Friday, April 14, 2017

Tom Keegan: Too many Kansas football fans in show-me state of mind

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (11) gets near  the end zone after a catch late in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (11) gets near the end zone after a catch late in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.


Sure, when Todd Reesing was tougher to catch than the wind, scrambling in every direction and still managing to keep his eyes downfield, spectators flocked to Memorial Stadium to watch him lead Kansas to victory. It became very fashionable to attend games and talk about them all week.

Kansas averaged 50,907 customers a game in Reesing’s junior season, 50,581 the year after that.

Last season, KU’s eighth consecutive one with a losing record, drew an average crowd of 25,828. Everybody loves a winner and nobody enjoys watching a team that gets drilled on nearly a weekly basis.

But blaming it all on losing is too easy, too lazy. After all, it’s not as if Iowa State fools anybody into thinking they're the USC Trojans, even if their uniforms look alike. Yet, the Cyclones draw big crowds to Jack Trice Stadium, named after the school’s first African-American athlete, a football player who died during a game against Minnesota in 1923.

ISU averaged 52,557 for its seven home dates last season and with records of 3-9 overall and 2-7 in Big 12 play finished one game better than Kansas. More than twice the fans, so more than simply winning is at play here.

Surely, it’s not the weather that keeps fans away because Ames creates deeper, sooner and longer shivers than Lawrence.

It’s strange that the same fan base that prides itself on the knowledge and passion it brings to Allen Fieldhouse, tunes out instead of turning out for the football team.

Could it be that the fans who stay away do so because they just don’t appreciate the sport of football? Might they find it too rugged, too violent?

I sometimes wonder if there are Kansas fans out there who don’t want the football program to become better because if it does they won’t have an excuse for staying at home, for not keeping up on personnel changes. You know, way more players to keep track of in football than in basketball.

The easy line repeated by so many who I suspect are relieved that they don’t have to keep track of the football team to be able to participate in conversations at social gatherings because all anybody talks about is basketball goes something like this: “I’m tired of the hype. I’m not believing it anymore, unless they start winning. Then I'll pay attention.”

In other words, “Show me.” That should be their motto, except that it already is taken by a bordering state to which most KU sports observers certainly don’t want to be compared.

I sometimes wonder if the KU basketball fan base can be split into two groups.

Group I: Loyal supporters of the team, they get that the team isn’t only there to entertain them, but there to be supported by them as well. Barring an unavoidable, conflicting commitment those from this group will be at the spring football game.

Group II: They attend basketball games to be entertained and to be seen and, therefore, feel cheated when the team does not deliver a typical sensational performance about which they can boast in a way that enables them to take partial ownership in the remarkable feats they witnessed. Their need to be associated with success plays a role in their attendance. You won’t see them at the spring football game.

The forecast calls for the game to be played with temperatures in the high 70s with a 15 percent chance of rain, conditions favorable to drawing a big crowd.

Still, I don’t expect to see many spectators.

Then again, I might be completely wrong and it’s conceivable enough KU basketball fans are paying attention to the football team again because they are aware that it's on the verge of a significant forward step and they are aware that:

• Defensive end Dorance Armstrong and defensive tackle Daniel Wise are bona fide All-American candidates;

• Alabama coach Nick Saban had big plans for receiver Daylon Charlot and was disappointed that he transferred to Kansas, and with Steven Sims dropping jaws all spring, Charlot might not even be the No. 1 receiving target.

• Quarterback Peyton Bender impresses everyone who watches him with his quick release and accurate downfield passes, which he used to throw for 566 yards in a game against one of the nation's most talented juco programs.

• First-year offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, a key architect in TCU’s transformation from a defensive stalwart that lacked sparkle offensively to a big-time scoring machine, already has sped up the Kansas offense.

Even before running backs Dominic Williams from Independence High in Frisco, Texas, and Octavius Matthews, a teammate of Bender's at Itawamba Community College in MIssissippi, join the team in June, plenty of playmakers capable of lighting up a crowd already are in uniform for Kansas.

If a big crowd doesn't turn out, that just shows a big slice of the Kansas fan base remains in a "show-me" state of mind. Not much anybody can do if they're comfortable with that moniker.


John Fitzgerald 1 year, 1 month ago

I love KU football. I actually love it more than KU basketball. The atmosphere and feeling I get on gameday is unmeasurable. From getting up early on a Saturday morning, tailgating for a few hours and making new friends with the opposing teams, to walking down the hill and seeing all the tailgating tents and most importantly seeing the Jayhawk in the middle of Memorial Stadium. It gives me chills just thinking about it. But having said all that, I am by no means the perfect fan. If we are never expected to win a game I'll still be upset when we lose. I'll say that I'm going to boycott the team and never go to a game again. But, next game I'll still be row 20 seat 5 because it's more than just entertainment to me. It's the sport I love and the team I love that's playing it. Call me dumb, hopeless, or even just plain sad, but I call it true love. I'll always support KU football even if we can't even win a game.

Andy Tweedy 1 year, 1 month ago

Dumb isn't loving the 'Hawks in the fall, dumb is when I left the 2010 Colorado game at the tail end of the 3rd quarter because I was finally broken. I thought of myself as die hard as they get up to then, but it taught me to never give up hope...even in our football team! All the way to I-29, I heard over and over again "TOUCHDOWN KANSAS!"

Bryce Landon 1 year, 1 month ago

You do realize, don't you, that KU winning that game had less to do with KU winning it and more to do with CU losing it, right? We didn't win another game the rest of the year, losing our last three games by a combined 79 points. That win over CU didn't do anything for us going forward.

Tom Keegan 1 year, 1 month ago

John, I don't call you dumb, hopeless or sad. I call you a FOOTBALL FAN.

John Fitzgerald 1 year, 1 month ago

Well, thank you. That's how I see it too.

Larry Ewart 1 year, 1 month ago

I live in Des Moines and attended all 6 games at home last year. I have been doing that for the last 9 years and before that drove 5.5 hours from Western Ks to watch KU. I totally relate to John's post. Have been both a BB fan but love the football program regardless of who has been our coach. Just wish those fans that do come stay for entire game. I get so tired of people coming and leaving after the half. Why come at all? Last year's win against TX was so fulfilling. Not only to beat the Longhorns and their fans but to show our own fans that supporting the kids on the field is what this should be about. I am definitely encouraged by Coach Beaty and his positive attitude. So glad we hired a OC in Coach Meecham. Looking forward to some fun Saturdays shortly.

John Brazelton 1 year, 1 month ago

Three wins in pre-conference and football attendance will increase by 10,000 a game for a while during the first conference games. I'm still calling for a 6-6 record and a minor bowl game this season.

Bryce Landon 1 year, 1 month ago

I think you're being overly optimistic to think we'll go 6-6.

Brock Wells 1 year, 1 month ago

I enjoyed the story Tom! John thanks for sharing from the heart!

John I don't share the exact same love for football as you but being a fourth generation jayhawk and my grandfather playing football and basketball at KU (he was presented with the gameball his senior year against the mizzou tiggers), I grew up listening on the radio and attended as many games as possible and still do the same today. It's hard getting your butt beat every game but I always thought if I don't root and believe in the guys (Group I) then no one will (Group II). That has always given me enough to be optimistic every single game. Very stoked for this year to begin!

Randy Bombardier 1 year, 1 month ago

I dont understand it either. I believe that KU ought to plan on the same therefore give 15000 tickets away to academic achievers, athletic achievers, whole football teams from Kansas high schools. Do something. Solve the problem. Make it more fun, beyond the game itself. Very frustrating. We can't wish it away. Something has to be done.

Bryce Landon 1 year, 1 month ago

I'll tell you what has to be done - win.

Mangino's teams put butts in the seats, as the article states. KU fans will support a winner.

Martin Rhodes 1 year, 1 month ago

Really? How much of a mystery can this be and how can you, Keegan, miss the obvious reason? I have been a KU FB/BB fan for 60 years and have spent hundred's of hours listening to KU FB games from 6th grade on, before they were ever on TV. No fan should ever be abused for not coming to games that were played in Memorial Stadium the past 8 years prior to last year. Gill and Wise were incompetent and lazy and their teams reflected this, although Beatty not so. I couldn't stand to watch the teams of the last few years on TV or in the stands until last year again. It was humiliating and boring when we were routinely behind by 50-60 points and the opponent had his last rank of reserves playing in the middle of the third quarter. What kind of fan is going to be a part of this kind of masochistic debacle on a regular basis? So far, I like Beatty and his enthusiasm, message of hope, and his phenomenal recruiting, considering what he must overcome. I am watching again since this team is now competitive at times, and the future at least now has some hope.

Doug Merrill 1 year, 1 month ago

Martin, you missed the point: Tom made the excellent comparison to the non-fickle fans of Iowa State. I too am a long term fan. Gayle Sayers did not fill the stands. There is something different about our fan base. The article was a good review of a situation that is more complex than you suggest. Doug

Jeremy Morris 1 year, 1 month ago

Count me in as a proud member of Group #1. AND, I love when other KU (basketball) fans call me crazy for still buying season tickets, etc. Because I KNOW they'll be there cheering when we come rising back again and I can call them out on their the fans leaving the WVU bball game this year. Pitiful.

Bryan Summers 1 year, 1 month ago

I wish the game was streamed. I'd go to all the games but I live in Oregon.

Ryan Goodwin 1 year, 1 month ago

Please note Tom, the only reason I will not be in attendance tomorrow is because I have my own games to coach. Can't wait to read how great of strides the offense has made.

Andy Godwin 1 year, 1 month ago

I grew up watching KU football and attending games since grade school during the days of the cheap club passes for basketball (yes Allen Fieldhouse was not always full) and football. I love the game, the atmosphere and the overall pageantry. My parents bought me my own set of season tickets as a Christmas gift starting when I was in junior high and I maintained those same seats through college, and until I left our great state for 26 years. I remember being intimated as a kid walking to home games when the stadium was taken over by Nebraska fans (not all of those at KU games were KU fans and there were many years when the stadium was half full). Since returning to the Kansas, I have been able to take my father to the football games, who by the way is one loyal fan (has been a season ticket holder for over 50 years, maybe closer to 60, even after losing his regular football and basketball seats during the Lew Perkin's era). I consider my self knowledgeable of football and my return to attending KU football games in person coincided with the end of Gill and beginning of Weis. As a diehard football fan and KU loyalist, those games were really painful to watch. Even under Beaty, he has made game time decisions that were terrible and cost the Jayhawks a chance to win an extra game or two. However, it is clear the program is moving in a better direction. Thank you Beaty for giving up the offensive coordinator position. It takes time to rebuild a football program that was destroyed during the Gill/Weis era. I don't expect much improvement in only year 3 in the win/loss column, but hope/expect the games to be competitive and played at a higher level. Health willing, my Dad and I will be there for the upcoming season.

Humpy Helsel 1 year, 1 month ago

Tom, I get it. I agree. The only thing wrong with your premise is it flies in the face of human nature, as in "everyone loves a winner." Losing is wearing and tiresome. I get it that it's a Catch-22 in many ways. Want to recruit better players, show them some winning tradition, packed houses every game, and program stability. That would be zero for three on that list. Well, it is headed in the right direction. Our bar is low. As noted by others, we want to win a few games at home and one here or there on the road. Beat your non-conference tune ups every time, every year. Be in most games in the 4th quarter. Get a key upset once in awhile (as in Texas last year). Don't over sell your players and your product and risk "I fell for it again. They're lousy." The article is a good reminder the importance of coming out and supporting our team, regardless. What we need is a solid foundation and some consistency. Build it, they'll come.

Steve Corder 1 year, 1 month ago

Agree. No "wonder" musing is required here@ KU. No one, unless they are parents and friends, want to watch "their team" get beat time & time again over the years.....unless you live in Cleveland!

Steve Hillyer 1 year, 1 month ago

Thanks for the column Tom, I've been a football season ticket holder since 1992 so I think my bonafides of a loyal fan cannot be questioned, however I've never been to the spring game and it's not anywhere near the top of my agenda, not only that but I plan on being in Lawrence late this afternoon and evening and still don't have the urge to go down earlier to watch basically a practice game.
Now I cannot agree more with the mention in the article about how this fan base loves to say they are the best but wouldn't be caught dead at a football game if they are even aware of the fact we have a football team. And the ones that do show leave at halftime whether the game is competitive or not, I assume they are leaving early to get in line for Late Night 🙄, and like you Tom, I have often mentioned the support Iowa St's football program receives from their fan base yet are only marginally better than KU. I will also mention the fans are not the only ones not tuned into the football program, administration and the boosters also not as supportive as they need to be, it only takes a couple of phone calls to raise 30 plus million for the basketball team while the football team plays in arguably the worst stadium in power five, if we want to stay there once the Big 12 dies then we need to support the football team because that is what is going to save us, if it was the basketball program we would have already left this mess of a conference.
See you at Memorial Sept 2.

Robert Brock 1 year, 1 month ago

The football program is FINALLY showing signs of life! I'm excited!

Jim Stauffer 1 year, 1 month ago

Funny how people come to love certain things. When I was 18 years old, I had only attended one college game and it was a Kentucky-Illinois Basketball game. One Saturday I went to a college FB game and I have been hooked ever since. I never even played the game in high school. I had only played BB, baseball and ran some track.

To me it is the epitome of a fan sport. As has been said, nothing is better than a college afternoon with all the pregame hype and post game celebrations. And, of course, in between, the beautiful game itself.

Steve Tramba 1 year, 1 month ago

It takes TIME to rebuild. Look around - $$$ talk and few have the patience. I "trust the process" Beaty is building (it has taken TIME), and can you imagine his late nights at home unable to sleep b/c it takes TIME but many of us claim to not have it in regards to wanting it now?

I left L 18 years ago, so I only get back for a game here/there. I wish I could follow more closely - b/c I was at those spring games, and my neighbor was the head trainer for many years - so I also lived through his pains during so many lows (& some Mason highs)...

I cannot pretend to tell someone how to be a fan, as I wouldn't want the same, so let all supporters make their choices - with the hopeful end goal of supporting our team to future success! #RockChalk

Brett McCabe 1 year, 1 month ago

People look at me funny when I say I am a season ticket holder for KU football. It's all the evidence that I need.

However, I think that much has changed over the past 15 years and, if we can develop a competitive team, I believe that the stadium will fill.

Again, for the out-of-towners, start buying coach's corner season tickets (about $125), frame the set and start putting them up on your walls. Call my guy: Richard Floresch 864-1426 and order a set today. He'll take care of you. And you'll help keep the purple out of the stadium this year.


Check out Mike Lee:

Dirk Medema 1 year, 1 month ago

Or take Brett's suggestion and donate them so some underprivileged kid or BigBrother can attend and start to grow some tradition. That's what fills stadiums even more than winning.

I was at Purdue when Tiller brought BB on grass and started winning. The attendance still trailed the record because tradition fills stadiums and takes more than 1 year to grow. Part of what has held KU back in the past has been the lack of tailgating space - one of the most important parts of tradition.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 1 year, 1 month ago

"It’s strange that the same fan base that prides itself on the knowledge and passion it brings to Allen Fieldhouse, tunes out instead of turning out for the football team."

No.........not strange at all.......The university presents "Late Night in the Fog" a huge pre-season orgy in Allen Fieldhouse even before the end of the football season.

But any sort of support event for the football team.......squat.

Yeah, KU football usually ends up in the basement, but the players and coaches deserve some sort of encouragement and support from the university such as the basket ball team receives before any ball is ever thrown in anger.

Not strange, at least to me, not a fan, at all.

Al Martin 1 year, 1 month ago

Dear God, here you go again. You ought to know that all the major national programs in basketball have these Late Night events. And if they were to wait until football season ended, basketball season would be half over. Because the seasons overlap. You do know this, don't you?

It's perfectly fair to question the university and fan base's commitment to football. It's never been great here, and I should know, having sat in the stands with the marching band for more years than I'd like to admit (some good seasons, mostly bad). We are going through the worst seven year stretch the program has ever had (and that's saying something), so some apathy from the fans is not shocking.

But complaining about the existence and timing of the basketball Late Night event is just stupid.

Sarah Carr 1 year, 1 month ago

To me, being a fan of any sport means SUPPORTING your team, no matter what! I've been living in Colorado Springs since 1972, but today I was dialed in to the WatchESPN app to watch the Spring Game - just as I have done in previous years. In the fall, I will be watching on TV, or on the app, or on ANY live streaming broadcast I can find. Because. I. Am. A. KU. FAN. Pure and simple. RCJH!

Bryce Landon 1 year, 1 month ago

Tom, you talk about KU fans being in a show-me state of mind like it's a bad thing. Every season the last few years it's been the same thing - the players are improving, they look great in practice, we love their skill set - and then come Saturday they get pummeled. And the season ends with only three wins max, maybe one Big 12 win if we're lucky, and 0-for-the-road.

I'm tired of hearing about how the team is making progress and improving. I refuse to believe the team is making progress until it is reflected on the scoreboard and in the win-loss column. This season I want to see KU win no fewer than four games, win no fewer than two Big 12 games, and win at least once on the road.

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