Giving an old flame the old college try

BY BILL HORNER III, Publisher
Posted 2/24/21

I think an old college flame is trying to reconnect with me.

Trying to interest me in “getting back together,” as they say.

It began with some unsolicited email messages and me poking …

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Giving an old flame the old college try

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I think an old college flame is trying to reconnect with me.

Trying to interest me in “getting back together,” as they say.

It began with some unsolicited email messages and me poking around the internet. That’s how affairs begin, I know, but what I saw looked enticing, tempting. And now it’s official: we’ve agreed to go on a date.

Two, actually. Both are this coming September — the first, a late-summer rendezvous near the sandy beaches of South Carolina, and the second, if it works out, here in North Carolina.

And how will it end? I’m anticipating a disaster. The reason is simple: my old flame is a loser.

Lest you think I’m cheating on my wife, the flame I’m speaking of is the football team of the University of Kansas, the perennial cellar-dwellers of the Big 12 Conference and widely recognized as one of the worst programs in all of college sports.

The Jayhawks — 0-9 last season and 9-48 since 2016 — are playing Coastal Carolina in Conway, S.C., on Sept. 11 and then traveling to Durham for a Sept. 25 game at Duke. I plan to attend both as a proud alumnus of KU; they’ll mark my first Kansas football games since the fall of 1984.

Kansas’ reputation in basketball is not in question, even here in North Carolina. But we’re talking football here, a sport in which we stink.

It wasn’t always that way. Back when I was a student at KU, I spent a lot of time connected to the football team. I went to home games as a rowdy freshman and sophomore and then covered the team for the Topeka Capital-Journal as the newspaper’s KU sports correspondent during my junior year. That meant not only going to every home game, but attending every single practice as well, and the occasional road contest.

On Saturdays, I sat in the press box with two senior sportswriters from the paper and the rest of the media crowd. We’d all make our way to the sidelines late during each 4th quarter, and I’d then scurry around the locker room after games doing interviews for my “next day” game story, which I’d file on Sunday afternoons for Monday’s paper. Weekday afternoons, I’d stand in the hot Kansas sun — and in all sorts of weather as the season progressed — for practices, writing (and then dictating — no email or fax back then) a daily “brief” for the paper following a post-practice scrum with our new head coach, Mike Gottfried.

It was an exciting time. Gottfried was a coach on the rise. The Jayhawks went 4-6-1 his first season, beating 10th-ranked USC at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. My senior year, when I worked for the school’s Sports Information Office, we went 5-6 — including a stunning win over then 2nd-ranked Oklahoma at home, 28-11. Standing on the sidelines as the game clock wound down is still a vivid memory. (OU’s star quarterback missed the game with an injury, but so what?)

Gottfried eventually left to coach Pitt, which had a real football program. The Jayhawks, meanwhile, had some good seasons, winning the Orange Bowl in 2008.

But it’s been slim pickings since then. We had high hopes with Les Miles — who won a national championship at LSU in 2007 — coming on board as coach two seasons ago; we started 2-1 and things were looking optimistic.

Since then? A 1-17 record.

I’ve been wanting to go back to a game for some years now. After buying some new KU gear from the student store a few months ago, I’ve been eyeing the athletic department’s website for schedule updates and pondering a trip to Lawrence for a game. Then after my friend (and fellow alumnus) Darrell Spain’s death on Christmas Day, the urge to go increased. Having two road games scheduled so close to home this coming season made my decision easy, so I’ll go and think of Darrell and remember how entrenched I was in Kansas football for a short period of my life.

My enthusiasm is growing; I even contributed a little extra this year to the #OneDayOneKU alumni fundraiser last Friday, an online giving event which set a fundraising record for the school. It earned me a Twitter shout-out from the university, which I dutifully re-tweeted as a #humblebrag.

Come September, though, I’m not expecting to be doing any bragging. It’ll be nice enough just to be there in Conway and then at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, rekindling the old passion.

And maybe fall in love again.

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