Archive for Saturday, May 20, 2000

Schnellbacher well deserving of KU citation

May 20, 2000


A planned Kansas University honor ceremony, a note from a friend and Indiana's distasteful and embarrassing Bob Knight debacle combine to remind me there are lots of sublime as well as ridiculous scenarios in sports.

KU has been deeply blessed with a preponderance of the former. Indiana faithful are praying they somehow can dissolve their long, and continuing, Knightmare.

First the good stuff. This spring Otto Schnellbacher of football and basketball fame will receive KU's Distinguished Service Citation, the highest honor the school can pay an alumnus. The Sublette Slasher, the best doggoned insurance man I ever encountered, has long been active in many realms of Jayhawkdom. His brilliant sports background is just one of those facets.

The versatile Otto didn't gain eminence in sports and the business world without being a fierce competitor, owning strong self-confidence and being a bit of an imp who knew how and when to rub it in.

Schnelly's latter tendencies were spotlighted recently in a note I got from Howard Engleman, another former KU basketball star with a tremendous pedigree in athletics and academics.

Engleman, long a noted Salina attorney and once a coaching fill-in for Phog Allen, read the Journal-World story about what's considered the smallest KU basketball crowd in modern history against Hawaii Loa on Oahu in 1990.

"I was at that game," writes The Rope, his collegiate nickname due to his wiry hair, "but it doesn't compare to one in 1947 when I was taking Phog Allen's place (as coach) . . .

"It was at Missouri in old Brewer Fieldhouse. There had been a flu epidemic in Columbia but instead of canceling or postponing the game they decided to play it, with no spectators allowed. The only people there were the team, officials and MU football players to see that no one got in.

"We won the game (48-38). I remember Schnellbacher getting fouled. When he stepped up to the line an MU footballer (against which Otto doubtless had competed) yelled, 'Hey, Schnelly. Is that a banana you're eating or is it your nose?' Otto gave him the finger, made both free throws and we won the game. Precious memories." (Bear in mind Schnelly wasn't Bobby Knight-gross because there were no women in the crowd)."

How good an athlete was "The Double Threat From Sublette"? He came here for basketball, waited tables at a fraternity and hustled more badly needed income working at football games. When the coaching staff found out he was holding a job some gridder might want, they started to cut him until Phog Allen advised Otto, "Go out for football." Otto captained both grid and court teams here.

A World War II Army Air Corps vet, Schnellbacher played here before and after service, had a year of pro basketball with the Providence and St. Louis teams, then was a three-time all-pro defensive back in four football seasons with the old New York Yankees and Giants. He intercepted 34 passes, led the league with 13 grabs for the Giants one year and had the late Tom Landry and Emlen Tunnell with him in the secondary. Left football after 1952.

One thing you always heard about Schnellbacher and Howard Engleman: "Better be ready because they'll find a way to beat you. They're as smart as they are good."

Engleman, an all-league and All-American basketball forward in the 1939-41 period, entered the Navy, suffered serious burns and had to wear special protection on his upper body while competing as an AAU star after service. An eventual law student and academic honor man of the year, he took over the team when The Phogger had health problems during the 1946-47 season. Engleman was freshman coach (he needed that $300 a month for law school). After Jan. 7 he ran the varsity and guided the faltering team to an 8-6 finish. His Jayhawks won eight of their last 11 games after dropping the first three by a total of 10 points.

Engleman was national president of the KU Alumni Association in 1953-54 and the school doesn't have a more devoted alum.

Consider the credit Schnellbacher and Engleman have reflected on KU in contrast to the ongoing fiasco of Bob Knight at Indiana. Sure, Bob's won three national titles and 11 league crowns in 29 years but he's also been a constant source of irritation and embarrassment to the school because of his lack of self-control.

I'm sick and tired of hearing clacks like Dick Vitale croaking about "The General." Knight's about as much a general as I am a Pulitzer Prize-winner. So Bob admires Blood-and-Guts George Patton and loves such a title. Hell, I have a brother who's a fine dentist I admire and I can't fill teeth.

Further, if I were in "Gen." Knight's outfit, I'd be scared to death I'd be some nameless entity thrown in the maw of battle to satisfy his ego if he didn't slap or choke me to death first. I can't imagine any school in the Big Eight-Twelve letting a major sports coach get away with Last Chance Knight's mad dog muckerism.

It's a source of comfort and pride for me as a KU grad to know there are so many Schnellbachers and Englemans to be proud of and nobody even close to the boorishness of Bob Knight. I hope he never gets those 117 additional victories to bypass Dean Smith, another Jayhawk source of pride, on the college victory list!

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