Archive for Sunday, August 22, 2004

Mayer: Former KU football players’ gold medals hardly a trivial feat

August 22, 2004


It's a Jayhawk trivia question that has surfaced at least once every four years since 1960. Truth is, it's far from trivial: Name four former Kansas football players who won gold medals in the Olympic Games.

Since football is not an Olympic event, these guys had to win their gleaming hardware in other ways, which they did -- two in track and field, one in wrestling and one in basketball. Do the names of Jim Bausch, Pete Mehringer, Bill Nieder and Charlie Hoag mean anythin' to ya, as Dean Martin used to ask?

Bausch, from the Wichita area, was an all-Missouri Valley football fullback at Kansas in 1929. Shifted to halfback, Jim sparked KU to the 1930 league title. As a body-banging 6-foot-2, 200-pound center, Jarrin' Jim helped the 1929-30 KU basketball team finish second in the conference. In track, he took the 1930 conference indoor shot put title, then won in the shot put, discus and pole vault at the conference outdoor meet the same year. Little wonder KU coach Brutus Hamilton figured he had decathlon potential.

So 1932 saw Hamilton tutor the entire United States trio -- all from Lawrence -- in the Olympic decathlon at Los Angeles. Bausch won the gold medal while Haskell's Clyde Coffman was fourth and KU pole vaulter Clyde Coffman finished seventh. That feat won Bausch, who later played pro football and dabbled in Hollywood frivolities, the 1932 Sullivan Award, symbolic of the nation's top amateur athlete.

Some still consider Bausch the best all-around athlete KU ever had.

Then there was Pete Mehringer from Kinsley. Pete was an all-conference grid tackle at KU in 1932 and 1933 and qualified for the 1932 U.S. Olympic wrestling team as a heavyweight. But the American coach had a great heavyweight, whom Pete had beaten, and asked Mehringer if he'd shed 17 pounds in 12 days to perform as a light heavyweight, at 191. He barely made the weight and it was felt he'd be too drained for show-time. Pete beat an Australian in the finals and brought home the gold.

Mehringer also played pro football and did movie extra stuntman work before joining the Los Angeles Department of Public Works for a long, productive career. Understandably he's in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Bill Nieder was one of the very greatest of the many great football players Lawrence High once turned out. He would have been a brilliant center/linebacker at Kansas; his freshman season (frosh not varsity-eligible then) had everybody going nuts about his potential. Came the 1953 opener at TCU and Nieder, no surprise, was a starter. Didn't last long because he got a horrible knee injury that required eight hours of surgery just to prevent amputation.

Career as a jock over, right? Bill wouldn't let that happen and spent countless torturous hours rehabbing to the point he won the shot put silver medal at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. More knee troubles, didn't even make the U.S. team for 1960 until somebody else got hurt and Nieder was the replacement (he'd been tutoring the U.S. group and stepped right in). More knee difficulties right up to the 1960 Rome Olympics. Talk about grit. All he did was bring home the shot put gold medal.

What a horrible shame KU never was able to showcase this superb athlete as a footballer. He might have set standards they'd still be trying to meet.

Kansas never has had a better football halfback than Charlie Hoag. The Oak Park, Ill., product was light-speed quick, weighed about 190 and had marvelous athletic instincts to put it all together. He sometimes labored in the shadows of Nebraska's Bobby Reynolds and Oklahoma's Billy Vessels (all three debuted as 1950 sophomores), but Charlie was every bit as good.

Then Hoag at 6-3 had fine sophomore and junior seasons as a Kansas basketeer, joining six other Jayhawks on the Olympic gold medal U.S. team in Helsinki, Finland, in 1952. Ahead was a 1952-53 senior season where Charlie surely would be an All-American gridder and a basketball superstar. He had a sensational Olympic showing and clearly was ready to explode on the court. He'd also been a point-scoring discus man in track.

Another damned knee. Hoag was hurt at Kansas State when he was pushed out of bounds and slipped on a storm drain. He'd already been picked on the Collier's All-America team. No more football or basketball. If he'd been available, KU would have won the 1953 NCAA title game, where it fell by a point to Indiana. With Hoag, it would have been a KU '52-53 doubleton.

So there you have the four Jayhawk gridders who gold-medaled at the Olympics. Nothing trivial about their feats.


Six of KU's football opponents have been listed in a lot of preseason top-25 lineups -- Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas State, Nebraska, Missouri and Toledo. Getting six wins against this litany of treachery will be a monumental chore. Man, when is KU going to lighten up and play patsies like Kansas State uses for tuneups?


Basketball coach Larry Brown has a pretty simple approach to winning: Play fierce defense, share the ball, protect the ball and play smart. More often than not his current collection of self-serving Olympic zillionaires has been batting 0-4. Boy, would a John Stockton or Kirk Hinrich help this bungling bunch!


Something decidedly is out of whack when the athletic director at Kansas University ($420,000) is getting a higher salary than the president of the United States ($400,000). And that doesn't even take into account all those super-perks that KU keeps squirreled away from public view. Wonder if Lew Perkins figures he also ought to have a White House with chauffeured limousines, Secret Service protection and a Jayhawk One superjet.

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