so much of a touchstone memory that I dedicated a significant chunk of the blog’s first chapter to and based this site’s logo on the phenomenon, that I’ve gone so long without taking part in it myself.
Invading the field of play and tearing down the surrounding structures is a rhetorical act. The act itself serves as symbolic, communicating any number of potential messages, but generally the underlying statement is, at its heart: “this game mattered more than most.” When we invade the field of play after the game, we break the rules, and in some senses we break the law, and in some cases we destroy property, and I think in every case, the school gets fined for it. Field invasion can be risky, and people have been hurt doing it. We are choosing to state something when we hop these fences – It can be defiance, or surprise, or amazement, or any number of other things. In this case, and in the other cases this season, it was an expression of catharsis.
The last game in which the Kansas Jayhawks clinched bowl eligibility was played on November 1st of 2008. They beat Kansas State 52-21 to reach a 6-3 record on the season. Fourteen years – 5117 days in total – passed from that date to the next time that the Jayhawks would reach bowl eligibility. I don’t have to hammer on how long that stretch is, but if you’ll indulge me: The president before the president before this one hadn’t even won his election at that time, the professional playing careers of every player on that 2008 team have started and ended (including a few long and successful ones like Chris Harris Jr. and Darrell Stuckey), our conference’s membership has changed three times, and the school’s other athletics teams have won multiple national championships (Women’s Track & Field in 2013, Men’s Basketball in 2022).
I was thirteen years old the last time it happened, an eighth grader. I’ve earned a high school diploma, a BA, an MA, and had time to start and drop out of pursuit of a PhD. I not only joined the working world during that time, but I’ve worked fourteen different jobs since. I’ve lived in nine different buildings in five different cities since. I did five seasons with the Marching Jayhawks at KU in that span, did 28 halftime shows on that field, 30 if I include the two homecoming alumni band games, and did something like 26 pregame shows. I found myself remembering the years I spent working so hard each week to be in position to see every second of so many awful losses, and how I had no frame of reference for what a moment like this might feel like. I remembered how badly I wanted to be in the stadium for a game like this, and how badly I wanted to go through the rigamarole of preparing for bowl travel, and it was finally happening, right in front of me.
Once the game ended, I joined the rush of the crowd down to the turf. It hit me that I was heading down the same steps I ran down for pregame when I was in the band. As soon as I got down there, I saw my old band director and gave him a thumbs up. I keep thinking about how happy I am for the band, that they finally get to do this, especially the upperclassmen who had to endure the combo 2020 winless/COVID season alongside all of the other miserable trappings of being a college student during the COVID era.
I sort of considered the phenomenon of goalposts getting torn down after college football games to be a thing of the past. Fans don’t rush right towards them after the game finishes anymore, plus most schools (including KU) put extra security around the goalposts in order to keep people off of them now. Unless I missed something (and to be fair, I haven’t paid as much attention to this in the past few years), until Tennessee fans got one of theirs down following their defeat of Alabama a few weeks ago, the last incident in which fans tore a goalpost down in celebration in Division I was in 2017, when Austin Peay fans (and players) took down one of theirs after breaking a 29 game losing streak. The last in the Power 5 came after… well, Kansas beat Texas in 2016.2 This is sensible, it’s valuable for the sake of safety, people have been seriously injured when goalposts have gone down either by falling from the crossbar or uprights or from the posts falling down on those below, but there was something sad about losing that tradition. I heard students in the stands chanting “goalposts, goalposts, goalposts” as if to inform other students that the plan was to go for them, and I saw a few students run towards the North end goalposts but back away from the security around them, so I figured I wouldn’t see it happen.
As I passed midfield, I heard someone around me yell “We’ve got someone up on the crossbar!”
And indeed, someone was up on the crossbar. Several people followed. The posts were down within a minute. I don’t think we even discussed it, Mike and I just followed the crowd out to Potter Lake. After a bit, it became less of an active decision to be swept up in that mass. As we neared the gate, I made the mistake of looking around and recognizing that I had no option other than to flow with the crowd out of the stadium. There’s a real adrenaline rush that comes from that, thankfully it didn’t turn into panic, and once we passed the bottleneck between the endzone and the exit gates the tension dissipated.
I admire the ingenuity and forethought of the people carrying the posts around. The hill is covered with all manner of big white canopy tents, which the arbiters of the posts were able to identify as potential hindrances to their progression (maybe they could make it through by threading the post between each of the tents’ smaller posts, but it’d be risky) and they flanked around them. At this point it also hit me that I hadn’t been near Potter Lake in several years, probably not since I was a student living at GSP and taking classes at JRP, both situated on opposite sides of the hill with the lake in the middle (and I will acknowledge that it is more or less a pond, but I will call it by its given name). I don’t know if it has always been in such an algae-covered state and I just didn’t notice as a student or if it’s become worse since 2014, but my goodness, it certainly is now. It is very, very green and murky.
I got up to the edge before the posts did, which was something of a mistake as the sulfuric smell the lake gives off really hits hard once you’re in a range of about five yards from the shoreline, but I relished the opportunity to welcome them home to their final resting place. I made sure to look around in that moment, to see the joy of those surrounding us, not only at the win but at being able to continue on and keep alive a tradition that had started well before any of us.
I pushed myself through all of those bad days for the sake of a day like this. I don’t think I would’ve appreciated it as much as I did if I hadn’t experienced that lean era so fully, if I hadn’t gone through the winless year and the unending blowouts. I guess that I don’t know. Maybe if I’d kept a healthier distance as a student I could still muster up just as much appreciation as I do now, but I doubt as much. I kept remembering how badly I wanted to be there for a day like this when I was a student. One of the solaces that I took at the time was recognizing that I could say I’d made it through the lean times. My section leader, when I played the sousaphone, referred to our work, putting so much effort into supporting such a dismal team, as “keeping the tradition alive” so that future students could take part in it when the team regained its footing. While I think I was too bashful to say as much in the moment, I believed that the fact that I’d chosen to still care so much meant I’d appreciate the turnaround with an intensity that others who had checked out wouldn’t.3
I don’t know if that’s the case, but I was thinking of him, that student version of me, when I was celebrating on Saturday. When I go back to read my prior writings on this team, I find myself pitying him, and I find myself a little embarrassed by his childish despair, but I find myself determined to appreciate finally getting what he didn’t just as well. I have had to put more effort into getting as emotionally attached to this than I did when I was a student, when the melodrama came so naturally to me. I feel that I owe it to that version of myself to celebrate with all of the hot-blooded emotional exigence that so often came out in the negative back then. Maybe I didn’t have to run down there (my now-very-adult knees and vocal cords would’ve appreciated it if I hadn’t) but I had to do all of that for all of my younger iterations that never had the chance to.
As we walked back to the parking lot, for the first time, Mike and I allowed ourselves to look at the Big XII’s bowl tie-ins. In all likelihood, we’ll end up either in Phoenix, Memphis, or somewhere in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. It’s going to be one of those minor ones with a name that’s either primarily or only the main sponsor’s name, one of the December bowls that fills ESPN programming space, and we won’t know until this month ends where exactly we’ll go, but we’re going to be there. We sat through too much for too long to miss it.
Iowa State in 2005 I missed for some reason, K-State in 2006 I think we attended but we didn’t go down to field level for, Georgia Tech in 2010 I missed because I was doing Driver’s Ed, for West Virginia in 2013, Iowa State in 2014, Rhode Island in 2016, and Texas in 2016 I was in the band, TCU in 2018, Texas Tech in 2019, and South Dakota in 2021 I missed because I was living outside of Kansas.
My methodology here is imperfect, but there’s no resource for this other than searching through the college football Reddit page and looking through Google News for it. I suppose I could set up the resource. I’ll get on that at some point, I suppose.
In 2015, I wrote a short piece named “The Week After 0-12,” in which I laid out a realization that I had tied myself directly to this team forever due to the efforts I gave in support during that season. This led to, I believe, the first ever instance of me publishing a version of my own writing on Reddit, and one of the only comments left was the entirety of the St. Crispin’s Day Speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V. Three things came of this – First, it was a precursor to several instances of getting next-to-no feedback off of my writing by Reddit users to follow. Second, I think it is sort of indicative of the martyr complex many of us had during the time. Third, having never read that speech, or indeed any Shakespeare past Ninth Grade Pre-AP English, I was floored by its relevance to how I felt at the time. I took my first British literature class the following semester, if I remember right, and I wonder if that was the first instance in which I had that “oh, this old dusty English literature stuff might not be so impenetrable after all!” feeling, one which I parlayed into becoming an English major.