Archive for Sunday, May 2, 1999


May 2, 1999


All our lives are loaded with shoulda-coulda-woulda's. In at least two instances, the late Ray Evans, for all his achievements in sports and citizenship, experienced the same kind of frustration -- in 1948 and earlier in 1943.

No. 1 would be the 1948 Orange Bowl football game where Ray, Don Fambrough, Otto Schnellbacher and their '47 Jayhawk compadres fought their tails against a heavily favored Georgia Tech team. Ray passed, ran, blocked, defended, the whole schmeer.

With Tech ahead 20-14 in the dying seconds, KU drove to the Yellowjacket one. Piece of cake. Evans would score his third touchdown of the day, Fambrough would toe the point, Kansas would be an upset darling.

But quarterback Lynne McNutt was called on to sneak it in, there was a pileup and KU players say Tech's Rollo Phillips raked the ball away after the whistle. Whatever, the refs gave the ball to GT and McNutt accepted blame he didn't deserve.

The main regret of Evans, who died at 76 the past weekend after a long siege of heart problems, was not for himself or fellow players. He was sorry for his beloved university, that it couldn't go into the books as the winner in its first appearance in a major postseason game. There were only four bowls and they meant a lot more then.

Typical of Evans' attitude: "It would have been so great to bring home that trophy to KU and the people back here," he told me several times. Never mind that he finished his All-America grid career with 3,799 yards of total offense that included 1,431 yards rushing and 2,368 passing, tremendous figures in the 1940s. He was a tackling-intercepting terror on defense, too.

But he'd have traded them all for an Orange Bowl trophy to rest beside the Big Six co-championships he and that outstanding group had shared with Oklahoma in 1946 and 1947.

Ray and another great crew of Kansas guys deserved to win the 1943 NCAA basketball title. Trouble was, the monstrous Adolf Hitler, Geeky Hirohito and his Rising Sonsa

- decided their trained-from-birth military professionals could seize the world from the unprepared amateurs in England, America and the like. That altered a lot of plans.

If any of KU's many great teams was ever primed to win a national title, that 1943 gang was. Phog Allen had his Iron Five -- Evans, Schnellbacher, Charlie Black, John Buescher and Armond Dixon. All but Dixon made all-conference, along with Oklahoma's Gerald Tucker.

KU went 10-0 to win the league, and posted a 22-6 record. There were two losses to powerful Creighton when the Blue Jays had stars like All-American Ed Beisser. Don't let that 56-34 whipping at Omaha in the next-to-last game fool you. Phog allowed a batch of players to get home for a weekend knowing they soon would be in uniform. He'd got officials to allow his team to finish the season, stating there would be no NCAA quest.

KU took almost an intramural team to Omaha for that game, then finished the season on Saturday night, March 6, by whipping Kansas State 47-30 here. The other four losses came at the hands of "professional" military teams -- Camp Crowder, Great Lakes Naval and twice to the Olathe Naval Air Base stars coached by Jack Gardner.

The '43 Jayhawks won eight of their last nine games and could easily have reached an NCAA Final Four that included Wyoming, Georgetown, Texas and DePaul. Wyoming won in Kansas City, where KU would have eaten the Cowboys' lunch.

The afternoon after the Saturday night win over K-State, Phog took Evans, Dixon, Lawrence's Don Blair, Hoyt Baker, George Dick and Bill Brill to Fort Leavenworth for induction. Jack Ballard, Schnellbacher and Bob Fitzpatrick followed soon and in a four-day period, nine of the 13 men on the squad were suited up for the Great Hate. All-league center Buescher had serious lung problems after winning a battle with tuberculosis and couldn't go.

Evans, Blair, Black, Schnelly et al. all regretted they never got the chance to go for the gold in '43. Ray always wished they could have stayed together. But this time, even his beloved KU was superseded -- by another entity with red and blue in the banner. Shoulda-coulda-woulda.

  • Dick Purdy's retirement as Lawrence High football coach gave me new reason to be even further astounded by the brilliance that has emanated from the Lion coaching roster. Ex-KU star Elmer Schaake set the stage for Chalmer Woodard (58-6-2). Then came Al Woolard's fabulous 154-2-5 and Bill Freeman's 134-38-0. Purdy's 84-17 produced five state titles in nine seasons. That's John Wooden-level excellence. Dick also fielded a champion at Mission West.

But beyond the techniques, tactics and gridiron activities, Purdy has been a marvelous citizen and personality for Lawrence. I'd say that even if I also hadn't been born April 11.

Dick has fully earned a great life in retirement with his wife. He has enriched his kids, the school and all the rest of us with his cheerful, upbeat, infectious lilt. He's easily on a level with any high school coach you'll ever encounter. He deserves the best.

-- Bill Mayer's phone message number is 832-7147. His e-mail address is

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