Columbia, Mo. Not too many weeks ago, when the Jayhawks were in the early stages of their losing malady, Kansas University football coach Mark Mangino vowed his players would never give up.
"The wheels," Mangino stressed, "will not come off."
Mangino did not specify how many wheels, however, but after Saturday's 36-12 loss to Missouri it was clear at least two tires were flat quarterback Bill Whittemore's left leg and place-kicker Johnny Beck's right leg.
Whittemore has had a slow leak all season, absorbing blow after blow but still maintaining enough inflation to keep moving on down the road. And then the rubber hit the rim late in the third quarter when Whittemore was sandwiched by Missouri defenders Russ Bell and Sean Doyle.
If you're looking for irony, Doyle is a son of Mickey Doyle, a starting linebacker on KU's 1968 Orange Bowl team.
Anyway, without Whittemore, Kansas clearly will not be the same on offense. Replacing Whittemore with Jonas Weatherbie, a journeyman fifth-year senior, is like jacking up your vehicle and putting on one of those donut spares. You can still drive, but not for long.
Then there is Beck. KU's sophomore kicker had a complete blowout on Saturday, missing two field goals and an extra point. Then again, Beck has been running with a nail in his tire for weeks now. Has any KU field-goal kicker ever missed eight attempts in a row? I doubt it. Beck is really bumming, so much so that he was not made available to the media after his latest deflating performance.
In Beck's defense, it should be noted the natural grass at Faurot Field was not in the best shape for kickers. Even Missouri's Michael Matheny had some problems.
"It was really wet out there," said KU holder-punter Curtis Ansel. "I was having a tough time with my plant foot on punts. The surface was clumpy and in places there wasn't any grass."
If you're looking for an irony, Missouri earned three points for winning the first football game in the overblown Border War promotion announced last week, and Kansas, thanks to Beck's woes, can't buy a three-pointer.
On another front, I'm not sure if it's a school record, but Kansas has now had two opponents' fans tear down a goal post this season. A few weeks ago, Baylor's faithful crumpled a post after the Bears edged KU and ended a four-year conference losing streak. On Saturday, Missouri's north goal post went down, and I'm not really sure why.
How often do the fans of a 22-point favorite mob a goal after a 24-point win? At the same time, how often do you see a team's players incite the fans to attack the metal tubes? And in the same breath, how often do you see a dozen or so goal post-razers escorted out in handcuffs?
At times like that, it makes you wonder if the Kansas-Missouri rivalry would be this intense for Missourians if there were a Missouri State University.
As it was, the gold-and-black-cladders were celebrating in a gridiron theater of the absurd after disposing of a crimson-and-blue 18-wheeler with two flat tires.