One of the most gracious things the Kansas athletic department has done in recent weeks is to offer free Orange Bowl tickets to the surviving members of KU's 1948 and 1969 bowl squads, those stellar '47 and '68 football teams.
Not all of the guys will be able to go. But they have the chance to get ducats, which base-price at $125 each, and to feel better about the old Alma Mater.
One of those '47 mainstays who did so much for Jayhawkdom between 1945 and 1948 has lived here full-time since 1958. He has a wife who has also has done wondrous things for the Crimson and Blue and has a daughter (ever hear of Erin Brockovich?) who has created headlines and made waves as a glamorous social activist.
That's Frank Pattee, former KU tailback, fullback, linebacker, passer, punter, blocker, receiver and tackler and anything else you can conjure up. A quiet assassin, he never gets major headlines like those garnered by more publicized compatriots. But they're the first to declare how valuable he was; voted him a captain. "He'd do anything for the team ... he's a guy you'd go to war with," says Don Fambrough.
Frank grew up in Smith Center, entered the Navy Air Corps, then got to KU in time to play tailback for Henry Shenk's undermanned '45 Jayhawks. They had a 4-5-1 record using a lot of campus military trainees. Then Pattee, at a mere 175 pounds, contributed heavily to the '46 and '47 Ray Evans-Don Fambrough clubs that tied Oklahoma for the Big Six title each year. The '48 Orange Bowl was KU's first postseason venture; the Jayhawks fell a yard short of beating Georgia Tech in a 20-14 heartbreaker.
The two-deep '47 KU backfield had Red Hogan and Lynne McNutt at quarterback, Evans and Tom Scott at left half, Bud French and Dick Bertuzzi at right half and Pattee and Forrest Griffith at fullback. All played defense, a lot of it in the case of Evans, Fambrough and Pattee. As usual, Frank did everything asked of him, and well. He was off to a great '48 season until drydocked in the fifth game by a broken jaw.
Evans and Fambrough waxed darn near poetic about Pattee's contributions and his intensity. He was always there without fanfare, a big reason he's too often overlooked when heroes of those days are chronicled.
Frank and wife B.J. from Ponca City, Okla., were married in 1946, and he traveled a lot in the oil business. He later was with a national transportation safety agency. Their children are the effervescent Erin of Los Angeles, Frank Jr. of Topeka and Jody in New Mexico. Son Tom died of a severe asthma attack in 1992.
The versatile B.J. joined the KU Alumni Association in the golden Fred Ellsworth-Dick Wintermote-Mildred Clodfelter era and ran the KUAA magazine, served as assistant director and handled, like her husband in football, any job they asked her to do.
Back to the Orange Bowl of '48, KU trailed 14-20 and had driven to the Georgia Tech one with little time left. Quarterback McNutt decided on a sneak, bobbled the snap, dropped and covered it. The play was over except Tech's Rollo Phillips burrowed under the pile and raked away the ball, and the refs after a late whistle gave it to Tech.
"We'd have scored on a dive by Evans on the next play, and Fambrough would have kicked the point," Pattee recalls. "The referees blew it, and even their coach, Bobby Dodd, said we were the better team."
Will the Pattees use their 2008 gift tickets? "Wrote and told them thanks, but the only thing I really want is an Orange Bowl victory this third try," says Frank.
Wish KU had a few more guys like him to throw at Virginia Tech.