Fifty-five years ago this March 18, eight Santa Fe Railway cars of Kansas basketball fans rattled in and back for a Jayhawk basketball game that jammed Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium with 10,000-plus bodies. Round-trip fare, honest: $1.84.
Santa Fe's Ellis Addy and Union Pacific's John Robinson, the local agents, often helped organize rail trips for KU sports events in Lincoln, Columbia and Manhattan. Innumerable great times were had on those rolling drunk tanks.
A skinny Lawrence kid with broadcast ambitions made his microphone debut that same night in '46. Does the name Max Falkenstien ring a bell? The Kirk Douglas look-alike is now in his 55th year as a radio personality. WREN folks (the station was in Lawrence at the time) asked Lips if he'd like to try it. A Lawrence-bred radio part-timer while going to KU, Max leaped at the chance. What thrills, laughs and heartaches since.
The bad news from that 1946 occasion, though, was that another great Kansas team which deserved a far better fate was ousted from the NCAA scene. The villain was Oklahoma A&M and its cloud-scraping 7-0 Bob Kurland. A&M otherwise wasn't that much better, only taller in one key spot.
There were no 64-team NCAA fields; a conference could have only one team in the 16-team showdown. The Big Six and Missouri Valley Conference champs had a playoff to determine Fifth District entry.
Kansas was the '46 Big Six champion with a 19-1 record, the lone loss 46-28 to Oklahoma State at Oklahoma City the previous December. A&M had a single defeat, too, 48-37, by Bowling Green in Chicago.
Coaches Phog Allen of Kansas and Hank Iba of A&M already were legends; Phog entered the game with a 9-6 advantage over the Iron Duke. Little wonder people were frothing at the mouth trying to get tickets. Television was only a dream then. Max couldn't have chosen a higher-profile game for his virgin birth as an electronic narrator.
Sadly, the game went according to form. Foothills Kurland, later a two-time Olympic star like Kansas's Bill Hougland, scored 28 points. Even the sensational All-American Charlie Black with help from 6-6 Jack Ballard couldn't cope. The talented 6-4 Charlie fouled out with three minutes left, absolutely a rag doll from his superior effort. Ballard, like Black a military returnee, also was helpless.
Oklahoma A&M went on to beat Baylor and California, then edged North Carolina 43-40 in the title game. With Kurland as a junior, the Cowboys had nipped New York U. 49-45 for the 1945 NCAA crown. They were the first back-to-back NCAA champs.
Other members of the Iba roster in those days were Ceill Hankins, Weldon Kern, Doyle Parrack, J.L. Parks, Blake Williams and Sam Aubrey. Aubrey later head-coached at OSU while Parrack was head man at Oklahoma.
Along with hall-of-famer Charlie Black, a four-time All-America, that '46 KU team had Otto Schnellbacher, Ray Evans, Owen Peck, Gib Stramel, Hoyt Baker, Gene Peterson, Ray Frisby, Don Auten and Wendell Clark. Imagine how quickly a modern team with the equivalent of KU's 19-2 mark would be moved into current 64-club brackets.
Kansas has had a lot of great teams that richly deserved to advance deeply into tourney play, like the brilliant '42-43 outfit. It played its last game and almost overnight its guys dispersed for armed forces duty. Wyoming won the title but KU might easily have taken it all except for that damned war.
There was that sensational 1966 KU club that took a rooking on the officiating at Lubbock and saw a Texas Western team it actually had edged beat Kentucky for the championship. That was the game that supposedly opened the door in college ball for black players. Baloney!
Bill Russell, K.C. Jones and Hal Perry did that in sparking San Francisco to 1955 and 1956 titles. KU under Dick Harp did it with Wilt Chamberlain and Maurice King in 1957. You figured maybe the black athlete had arrived when the 1958 All-American five had Chamberlain, Kansas State's Bob Boozer, Cincinnati's Oscar Robertson, Seattle's Elgin Baylor and Temple's Guy Rodgers. Seven of Harp's top nine men in the early 1960s were minorities.
If that '66 title game so opened Kentuckian Adolph Rupp's eyes, how come Kentucky didn't have a black player on its roster until '71?
As for that Kansas-Oklahoma A&M clash in '46, it was a battle KU couldn't hope to win because of the dominating Kurland. Kurland's emergence and early swat-aways produced the NCAA defensive goal-tending rule for the 1944-45 season. He was amazingly mobile and for my money better than contemporary George Mikan. Then Russell's and Chamberlain's stratospheric capabilities ruled out offensive funneling (goal-tending) by 1957-58.
Great as Kansas was in 1946, it had nobody who could cope with people of that stature. What's worse, the trains don't run anymore and those road trips are much more sanitized. But Old Lips Falkenstien is still with us.
-- Bill Mayer can be reached at 832-7185 on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.