Danville, Kentucky - Not all college football rivalries can be as glamorous as Auburn v. Alabama or Ohio State v. Michigan. Not every senior gets a storybook, fairy tale ending to their football career. I certainly didn't.
I'm the type of man who will brag constantly about my no-hitter, and rightfully so. But there's one episode of my high school sports career I'm not as proud of. It was November of '71, with my Danville High Admirals vying for a shot at immortality in the finals of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Football Championship tournament. My admirals were down 7 and had the ball in the enemy's red-zone with seconds left to play, desperately seeking to force overtime. Both teams were assembled at the line of scrimmage for what I knew could be the last play of my illustrious career as a Fullback.
It was at that moment that I looked into the stands and saw the woman who would become Mrs. Will Hart #1. Distracted by her beauty, I missed a block, and our halfback was tackled for a loss. Our rivals from Boyle County began to celebrate and tear down the goal-posts. My high school football career was a failure, unconsummated by a championship. I've never forgiven myself. It's a dark moment of my life that I often replay in my head as I stare at the bottom of an empty Chili's margarita.
The seasons of the University of Kansas and Kansas State University are similarly about to end in failure. This game won't feature larger-than-life personalities like Jim Harbaugh or Urban Meyer, but will instead be played by good boys who will become good men, good fathers, good members of their communities, and good teammates at your weekly bar trivia night. Yet, the gridiron battles of these unsung heroes are also momentous in their own way. These type of showdowns don't attract attention from the national media or ESPN. Rivalries like this simmer faintly, like embers from a forgotten cigarette butt, tossed into an empty city street on a cold night in November as Autumn wanes and Winter waxes. Yet, sometimes even a stray spark can start a conflagration. The Midwestern campus towns of Lawrence and Manhattan are like a tinderbox of football fandom potential. But the fire won't start itself. The fans of these teams wait with bated breath for signs of the return of gridiron glory to their schools. On any given Saturday afternoon, you'll see these faithful fans of Jayhawk football stream into a nearly empty Memorial Stadium, looking for signs of life. Looking for a reason to believe.
Folks, unless you're already among the faithful, there's not much reason to believe in either Kansas State (4-6) or the University of Kansas (0-11) football teams, the bottom-feeders of the Big 12. It's been a season full of disappointment for both. But there's a unique poignancy to the utter failure of Kansas football this season: a school only a few years removed from a triumphant Orange Bowl victory is now on the cusp of a Detroit Lions-esque winless season, for the 1st time in Big 12 history; a school where the basketball team is expected to compete for championships whereas the football team competes just to be paid attention to by a student body that doesn't love or care for it anymore. In Lawrence, doubters are greeted with the endless refrain of "Trust the Process," a sickly echo of Sam Hinkie and the also winless Philadelphia 76ers. Folks, this town doesn't want process. These folks remember the glory days of Todd Reesing and Aqib Talib. They want wins. The University of Kansas chose not to win by bringing on David Beaty, snubbing Lawrence native and hometown hero Clint Bowen. The people deserve better.
Football isn't for everyone. It's not for the type of folks (graduate students, namely) that buy $20 Kansas basketball jerseys at Target so they can fit-in at inter-departmental social events. Football is not a sport played for the droves of people who can only appreciate a team when times are good. Football is a sport played for the season ticket holders who loyally attend every game of a double-digit loss season. It's played for the folks who scrounge together 50 bucks doing things they aren't proud of, just for a shot to see their favorite team pull off an upset win. It's played for the hard-working friends who numb the pain of each successive loss with the bitter medicine of Svedka; the type of fans who stand by their team in the bad times, because the joy of victory is that much sweeter when you have known the bitter pain of defeat.
So if you're the type of fan who wants to brown-nose with the townies and chat about whatever the big SEC game of the weekend is, Kansas State v. Kansas isn't for you. It's for folks like me, who wake up on gameday and sneak Jim Beam Fire into Denny's, so we can wash our All-Star Slam® (pictured below) down with something to take the edge off. The type of men who chug mini-Fireballs in the parking lot before going into a game that's nearly certain to result in a blowout loss. For the droves of uneducated fair-weather fans trying to tweet about the trending game of the moment, there's a host of other games to distract yourself with.
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