Editor’s Note: The following is written by @Pay_Heed, a graduating senior of the University of Kansas. He wanted to put into words his experiences as a fan and student during his time in Lawrence.
I apologize in advance for the length of this post. It was very surreal to write, and I felt compelled to do so when the harsh reality of the finality that is College (not just athletics) was brought to the forefront after the National Title game. I realized not only that I would never be privileged to watch Thomas and Tyshawn lace up in Crimson and Blue again, I was struck with the reality that my years at the University of Kansas were also coming to a close. I have been fortunate to watch some great teams play in my time in Lawrence, and I felt compelled to compose my own variance of a senior speech.
Before I expand into the substance of this post, I think some background information about me may be required to appreciate what it is I have to say in regard to KU athletics (read: basketball and football) and its current state, at least from my perspective, as my years at Kansas have seen their share of ups and downs. I am a graduating member of the Class of 2012; I arrived on Campus of the University of Kansas in the fall of 2006, a young, naïve freshman. I was raised a Jayhawk, and like most kids who grow up bleeding Crimson and Blue, basketball will always hold a special place in my heart. I will never remember the first time I watched the Jayhawks in person. It was March, 11 1988 at Kemper Arena. KU beat Oklahoma State 74-58. I wasn’t even 2 months old.
While basketball is most near and dear to my heart, I wish to address the matter of KU football also, as it has been a wild ride in my six years here at KU. When I arrived on campus in 2006 the football team was a step above where Terry Allen left it, coming off of a Fort Worth Bowl victory the previous season, not to mention an absolute thrashing of Nebraska courtesy of Kevin Kane and Jon Cornish. However, the program was still hanging out in relative mediocrity. Little did I know, there was another freshman on campus that would change the face of Kansas football forever. At the time, I could never have predicted what an exciting time it would become to be a Jayhawk football fan.
That 2006 season was a tumultuous one for Mangino, but fans were treated to a glimpse of things to come when Todd Reesing had his red-shirt pulled and miraculously led a comeback against Colorado. The Reesing miracle laid the groundwork for what was to come, and probably saved Mangino’s job (for the time being, but that’s a different story).
2007 was an incredible season, and one I will never forget. In my entire life leading up to that season, I think I remember being excited about KU football once or twice. It wasn’t particularly different leading up to that season. There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of hype surrounding the team. It wasn’t until after we beat KSU in Manhattan that I knew something special might be brewing. And what a magical ride it became, 6-0 became 7 became 11-0. College Gameday came to KCMO to watch the #2 ranked Jayhawks face off against the #3 MU Tigers (IN FOOTBALL!). The thing I remember most about that game was how bad we got burned in our base defense. James Holt was covering a wide receiver on nearly every down it seemed, and we couldn’t stop their passing game. Revenge for the loss was nearly immediate, however, when KU beat out the Tigers for a spot in the Orange Bowl. To this day I still kick myself for not making the trip to Miami, but I could only make one trip that year, and I was holding out for Final Four tickets (we’ll get to that).
After the 2007 season, things went downhill for the KU football program, and though we beat MU and won the Insight bowl in ’08 it was to become a turbulent time after Todd Reesing left Mt. Oread.
I certainly don’t need to remind you all how painful the two years have been in the post-Mangino era. Lew Perkins left his legacy with a Ticket scandal and an awful football hire. But I think there is reason for optimism in Lawrence. We have a multi-Super Bowl winning coach, and some recruits that, at least on paper, can give fans hope. All you can ask for a program that has offered precious little in recent decades is hope.
While football always seems to get the fall semester off with some excitement, few things bring a smile to my face like the approach of Late Night in the Phog. Basketball is King in Lawrence, and for good reason.
In the fall of 2006, KU was coming off of some pretty bad beats in the NCAA tournament. However, the massively talented 2005 recruits were a year older, and two young studs, Sherron Collins and Darrell Arthur, were embarking on their freshmen campaigns at KU. It was definitely an exciting time to be a Jayhawk basketball fan.
Those Jayhawks did not disappoint. The most memorable moment (and frankly, the most memorable game played in Allen until February 25, 2012) for me that season was our 18 point comeback against Kevin Durant and Texas. I have never watched such a dominating basketball player in person, and I frankly don’t expect to see the likes of Durant again. That game pretty much defines what I have come to expect from a Bill Self coached basketball team. The going may get tough, but our guys will fight until the end.
That season’s tournament, while heartbreaking, didn’t have the finality of some of the other tournament losses, mainly due to the fact that no one on that team graduated. Julian would declare for the NBA draft, but the core group of guys was certainly going to be a force the following season.
Every time I walked into Allen Fieldhouse in 2007-08 I was struck by something I hadn’t ever felt before: that if this team played to its potential on a given night, it was going to win. I felt like we were going to win the National Championship. That is why I was holding out for Final Four tickets, instead of jumping at the opportunity to go to the Orange Bowl. Jayhawk Nation watched as the senior-laden Jayhawks roared to a 20-0 start, and though the loss at Bramlage stung, it was a mere speed bump for such a talented team on a mission.
I ordered my Final Four tickets just after Christmas break; needless to say I was very confident in our chances. It was not meant to be however, because I received a letter scheduling my Pharmacy school interview on April 5, 2008. That was the night of the National Semifinal. I ended up spending the Final Four in Lawrence, and it was one of the most awesome experiences of my life.
I wore the same white Mario Chalmers jersey to every home game that season, and never washed it one time (oh shut up, I didn’t want to wash any of the luck out of it). So obviously it was the clear choice of superstitious apparel that I would wear for the NCAA tournament. So after my interview, I donned the jersey, and headed to Wayne and Larry’s to watch the UNC game. I’ve never heard a bar in Lawrence as loud as that night. After the game, I made my way to Mass St. with about 30,000 other friends. But that was nothing compared to April 7, 2008.
The day of the Championship game was pretty surreal. In my organic chemistry class, Paul Hanson gave a pretty epic pregame pep-talk. We didn’t talk about chemistry, but instead watched the second half of the 1988 Championship game. That was pretty memorable. A couple of fraternity brothers and I ate at Backyard Burgers in Lawrence the night of the game, and then I commenced to watch in our basement with about 20 brothers. I remember the swings of emotions during the game, and I was pretty distraught with about 2:12 to go in the game. But one of my fraternity brothers stood up in front of everybody and said “Shut the f**k up, we’re about to win this.” I’ll never forget watching “The Shot.” I almost looked away when Sherron started falling, then the next thing I remember is jumping up and down and beer flying everywhere. That Chalmers jersey got a beer shower, and it still hasn’t been washed. Someday I plan to frame it.
The party on Mass was epic after that game. When I left at 4:30 the next morning there were probably a good 25,000 people still in the street. Thank God they cancelled class the next day (WTF Bernadette).
As sweet as 2008 was, 2008-09 did not, at first blush, appear as appealing. A solid (though unproven) cast of characters would have to lead the way if KU was going to win a fifth straight Big XII title. How mistaken we were. All that team did was not lose a home game for the second consecutive season, and win a share of the Big XII with the Oklahoma Blake Griffins. A Sweet 16 loss at the time seemed tough to swallow, but from the outset of the season, that seemed an improbable feat.
2009-10 was a year where I again had the feeling that our team was, on the right night, invincible. That team cruised to the number 1 overall seed, a sixth consecutive Big XII title, and saw Sherron Collins become the winningest player in KU history. However, not all was right with KU Athletics, as the Ticket scandal came to the forefront of media attention. A shroud of foreboding surrounded Lawrence, and it seemed an ill omen for things to come. I watched both of the Jayhawks losses in the state of Oklahoma that season. Both were crushing in their own rights, but the finality of watching Sherron’s last game was almost sickening.
One of the most impressive things about Bill Self teams is the ability to seamlessly transition from year to year regardless of what pieces need replacing. It’s difficult to imagine a team losing 2 lottery picks and the winningest player in program history and still be a top 3 team the following season, yet that is exactly what happened. A very veteran core of guys with young talent off the bench made the 2010-11 team a preseason favorite to win its seventh straight Big XII title and contend for a championship.
Only a tight group of guys could overcome a situation like the one that happened to Thomas Robinson. It was also a moment that showed the strength of Jayhawk Nation, in the form of the Lisa Robinson fund for Jayla. That is one of the biggest takeaways I have from my time at Kansas: it’s a huge family, and stretches not only across the US, but all over the World.
The VCU loss was pretty unbearable, mostly because we played so poorly and they played great. It seemed that everything that could go wrong did and everything that could go right for the Rams also did. It was a fairly foregone conclusion that the Morri would turn pro after the season, and the Josh Selby experiment ended badly, at this time, for both parties.
That leaves the 2011-12 Jayhawks, who had more heart than any team I’ve ever seen. Aside from Tyshawn, no one on this year’s team had ever played significant minutes at a high major Division 1 level. Outside of the program (even including many fans) there were few who believed the team would chalk up an eighth straight Big XII championship, yet that’s what this team thrived on: doubters. It seemed that, as we have seen with Bill Self teams of the past, the bigger the hole, the harder the fight. The comeback against Mizzou in February showcased that exact trait, which made this group the most loveable of my six years at Kansas. They brought about reminisces of the film, Rocky. It’s almost fitting that despite losing in the Championship game, they went the distance, despite all the doubt.
KU Athletics has produced many of my fondest memories as a collegian, and I thank each and every athlete, coach, and manager, etc. who made those seasons so special. It seems to me that the Athletics department is in good hands with Dr. Zenger at the helm. For you future Jayhawks, I hope that the memories you make at KU are as memorable as the ones I have been left with. And for those whose days have gone by, I hope you look back on your days as fondly as I do mine. While I may not ever get to sit (stand) in the student section again, I’ll cherish those times with 16,299 of my best friends, cheering our beloved Jayhawks. To quote the great Wilt Chamberlin, from his jersey retirement speech:
“I’ve learned over the years that you must learn to take the bitter with the sweet, and how sweet this is, right here! I’m a Jayhawk […] and very proud of it. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!”#kubball, #kufball, graduation, Jayhawk, Kansas, KU, senior