There are dates and games that I will never forget in my 40+ years of being associated with Kansas State Football. The 1982 Sunflower Showdown is definitely one of those events that I will always remember. It was Saturday October 23, 1982. In Manhattan. A sold-out crowd at KSU Stadium. K-State vs. University of Kansas in the ’80sth Edition of the Sunflower Showdown. And the lights, yes, the lights, we’ll always remember them. They were temporary lights.
Almost every college football game started at 1:10 p.m. This rivalry game was the first in Big 8 Conference history to be played under floodlights. The game was broadcast on TBS to a national audience. So the night was something special.
I blew out my knee during spring training before the 1982 season, so I went on crutches. I was on the sidelines before the game. My K-State teammates warmed up on one side of the field and Kansas warmed up on the other side. The anticipation was in the air. There were 45,595 fans in the stands. You could tell there was just something different about this game.
We had a 3-2-1 record at the Sunflower Showdown. Under head coach Jim Dickey, we beat Kentucky 23-9, South Dakota 42-3 and Wichita State 31-7. But we also suffered a 30-7 loss at No. 13 in Arizona, we drew 7-7 in Missouri, and we suffered a 49-3 loss at No. 6 in Nebraska. We had worked hard for this moment. It is important to understand that the majority of the starters or players who had the capacity had started the redshirt in the 1981 season. They all wanted to stay another year. I was one of those players who had a red shirt. We knew 1982 could be a big year in the history of our football program. Weeks later we beat Colorado 33-10 on Senior Day and went to our first bowl game ever – the Independence Bowl.
But it all came back to the K-State/KU game. The season was at stake. Would K-State get over the hump and get to its first bowl game? How good has K-State been this year? Could K-State pull this off?
We have answered this question. And no one who saw the game will ever forget it.
As my teammates were warming up on the soccer field in their purple jerseys, I decided to go to the locker room. There was so much I could remember about that particular game – I remember it like it was yesterday – but I will always remember going into the dressing room.
In the changing room, gray jerseys hung on every single locker.
“What the hell?” I said.
I found my good buddy Jim “Shorty” Kleinau, the longtime equipment manager for K-State Football.
“What’s up, Shorty?” I asked.
He said: “We made special jerseys for this special game.”
I could not believe it. Our players had no idea. I grabbed my gray #12 jersey and put it away.
Moments later, the team entered the dressing room.
We had silver helmets, just like now, and we had white shorts with purple jerseys, and the coaches said, “Take off those purple jerseys and put on those gray jerseys.” Our dressing room exploded. There was no doubt what would happen at the Sunflower Showdown. If there wasn’t a crazy curveball from the soccer gods, this game was over.
We came out of the locker room and I had my gray jersey on and I was walking to the sidelines and the Cats were running down the concrete ramp and this place was on fire and K-State fans were exploding. You think players like alternative kits now, well nobody changed kits in 1982. It just didn’t happen. So this place was crazy about steroids.
The jerseys had no net. They were cloth jerseys. They probably wouldn’t have lasted five games. These were one-off jerseys. This blew up the top of the K-State football program.
There was no question who had the better team. Although Kansas had won their last three games—the Jayhawks gave up their 1980 20-18 win to an ineligible player, but I still count it as a loss—K-State was undoubtedly the better team in 1982. Throughout the game we hammered them, pounded them and we were way better. At that time college football was rarely played on TV, but here we were on TV at our stadium at night playing our rivals and wearing these gray jerseys and it was the perfect K-State script how it all played out, like the passing lights worked, the fans roared and the Wildcats played.
We won 36-7.
KU’s only score came late in the game with a 26-yard interception return against our backups. It was K-State’s most lopsided win over Kansas since a 46-0 win in 1955. So that was huge. It was electric. K-State fans knocked down both goal posts. I mean everyone was there. The amazing thing was that it was so unusual, I mean everything about it was so unusual – the shirts, the lights, the night game. The excitement didn’t stop. All night everyone pinched each other like, “Is this really happening? Are we really at a Big 8 night game? Are we really beating our rivals crazy? Are we really having that much fun?” And by the way, the nation watched the game on TV.
At the end of the game the excitement was so high that I think breaking down the goalposts didn’t have so much to do with beating KU, just the setting and the madness. Nobody wanted the night to end. For the fans to wrap things up by tearing down the goal posts just seemed perfect.
I remember the 1982 K-State/KU game for another reason. Exactly three weeks earlier, I met my future wife, Nancy Freshnock, a K-State cheerleader, at the hotel for a K-State Alumni Association event. I was injured, of course, so I attended the event with some of my friends from Goddard High School who were attending Arizona State. I met Nancy at the hotel. When we got to the KU game, it was like, “Wow, it’s all coming together.” Not only was the K-State/KU game relevant to everyone, but at the same time, the build-up to my date with my future wife ran parallel to it this game. Everything matched. Nancy and I were together for five years and married in 1987. K-State went to a bowl game 40 years ago and 40 years ago I was lucky enough to meet Nancy Freshnock.
Coach Jim Dickey came to Kansas City a few years ago. About 15 to 20 guys met Coach Dickey at Steve Willis’ house. We sat outside on a summer evening and chatted. It got quiet and I said, ‘Coach, I don’t know if you remember those days as well as we do, but we thank you for everything you’ve done for us. Maybe that’s something you remember like we all do.”
I unbuttoned my shirt.
I was wearing my gray #12 jersey underneath.