For years to come, maybe decades, KU fans will tell each other where they were the day of the Mount Oread Miracle, as The Kansas City Star aptly called it.
It will go down as the day the lowly Jayhawks scored five touchdowns — five touchdowns – in the fourth quarter and came from out of nowhere to beat the Colorado Buffaloes 52-45.
Well, I want to be one of the first to tell you where I was and how I spent my day, because I was there. I was there until the very end of that incredible event.
First, the context.
I have no strong ties to any of the three regional Big 12 schools, other than the fact that my wife Patty is a 1978 graduate of MU. I follow all three schools in football and men’s and women’s basketball, and I root for all three. When they play each other, I vacillate.
Over the years, as you might imagine, I’ve had to mute and moderate my cheering for KU because of my wife’s affiliation with MU. This weekend, though, I had a pass: My wife was out of town on business. Shortly after waking up Saturday morning, following a choppy night of sleep battling a cough and sinus drainage, I began entertaining the idea of driving over to Lawrence for the game.
The idea grew on me, no impediments arose, and about 11:30 I headed west on I-70. Still congested, I felt woozy on the drive and wondered if I had made a mistake in committing myself to an entire afternoon in Lawrence. I pushed on, however, and when I got to Iowa Street, I stopped at The Community Mercantile, known as The Merc, for lunch. Cauliflower and red pepper soup, along with a wheat roll and a big oatmeal raisin cookie, helped lift me out of my fog; things were looking up.
I had to park several blocks west of the stadium, at Harvard and Sunset, and it struck me that there must be a pretty good crowd, despite the fact that both teams were winless in Big 12 play. (The announced crowd was 40,851.)
When I got to the stadium, with the game already underway, I began soliciting other late arrivals, asking if anyone had an extra ticket. After a few minutes, I bought a ticket ($80 face value) for $15 from a Lee’s Summit man named ”Don,” whose friend had canceled at the last minute. When we got to Don’s seats, on about the 10 yard line on the west side of the stadium, the score was 7-3 Colorado.
Colorado quickly ran the score to 28-3, however, and Don turned to me and said, “Are you sorry you bought the ticket?”
“No,” I replied, “I made a good deal.” Besides, it felt good, sitting in the sun, enjoying the beautiful afternoon.
By halftime, the score was 35-10, and everybody around me was fairly disgusted with KU’s performance. To his credit, though, Don, a 1971 KU grad, was holding out hope. “It’s still early,” he said.
About the time the half ended, the sun dipped behind the west-side press box and suites, and a chill set in as the shadows began falling over the west-side seats.
One of the things I love about KU football games is watching and listening to the KU band, which is consistently great. The band put on an excellent halftime show, which included a rousing version of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” and then headed back to its east-side seating section, which was bathed in sun.
I took the break as an opportunity to bid so long to Don and headed over to a lower-level section adjoining the band. With the game seemingly out of reach, I decided I’d just sit in the sun and watch the band up close.
When I got to the other side, the stands had thinned out considerably; thousands of people had departed. No one was around me on the aluminum benches, and I focused not on the game but on the band, as it punctuated the atmosphere and rallied what was left of the crowd with horn-blaring, drum-snapping, musical bursts.
As the score reached 45-17, however, my attention began to flag, and the warm sun made me drowsy. I leaned back, rested my shoulders on the bench behind me and soon was almost asleep, chin on chest.
But then I heard a commotion. KU had scored a touchdown with a little more than 11 minutes left in the game. That made it 45-24. I thought, “Well, three touchdowns, with extra points, would tie it, but…nah, isn’t going to happen.”
A minute and a half later, they scored again, cutting the margin to 45-31, and I raised my back off the bench behind me. Two and a half minutes after that, a KU player recovered a Colorado fumble and ran the ball in for another touchdown. 45-38.
By then, some of those who had hung around had joined me down in the lower rows, and we stood cheering and talking excitedly, thinking and hoping we just might be part of something very special.
When KU tied the game at the 4:30 mark, everyone around me was jumping up and down, “waving the wheat” and exchanging double high-hand slaps. KU scored the go-ahead touchdown with 52 seconds left in the game, and, looking across the field into the lowering sun, I took in the beautiful bedlam taking place on the KU sideline and in the chilly-looking, west-side stands.
After a last-ditch Colorado scoring threat, it was over. A delirious, almost incomprehensible victory was in hand.
I turned my attention back to the band, which played a couple of high-energy songs as the fans headed for the exits. With the stadium emptying, the band took a short break. The student director stepped down from the ladder and turned the elevated spot over to a faculty member, immaculately dressed in white shirt and tie, dark slacks and, of course, crimson sport coat.
As the director raised his arms and held them aloft for several seconds, the band members collected themselves and positioned their instruments. As his arms fell, the band struck the first notes of its traditional finishing song, “Home on the Range.” The arrangement was distinctive and featured a high, extended trumpet note that stood in captivating counterpoint to the recognizable refrain.
When the song ended, the director, using a portable microphone, congratulated the band on an outstanding performance. He reminded them that a rehearsal was scheduled for 10 a.m. Sunday but also reminded them that they would get an extra hour sleep because Saturday was the night to turn back the clocks. The weary band members cheered.
Then, in what must be a ritual, the director turned off the microphone and yelled, “What kind of day is it today?”
In unison, the band members – leaning forward, faces flushed – shouted back, “IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BE A JAYHAWK.”
And, oh, at that moment, how I longed to be a Jayhawk, too!