Topeka Officially it's known as the Big Blue Caravan, but it might just as well be called the Kansas University Football Revival.
In the tradition of the traveling religious revival, the Caravan rolls all over the state, and KU football coach Glen Mason takes to the pulpit not to convert the masses but to preach the faith of KU football.
Call it the gospel according to Glen. Or, maybe, Footballapalooza.
"We're in the entertainment business," Mason said. "The thought of giving a speech to a large group horrifies some people. It doesn't bother me."
By summer's end, the Caravan will have made 13 stops -- in Goodland, Garden City, Dodge City, Hays, Hutchinson, Pittsburg, Hiawatha, Topeka, Salina, Emporia, Leavenworth, Wichita and Bartlesville, Okla. Mason makes most of the trips, but he's been known to send top assistants Golden Pat Ruel and Mike Hankwitz on occasion.
Attendance varies, from the 60 or so who showed up in Bartlesville to the hundreds who attend in Wichita. Around 200 crimson-and-bluebloods turned out last week in Topeka.
The program varies from site to site, but the message remains the same.
Take the Topeka stop, for example. The program started with a message from the president of the local chapter of the Alumni Association. Radio voice Max Falkenstien served as emcee. After addresses from KU vice chancellor for student affairs David Ambler and KU athletic director Bob Frederick -- and a round of Jayhawk trivia -- Mason took the stand, where he ran through a humorous review of the Jayhawks' surprising '95 season, previewed the upcoming season, and touched on topics like the impending Big 12 and the rehabilitation of quarterback Ben Rutz.
"After you do a couple, you're saying basically the same thing," Mason said. "I have a basic outline I try to follow. I always try to give somebody some type of insight. If they're a fan of college athletics or KU athletics, I try to give them a different perspective. I try to give them information, but I also try to be entertaining. That's just my style."
'I enjoy it when I'm there'
Some coaches might balk at the thought of spending their summers canvassing the state, but Mason accepts it as his duty.
"I'd be less than honest if I said some nights I wouldn't get home and think, 'I have to go to work the next morning.' But you have to view it as part of your job," Mason said. "We've got some people who are very loyal supporters. All I can do is give them a little of my time. I enjoy it once I'm there."
At least Mason admits to an ulterior motive.
Maybe, just maybe, he figures, by fertilizing the grass roots he might plant the seed of doubt the next time someone calls for his head.
"Some coaches say, 'You win, you stay. You lose, you go.' And that's true," Mason said. "But there's a right way to do things. From a personal standpoint, if you stand around and talk to someone, they feel like they got to know you a little bit."
Mason is more than willing to press the flesh.
Rather than hide in a corner until he's introduced, he'll mingle, chatting up everyone from the biggest booster to the smallest fan.
"You don't want your time to be capitalized by one person, one way or the other," Mason said. "I enjoy meeting people, and I want to meet as many as possible in the time allowed."
Georgia on their minds?
The football caravan is not a new idea. Mason has made the tour, in some form or another, every summer during his eight-year tenure.
Mason said he found little difference in the mood from year to year. He said he was received as warmly this summer -- hot on the heels of a stunning 10-2, top-10 season -- as he was after the 1-10 of 1988.
"A lot of people got a lot of enjoyment out of last year. Maybe, because of last year, they're in a better mood," Mason said. "But I've found the people of Kansas to be very friendly and very nice. Sometimes the turnouts are larger. But I wouldn't say there's a whole big difference over the years. And I'd be disappointed if there was."
Rarely is a disparaging word uttered, and rarely, Mason said, does the topic of Georgia -- the school Mason agreed to coach last December before he reversed course and decided to return to KU for his ninth season -- arise.
"There are a number of people who've said, 'We're glad you changed your mind,'" Mason said. "But it doesn't come up that often.
"In the history of Kansas football, no one has turned down an opportunity like Georgia. Many football coaches here never turned down an opportunity."
Just like Mason rarely turns down the opportunity to sell KU football to the masses.
"You just accept it as part of the job," he said. "I like talking to people. I like meeting new people. After a while, you start to recognize the same people, year after year. You hope they come away from it thinking maybe they got to know me a little better."