Friday, November 16, 2012

K-State helped us to some cold lemonade

         The previous blog on Kansas State and Coach Bill Snyder brings to mind my personal history with K-State.
         It was the 1982 Independence Bowl in Shreveport. Surely you remember that classic: Wisconsin (6-5) vs. K-State (6-4-1). The I-Bowl people did them both a favor inviting them, passing up a 7-4 Miami team that the next year would win the national championship.
       Smart I-Bowl committee. And they were trying to sell tickets in Shreveport and North Louisiana?
       The K-State people were overjoyed -- it was first bowl invitation in the school's sordid (well, make it sorry) 87-year football history. Actually, K-State got the bid because it promised to buy the 15,000 tickets the I-Bowl wanted it to; no such assurance from Miami, which was not yet the football power it would become.
      The Wisconsin people were happy, too; they saw a chance for the first bowl victory in school history (0-4 to that point). They also bought their 15,000 tickets.
       Here was the gimmick Coach Jim Dickey and his staff used at K-State: They redshirted 18 players, including eight seniors-to-be, in 1981 -- thus saving many of their best players for the '82 season. (It was to be the only winning season in Dickey's seven years at the school.)
      When Jerry Byrd wrote a column in the Shreveport Journal calling it "The Lemon Bowl," no one at either school was happy. The I-Bowl people were, uh, not pleased. The bowl chairman lectured me on the media always "looking at the glass half empty." A bowl committee member yelled at me, then stormed away. But the worst was yet to come.
      On the Friday night before the game, a pep rally drew both schools' fans and teams and media to Expo Hall. As Beatrice and I and Journal sports staffer Ed Cassiere were leaving the building, we noticed the Wisconsin athletic director leaving at the same time.
      His name: Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, one of the greatest players in Wisconsin history and Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver. A tall man with a crewcut and a presence.
     I stopped to speak to him. When I said I was the Journal executive sports editor, "Crazy Legs" went crazy. Don't know to what extent he'd been partying, but he clearly wasn't happy.
     I think the first sentence included a reference to "Lemon Bowl." Not sure because my ears -- and Bea's and Ed's -- were ringing. Mr. Hirsch went on, loudly -- very loudly; they could hear him back in Wisconsin -- for what seemed like a couple of minutes.
      None of us said a word. We had no more luck stopping "Crazy Legs" than NFL defensive backs had. It was as good a chewing-out as I've had in 45 years of sports journalism ... and for something I hadn't even written.
      And you wonder why I was pulling for Kansas State the next night?
      Turned out that Saturday was one of those rare brutal weather days in Shreveport. There's been one other Independence Bowl played in a near blizzard (2000 Texas A&M-Mississippi State), but the 1982 game wasn't fun, either, weather-wise.
Darrell Dickey at Kansas State
( photo)
      The "Lemon Bowl" was also an Ice Bowl. It was below freezing and strong winds left the chill factor at about zero, plus there were snow flurries. It was not a lucky year for the Independence Bowl committee.
      It was an unexciting game in unexciting conditions. Kansas State scored first, a field goal midway in the second quarter. But Wisconsin came right back to drive for a touchdown, then hit an 87-yard pass midway in the third quarter -- and won 14-3.
      My lead on the game in Monday's Journal read: Where was this game played anyway? Alaska? The North Pole?
      The crowd was announced at 49,523. There were maybe some 20,000 people in the stands. It was too cold to count.
     The Wisconsin quarterback was Randy Wright; I saw a story that listed him as one of the five best Badgers QBs ever. The best player in the game was Wisconsin nose tackle Tim Krumrie, who went on to be an All-Pro with the Cincinnati Bengals, played in a Super Bowl and then coached in the NFL.
     The best thing about the game was the Wisconsin band, which despite the weather put on a great show, especially after the game.
     K-State turned the momentum of that bowl trip into records of 3-8, 3-7 and 1-10 in succeeding seasons. Dickey resigned after two games of the 1-10 year.
     His son, Darrell, quarterbacked K-State in the game. I would see his name again often when I came to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram late in 2001; by then, Darrell was the head coach at the University of North Texas. Small world.
     So now you know why I have not-so-fond memories of Kansas State's first bowl trip.


  1. From Bud Dean: I did not go to the game because of the weather, but did drive by on I-20 just to see how many did and there were a lot of empty seats that day.

  2. From Jim McLain: From Jim McLain: Good blog on Wisconsin-Kansas State. I remember the game because Katherine worked in one of the concession stands. Her church had the contract.
    She recalls fans mobbing the hot chocolate and coffee section and wondering how it could be so cold so far south. She was asked more than once "Where are the palm trees?"
    I don't recall being at that game. The I-Bowl definitely was not one of my favorites because the local bowl committee usually didn't have a clue about what the media required or how to run a bowl game. Traffic control was almost non-existent, the cops usually had no idea what bowl credentials entitled a media person to do or go and pregame entertainment for the media was nonexistent. I remember being chased off the sidelines by a cop toward the end of one I-Bowl game, who didn't know what a credential was. I remember one year a Colorado writer was denied use of the elevator pregame because some fat cats were being hoisted up and had to climb the stands to get to the pressbox. When he got home, he wrote a scathing column on his treatment. I sure hope the I-Bowl is doing a better job nowadays.

  3. From Don Jones: Good article on K-State. Sounds somewhat like the Oregon Independence Bowl experience. First bowl in years, buying tickets so as to assure the spot, horribly cold experience, and marked improvement in the program and facilities thereafter. Oregon makes no bones about the fact that the Independence Bowl experience helped vault it into its present position in college football. How unique would it be if Oregon meets K-State in the Naddy and both can thank a then-upstart bowl for helping upgrade their program.

  4. From Jerry Byrd (entitled "Lemon Bowl"): I didn't go to that game (I probably wouldn't have been welcomed in the press box), but I didn't realize it was snowing here that night until I turned on the TV in our living room and started watching a game being played on a snow-covered field. I remember asking my wife, "Where are they playing this one? Alaska?" and she answered, "That's the Independence Bowl. Then I looked outside and found out what was going on.

  5. I drove Darrell Dickey, the K-State QB you mention in the Indpendence Bowl that year... well when he was an assistant at LSU and was recruiting for Curley Hallman (late 80's, Early 90's)... I drove him from Shreveport to Mansfield to watch and recruit Mansfield QB, Melvin Hill. The game he recruited in Mansfield was heavy rain. Melvin Hill went to LSU. (from Pat Booras, Shreveport, LA) HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYBODY !