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Archive for Saturday, October 27, 2001

KU, KSU have produced some real stinkers

October 27, 2001

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Every now and then, when Kansas and Kansas State are struggling as both teams are now, in the Big 12 standings anyway long-time fans of both schools often sit around and argue about the worst game ever played between the two Sunflower State rivals.

I'm not talking about lopsided games. At least one side is happy about those. I'm talking about games that cause fans from both schools to hold their noses.

The record book shows a couple of scoreless ties in the series, but those were back in 1916 and 1923 when a touchdown was as rare as a goal in soccer.

In modern times, the leading candidates for the worst game in the Kansas-Kansas State football series are the 3-3 tie in 1966 and the 17-17 deadlock in 1987. Both contests were in Manhattan.

I didn't cover the 3-3 knot back in '66, but I talked to a sportswriter who did and I'll never forget him walking into the office and blurting: "I just saw the worst football game I've ever seen."

That stinker was played at K-State's old campus stadium still standing, by the way, as a monument, I presume, to bad college football and is known as The Thermus Butler Game.

Kansas was trailing 3-0 and K-State was running out the clock. However, KU's Bill Lynch blind-sided K-State quarterback Bill Nossek who fumbled and KU cornerback Bill Hunt recovered at the KSU 30-yard line with only 50 seconds remaining.

On first down, quarterback Bobby Douglass later an All-American but a callow sophomore then lost three yards trying to run. Moments later, Douglass tossed a 12-yard pass to tight end Sandy Buda who was hauled down at the KSU 21.

Time was running out so Douglass took the next snap and threw the ball out of bounds. So with :04 showing, Butler, a reserve sophomore tailback, ran onto the field to attempt a 36-yard field goal.

The kick was good. It was Butler's first field goal as a collegian. And his last. He played some tailback in 1967, but never attempted another three-pointer.

Thus Kansas had salvaged a 3-3 tie with a team that would finish with an 0-9-1 record. Kansas wound up 2-7-1 that year. It was Jack Mitchell's ninth season as the Jayhawks' head coach. His last, too. Mitchell's "lifetime" contract was bought out for $14,000, a nice hunk of change in those days.

Then there was the 1987 KU-KSU game which gave birth to the notion the Sunflower Sundown should be dubbed the Toilet Bowl instead.

Kansas bused to Manhattan in early November of '87 with just one victory, a 16-15 squeaker over NCAA Div. I-AA Southern Illinois. K-State hadn't won a game, but the Wildcats should have won this one.

With the score knotted at 17-17 late in the fourth quarter, Kansas quarterback Kevin Verdugo fumbled and the 'Cats recovered. Two plays and a personal foul later, the clock forced the Wildcats' Mark Porter to attempt a 28-yard field goal.

I remember standing in the end zone so I could have a view of Porter's kick. It was a dead-on attempt. No way he could miss it.

Then the darnedest thing happened. It was like the entire middle of K-State's offensive line parted. Into the huge gap ran KU strong safety Marvin Mattox to block the attempt and doom K-State to a winless season.

Yes, the 'Cats wound up 0-10-1 in '87 while the Jayhawks concluded 1-9-1, defeating only the I-AA Salukis. After the season, KU head coach Bob Valesente was fired after only two years on the job.

Mattox, though, would have another happy moment months later. Added to the KU men's basketball team because of a shortage of bodies, Mattox earned an NCAA championship ring after the Jayhawks stunned Oklahoma in the 1988 title contest in Kansas City's Kemper Arena.

Mattox also would utter one of the most memorable quotes after KU had won its first NCAA title in 36 years.

"This," Mattox said during the post-game celebration, "is better than birth."

It was definitely better than the 1966 and 1987 Kansas-Kansas State football games.

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