Topeka Capital Journal
Oct. 24, 2001
Since Kansas State and Kansas are playing football this week, it is perhaps the right time to pass along a few irrelevant remarks about both institutions of Higher Learning. I can only hope none are construed as irreverent, because many of their fans take this game seriously, and believe everyone should.
For example, it would perhaps be irreverent to sing the I-70 blues and say there isn’t a good football team between St. Louis and Denver, except for Kansas Wesleyan in Salina, which is 5-2 for the season, and ranked in the top 25 in the NAIA poll.
The Rams on the Eastern end are unbeaten, but Missouri, the Chiefs, KU, Washburn, K-State and Fort Hays all have losing records. And at the Western end, the Broncos aren’t all that hot.
* The K State KU game Saturday would be the 100th in a string that started in 1902 if, for some reason, they hadn’t skipped playing in 1910. Why they didn’t play that year is not explained in the weighty press guides published by both schools.
It would have been a good game. K State under coach Mike Ahearn played its first 11 game schedule that season, winning 10 while outscoring the opposition 476 to 20. All but three of the games were shutouts, and the lone loss was to Colorado College, 15-8. It was a Bill Snyder-like season.
KU, in 1910, under coach Bert Kennedy, was 6-1-1 losing only to Nebraska and tying Missouri.
* One of the great characters in the history of the sports rivalry between KU and K-State is Doctor Forest C. “Phog” Allen, a legend as KU’s basketball coach, but also the football coach in the 1920 season. He had a 5-2-1 record beating K-State and Washburn, and tying Nebraska.
Phog was full of interesting comments, such as, “Easterners are taller and fairer than the Chinese, but not nearly as Progressive.”
* One K-State coach, Bus Mertes (1955 through 1959), was at home, carrying out the trash and saying Hail Marys, when his wife called him to the phone to receive the word that his prayers had been answered, and he had been promoted from assistant to head coach. He won 15 games in five seasons.
* When J.V. Sykes was fired at KU in 1953, he tried to read his letter of resignation to reporters in the dressing room after the final game, but couldn’t finish it. I happened to be standing close to him, so he handed it to me to read for him. I still have the letter.
* Sykes and I travel together to the national coaches convention in 1954 and shared a double room. He was there to look for a job, and he got the one he wanted, at East Texas State, in the area where he grew up. I was there to get a scoop on his successor, and I didn’t get it.
KU Athletics director Dutch Lonborg interviewed prospects in his hotel room, and chose Chuck Mather, coach at Massillon, Ohio, High School, who would win only 11 games in four seasons.
* Franklin D. Murphy, M.D. had an unusual career, going from the KU Medical School to chancellor of the university and ultimately to chairman of the Los Angeles Times company. At the press conference introducing Mather as football coach, Murphy slipped me an envelope, saying, “We’ve got more going on around here than football.”
In the envelope was a report on KU’s status among the nation’s universities, and what it had “going on.” I wrote a column about that, rather than Mather. It ran in the sports section, and I was amazed at the mail I received saying, “Nice going.”
Shortly after K-State officially became Kansas State University I was at a banquet in Manhattan where it was announced that anyone who wanted a new diploma saying “University” rather than “College” should raise his hand.
The message was for K-State alumni, but Lindsay Austin, who wasn’t one, raised his hand.
No wonder he tried in vain for a new diploma. His was from Fairmont College, (which became Wichita State). My alma mater, Oklahoma A&M, didn’t make a similar offer when it became OSU.
* In the decade of the 1950s, when Bill Meek and Bus Mertes were head coaches at K-State, and Sykes, Mather and Jack Mitchell were head coaches at KU, I’d call both head coaches every Sunday morning – at home – and get their comments for a Monday morning column.
Try that today. Trying to talk to the head coach like trying to talk to the president or the pope. Incidentally, in all those years there were only eight occasions when both teams had one the day before.
* In the early 1970s I was in New York when all the big eight coaches were there to meet with TV executives. I noticed that two of the coaches spent a lot of time together, talking and laughing, and having a good time. They were Don Fambrough of KU and Vince Gibson of K-State.