Saying the word Missouri isn't the only way to make Don Fambrough's blood boil. State the opinion that Kansas high schools are barren in the area of sending football talent to colleges and be prepared for return fire.
"I get so sick of hearing that," Fambrough said from a chair in his back yard. "That's always been a pretty big issue with me. We've had so many."
He proceeded to list a number of players from small Kansas towns and told the story of when Pepper Rodgers first took the head coaching job at Kansas, leaving UCLA, where he was an assistant to Tommy Prothro.
"We had a long talk the day he took the job and that's when he hired me to be an assistant," Fambrough said. "Then he flew back to Los Angeles because he had some things to do. Two days later, he called me from UCLA and said, 'Don, I'm coming into town and I'll only be there a short time. I want you to pick out who you think is the best high school prospect in the state and we'll go see him.' I said, 'Pepper, that's no problem. I already know who the best prospect in the state of Kansas is, maybe the whole world. I'll drive you up there.'''
Rodgers, Fambrough remembered, was used to the big-city lights and began to get very impatient as they winded through country roads in the pitch black of night.
"When we got up there within eight miles of John Riggins' house, we got on a cow trail, I mean an actual cow trail. I bet Pepper asked me five or six times, 'Are you sure he's the best prospect?' 'No doubt about it, Pepper. I've been recruiting him since he was a sophomore.' I think Pepper was about ready to fire me. Then we knocked on the door and this body just about filled the whole doorway. That's when Pepper finally believed me."
Riggins was from Centralia, Nolan Cromwell from Ransom, Galen Fiss from Johnson, near the Colorado border, and Harold Patterson was from Roselle, Fambrough said, listing several others.
Not many schools, picking from their all-time rosters, could field a backfield as talented as KU's John Hadl, Riggins and Gale Sayers. (Syracuse comes to mind as one that's even better: Jim Brown, Larry Csonka, Donovan McNabb). What do Hadl, Riggins and Sayers have in common? They all were born in Kansas. Sayers was reared in Omaha, but he was born in Wichita.
Any concerns about the level of competition Kerry Meier faced in high school should be eliminated by studying the size of his hometown, compared to that of the hometowns of Riggins (population 534) and Cromwell (334). The turn-of-the-century census listed Pittsburg's population as 19,243. Salina, hometown of small, fleet running back Jake Sharp, was listed at 45,679.
"Look at where Riggins played," Fambrough said. "I think he played eight-man football and also played the tuba at halftime. And not too many people recruited him for playing the tuba."
Talking about Meier, who figures to be KU's starting quarterback for the next four seasons, Fambrough likened him to a "right-handed Bobby Douglass. He can run, he can throw, and he's big. This kid looks as promising as any kid I've ever seen."
As was the case with Douglass, Meier sometimes can put too much zip on the ball. That's fine. It's easier taking something off a fastball that putting a little something extra on it.