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Sunday, July 1, 2001

KU needs jolt of football fever

Oh for the days of 1961 when everyone followed Jayhawk grid fortunes

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It's been 40 years, honest, since Kansas University football enjoyed the vibrant enthusiasm it desperately needs now to excite fans, pay bills and claim the respect and admiration enjoyed by the basketball program.

Return now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, 1961 to be precise. Everyone was hot to trot with the Jayhawks!

Oklahoma had won or tied for the league football championship from 1946 through 1959 including 12 undisputed titles in a row. Came 1960 and Kansas posted an on-the-field 7-2-1 record by knocking off previously unbeaten Missouri 23-7. That gave KU its first undisputed league title since 1930. But not so fast.

Jack Mitchell's Jayhawks had to forfeit victories over Colorado and Missouri because of the Bert Coan ineligibility fiasco. "Unbeaten" Mizzou claimed the title and was restored to the No. 1 spot in the nation. MU then defeated Navy in the Orange Bowl to further tweak the Jayhawks' beaks.

The joint was really jumpin' then. MU and TCU collaborated to dock Kansas because Coan transferred from TCU to KU after his freshman year. Bert got involved in an illegal trip to the Chicago All-Star Game with KU alum Bud Adams as the host. Dutch Meyer of TCU was incensed that the 6-4, 215-pound, lightning-fast Coan deserted the Horned Frogs and was delighted to help Don Faurot and his Missouri henchmen nail Kansas.

The bad blood between Kansas and Missouri had never been hotter and thicker. All sorts of threats and epithets were being tossed around. KU had an asterisk beside its 1960 record because of the furor; Jayhawk fans were promising that MU would really have an "ass to risk" come 1961.

But the overwhelming aspect of all this was that Kansas people cared, really cared, about football under the bombastic, effervescent Mitchell. Jack and Co. had brought in the kind of talent to justify such a boiling pot.

Then came the '61 preseason polls; sportswriters and sportscasters in the region installed Kansas as the overwhelming favorite to beat out OU, MU and Colorado for the Big Eight title. People had been nutty enough about the prospects for '60 because of a KU backfield of quarterback John Hadl, halfbacks Bert Coan and Curtis McClinton and the incomparable Doyle Schick at fullback. Anchoring the line was center-linebacker Fred Hageman, a transfer from Arkansas. Yeah, stars like Hadl, McClinton, Schick and Hageman also played a lot of effective defense in those days.

KU's only 1960 losses were to Syracuse and Iowa, each rated No. 1 nationally at the time; there was a tie with Oklahoma when KU blew a close-range field goal near the final gun.

All was forgiven when the Jayhawks manhandled MU at Columbia a hearty meal before the execution in the conference room.

Gone for the promising '61 season were Schick, Hageman, defensive star-kicker Roger Hill and end Sam Simpson. But Kansas had Hadl and McClinton as seniors along with lettered starters from 1960 like end Larry Allen, guards Elvin Basham and Benny Boydston, fullback Jim Jarrett (defense), tackles Mike Fisher, Stan Kirshman and Larry Lousch. There were all kinds of burgeoning starters from that great 1958 freshman team hubbed by Hadl.

The slashing Coan was banned from the first five games because of the eligibility matter, but he'd broken a leg in spring practice and never came back. He then had brief stints with the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs.

People had been fired-up for 1960 after Mitchell shifted Hadl from all-league halfback-punter to quarterback. The team's performance justified that. But with the talent for 1961 and the revenge factor involving Mizzou, '61 really had people in conniption fits. More disappointment, even though the season ended on an inspiring note.

The Jayhawks fell 17-16 in the season opener at TCU, losing by a field goal in the final 4:28. Second game, a guy named Bob Devaney brought Wyoming here for a shocking 6-6 tie. Then the massive heartbreaker:

Kansas entered the fourth quarter at Colorado with a 19-0 lead only to see quarterback Gale Weidner lead the Buffaloes to a 20-19 victory with three touchdowns in a 10-minute period. Colorado went on to win the league title at 7-0, lost to LSU in the Orange Bowl. Three games, a ghastly 0-2-1 record (they wound up 7-3-1, though).

Later, still another blow to the gut for KU. So much for vengeance. MU upset KU 10-7 before a sellout 40,500 in Lawrence (before two Mitchell era stadium expansions, 1963 and 1965). The gas had gushed from the balloon.

Houston's Bud Adams, perhaps to atone for the Coan Caper, helped wangle a KU invitation to the fledgling Bluebonnet Bowl. The disheartened Jayhawks with their 6-3-1 record (boy, would that look good now!) didn't want to go. The crafty Mitchell rigged a "yes" vote.

Those players will forever be grateful. They had a great time in Houston, Kansas beat Rice 33-7 on television (first bowl win for KU) and Hadl and McClinton signed then-lucrative pro contracts after the romp.

Kansas hasn't had a winning head coach since Mitchell (44-42-5). Though his final two teams went 2-8 and 2-7-1, his first seven years he was 40-27-1. I have never seen KU enthusiasm about football to top what his 7-2-1, 7-3-1 and 6-3-1 clubs generated in 1960, '61 and '62. By the way, arch-rival Kansas State was 4-27-0 for those three seasons and went 15-72-1 in General Jack's nine seasons here. Jack left with an 8-0-1 mark against the Wildcats.

No mystery about what new KU athletics director Al Bohl needs to aim for, huh?

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