Archive for Saturday, November 6, 2004

Mayer: Where are you, Wildcatman?

November 6, 2004


Ted Owens denies he had a hand in the Crafty Cat Curtain Caper of 1965. But he knows who did it and how, even if nobody seems to know the inventive rascal's name.

Unofficially, the perpetrator was dubbed Wildcatman. Is he still prowling somewhere among us?

The ultra-clever prank was relived just prior to Ted's return for the nostalgic "Ted Owens and Friends" testimonial Thursday at the Holidome. It was a warm and lively occasion with laughs galore, even if a lot of the guffaw-producing yarns were more spin than fact.

It was Owens' first year as KU's head basketball man. He'd spent the previous four years as Dick Harp's assistant. Kansas State downed Kansas, 71-63, on Jan. 20 in Manhattan and came here heavily favored, having won eight straight from the Jayhawks.

With 8:02 left in the first half and Kansas leading 23-9, a pair of 6-by-12-foot banners rolled down over the scoreboard, one on the east, the other on the west. The message was, "Go Cats ... Kill Snob Hill ... Again!" The commanding KU lead wasn't what the overconfident perpetrator had in mind.

Rather than halt the game for repairs, KU officials like Skinny Replogle opted to wait until halftime. Most, however, couldn't see the board because of the drapes. The incomparable Ed Elbel delighted in announcing the score after each bucket, savoring it to the hilt since favored K-State was en route to an 86-66 defeat. It was 42-26 at the half. Key men for KU that year were Walt Wesley, Al Lopes, Del Lewis, Riney Lochmann, Ron Franz and Capt. David Schichtle.

Oklahoma State won the league title so KU, 17-8, saw no NCAA Tournament action. No 65-team field then; runners-up stayed home.

With every point-total announcement on that freaky Feb. 20 night, Kansas fans chanted, each time a little louder, "What's the score, K-State? What's the score?" Jayhawks jubilated, Cats cringed.

Reflecting on the incident with chuckles, Ted says it was pretty well documented that a K-State engineering graduate doing advance work at KU carried it off.

"Apparently he went in with a group of cheerleaders practicing the night before, hid out until after they'd closed the doors and got up on the catwalk and scoreboard to work it out," Ted explains. "Sure had a lot guts. You'd never get me up there that high, working atop a scoreboard suspended by cables."

The scoreboard was 60 feet above the floor, dangling on cables 30 feet below the catwalk. Could this Cat fly?

KU and KSU had signed a peace pact after harmful vandalism before prior games. Wildcatman painted a broken scroll on one curtain and an exploding firecracker on the other to signal the pact was broken -- though delightfully. The banners had two-pound weights at the corners to help them drop and curtain rods at the bottom to hold them rigid and readable.

"One of those weights could have dropped off and killed somebody," Owens says.

There was another ingenious aspect. The drop was triggered by heat from the scoreboard, Owens explained, so nobody would get caught triggering any cables. Security certainly was a lot more lax in those days, but you still have to give Wildcatman undying admiration for his caper.

One K-State grad living here got in a marvelous jab with: "You have the perfect contrast between the basic research they emphasize at KU and the applied research we're into at Manhattan. At KU, they'd ponder and come up with a thousand theories how to do something like this -- at K-State, our kids just go out and do it."

Adding to the mystery was that the afternoon of the game the scoreboard was lowered to floor level to insert the KSU team sign. Nobody noticed any irregularities. The scoreboard then was cranked up by an electric pulley and the control box was locked. Entries to the catwalk always were sealed off; there was no easy way to get in through the roof.

Could Cary Grant have been practicing his cat burglar routines for that great film with Grace Kelly, "To Catch a Thief"? Neither Cary nor Wildcatman got caught.

Owens has numerous sources for personal pride but none of them supercedes his affection for his hometown of Hollis, Okla. Hollis once was a fountainhead of Oklahoma athletic stars, including Owens, a 1949-51 guard at OU. As a 1951 senior Ted averaged 10.8 points before moving on to coaching. He was noted for his two-handed set shot.

About the time Teddy was wheeling and dealing for coach Bruce Drake, the Norman campus was graced by other Hollis products such as All-American football quarterback Darrell Royal, fullback Leon Heath and Sooner grid linemen Leon Manley and J.W. Cole. During that time, four of the top 22 starters on Bud Wilkinson's grid roster were Hollisites. Then add track stars Bill Cummings and Merwin McConnell. That's darn good for a town of about 3,000.

Don't forget baseball stars Lindy and Von McDaniel? They didn't go to OU, but were spawned by Hollis.

Another Hollis guy who gained fame was sportscaster Monte Moore, who once headed the Kansas sports net, handled major league baseball microphones for teams like the Kansas City Athletics and later located in the northwest. Monte also had the good fortune to marry basketball coach Drake's daughter, Deonne.

Adding some of his great verbal touches to the Owens honor session was the inimitable Don Fambrough, who had been honored by the Bert Nash Mental Health Center the year before. Don wondered if the Nash people had reserved a rubber room for Ted the way they had for Don.

Noting that Missouri's Norm Stewart couldn't make it because he was being honored with an arena court dedication in Columbia, Don snorted: "Missouri folks ... have never come here when they were invited." Like Buckskin Billy Quantrill.

Both Fambrough (twice) and Owens were ousted from KU jobs, and Ted jokes how they told him they were "taking the program in a new direction." Quipped Don: "Ted and I started here about the same time and got fired about the same time."

Formally gone, maybe, but not forgotten.

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