Five years ago, Kansas University football was the campus-wide joke. It was criticized, laughed about and trashed. Perhaps worse than any of those, it was largely ignored on Mount Oread.
With KU's men's basketball team between Final Four runs, a column in The University Daily Kansan in the fall of 2002 summed up the perception of football on campus.
It encouraged fans NOT to go to the last game of the season against Oklahoma State, instead giving alternatives for a Saturday in Lawrence.
Back to the present, and the No. 8 Jayhawks are 8-0, the toast of the town and making a run at history continuing today with an 11:30 a.m. game against Nebraska at sold-out Memorial Stadium.
Media requests are rolling in, and players are noticing a little more love on campus. Running back Brandon McAnderson - no slouch himself - said that quarterback Todd Reesing is "probably like one of the Beatles now."
Exaggerating? Maybe. But the buzz KU's football team is generating this season is a welcome perk, especially on a campus where finger-pointing and whispering usually is abundant only when a basketball player walks by.
"It's been a great atmosphere," junior Mike Rivera said. "When you win, things are good."
Reesing disputes the rock-star claim passed his way by McAnderson, and he has a great point to back it up.
At just 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Reesing would look much more in place at a fraternity house than under center at Memorial Stadium.
"It's not like we're big icons or anything," Reesing counters. "We're just regular students. A lot of people wouldn't know we played football if we didn't wear our football sweatshirts now and then."
Reesing obviously isn't talking about guys like 6-6, 315-pound left tackle Anthony Collins, who looks like nothing if not a future NFL offensive lineman. But for others, Reesing's point is valid.
Nationally, the Jayhawks remain individual no-names outside of Reesing and cornerback Aqib Talib. But the media are trying to do their part to change that.
KU's sports-information office, for example, compiles a list of outside interview requests each week to give to coach Mark Mangino for approval. In the past, it typically has been no more than five queries.
"That sheet is now almost two pages," Mangino said. "There's a lot of attention, and we're handling it well. We're being smart. We're trying to do the right things.
"I want our players and our team, any publicity that's due to them, I'd like them to get it."
Rivera, KU's starting outside linebacker, said he's saving all the clips to read and appreciate at the end of the season. Others, like center Ryan Cantrell, are brushing them off altogether.
"I don't care about what the guys on ESPN are telling us about what we are and what we're not," Cantrell said. "We know what we are and what we're not."
Besides, Cantrell doesn't tune into ESPN a lot anyway. He can't.
"We don't really have cable or anything in our house right now," he said with a smile. "I've been watching a lot of movies."
The Jayhawks have succeeded, in part, because of their ability to compartmentalize each week of the season.
Was this team, with no past to brag about and no stable of five-star recruits, supposed to roll to an 8-0 start? Probably not.
But did Kansas have a chance in every game? Apparently. And eating each slice of pizza and moving on to the next is a lot easier than envisioning the whole pie in your stomach.
"The past is the past, and whatever the next day brings you, that's what you got to take," Cantrell said. "The only things I'm thinking about right now is that I have a presentation in (economics) class, and I have Nebraska this week."
The Jayhawks are at a level they haven't been at under this coaching staff and with these players. Yet the weekly approach is working, because they haven't failed yet.
"We're not going to get an overinflated ego," Reesing said. "We're not going to change the way we handle our business because that's what got us here.
"The hard work, the mentality we take in practice, the preparation for the game is how we got to where we're at now. We're not going to change that because we had a little success."
Still on top
But the outsiders certainly will sing a different tune as the success mounts.
KU's basketball team had its first exhibition game this week to a fraction of the normal hype. Make no mistake: While it is November, it's still football season on campus.
Mangino, for one, doesn't get out much. During season, he's either tucked away in his second-story office preparing for the next opponent, or at home with his family getting a rare breather.
But he has a good guess about what's being talked about on campus. And it's a little different from year's past.
"I have a sneaking suspicion that our students are pretty fired up," Mangino said. "They always have been supportive of the football program. They show up when things aren't good. I suspect right now they're really happy, and we want them to be."