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Sunday, November 6, 2005

Lockerby

Keegan: Victory sweeter than it looks

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The goal posts already had been rocked down to the ground and the students long since had stormed the field when the 2005 Kansas University football team, all the players and coaches, came out of the locker room and posed for a picture in front of the scoreboard.

A 40 was under the Jayhawks' logo, a 15 under the gigantic red N, and that didn't even begin to tell the story.

The hugs pinned on senior quarterback Jason Swanson, subtle savior of a season, by football fans who had a weekend ruined 36 consecutive years by the Cornhuskers from the north said far more.

"A lot of older Lawrence couples came up to me, gave me hugs, and said thank you, like I'm doing them a favor," Swanson said. "They're doing us a favor by coming to our games."

According to official records, more people never came to a game at Memorial Stadium than the 51,750 who witnessed KU defeat Nebraska for the first time since the day of the opening ceremonies of the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

"We needed to do something about that streak thing," Jayhawks coach Mark Mangino said. "It was starting to get on my nerves."

Not that he had anything to do with the first 33 losses. Unlike his players, at least Mangino was alive when the Jayhawks last had defeated the Cornhuskers, on Oct. 12, 1968.

"I was in junior high school in western Pennsylvania then. I had hair then and didn't have as many worries," Mangino said.

Job security is not among Mangino's worries. A year after his team ended Kansas State's 11-game winning streak in the series, the Jayhawks have defeated Missouri for the third year in a row and bullied Nebraska in a way they used to get bullied annually.

If you were among those calling for Mark Mangino's head when Adam Barmann and Brian Luke were running for cover, perhaps you should see your doctor about getting some of that medication for restless legs syndrome being advertised on your television every 12 minutes. Maybe that will keep your knee from jerking.

To see what happens when an athletic director pulls the trigger too quickly on a football coach, see Nebraska, 10-10 under Bill Callahan, and 10-3 in Frank Solich's final season.

"This isn't about me," Mangino said. "But don't get me wrong. I'm not going to say I'm not one happy dog because I am."

In part because he knows he made a lot of longtime KU football fans happy.

"I was getting letters with nice people associated with the university for a long time, letting me know how much it means to them to beat Nebraska," Mangino said. "No matter how long you've been associated with the university, no matter how long you've suffered, this still meant the most to the 2005 players."

Players forever linked to 1968; players who hugged former KU coach Don Fambrough, a daily witness to practice, and a man who brings a lot of humor to the serious business that is college football. Before the game, Fambrough said he told the players during the week, "You know, I was mistaken. I found out Quantrill was not from Missouri. He was from Nebraska."

Afterward, an emotional Fambrough, his eyes filled with tears, called it, "the greatest football game I've ever seen. They'll be dancing in the streets of Lawrence. I'll be leading them."

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