Archive for Friday, July 14, 2006

Woodling: Shocker football had high

Now-defunct squad hit its stride vs. KU

July 14, 2006


Every school kid knows Gettysburg was the high-water mark of the Confederacy.

But how many people know the site of the high-water mark of Wichita State University football? Yes, football.

If you're under the age of 25, you have little or no recollection of that sport at Wichita State because the Shockers played their last game in 1986.

Nevertheless, every now and then, somebody in the state's largest city talks boldly about a resurrection - a couple of weeks ago it was Wichita mayor Carlos Mayans - only to be hit over the head by the reality that WSU football has gone the way of the mastodon, the Studebaker and the hot-air popcorn popper.

Not that Wichita State football was ever on the same level with Kansas or Kansas State. The state's two biggest universities were fueled by Big Eight Conference TV and bowl money. WSU operated on the fumes of home gate admissions and road guarantees.

On Mount Oread, Wichita State football was viewed with disdain. Why play the Shockers? KU would have everything to lose and nothing to gain by scheduling them.

That is, until oil prices began skyrocketing in the late 1970s and major universities around the country began to drop long charter airline flights like so many wet footballs.

For example, Kansas and UCLA had signed a contract in the late '70s to play home-and-home football games in 1982 and 1983. In the meantime, OPEC had spiked its prices and major college athletic directors were looking desperately for money-saving options.

Thus evolved geographic expediency, a philosophy that remains more or less in effect today, and one certain to continue unless somebody invents a hybrid airliner with engines that use a combination of jet fuel and soybean oil.

OPEC had, in effect, forced Kansas to swallow its pride and schedule Wichita State. As a matter of fact, so eager were the Shockers to meet the Jayhawks that they agreed to play in Lawrence for three straight seasons - 1982, 1983 and 1984.

This was big news at the time because during the first seven decades of the 20th Century, Kansas and Wichita State had met in football only four times, the last time in 1946.

And so, on Sept. 11, 1982, Wichita State came to Memorial Stadium to meet the Jayhawks for the first time in 36 years.

You know what happened, don't you?

The Shockers pulled a stunner. WSU quarterback Prince McJunkins - still one of the greatest names in college football history - threw a 50-yard touchdown pass with three minutes remaining, and coach Willie Jeffries' team held on for a headline-making 13-10 victory.

A year later, the Shockers came back to Lawrence and were smashed, 57-6. Then, in '84, WSU returned for the final game of the three-game contract and was thumped 31-7.

Two years after that, WSU players put away their shoulder pads for the last time, leaving that September afternoon in 1982 as the high-water mark of Wheatshocker football.


Bob Reinsch 11 years, 10 months ago

A couple of things that Mr. Woodling might add to the story...

Yep. Wichita State did have there football program cancelled, 15 years after a plane crash killed many players and coaches - WSU couldn't make it, but Marshall, after having suffered a similiar fate, found a way to survice.

Who was the Athletic Director at WSU at the time? Don't have to look very far for the answer to that one... Hi, Lou!

One of the fabulous ironies of the day - Just after WSU had cancelled the program, the 1987 Street & Smith's College Preview came out with the rankings of all of the college football programs... and Wichita State was still ranked higher than Kansas State.

The last WSU football player in the NFL was James "Jumpy" Geathers, a defensive end who earned two Superbowl rings with Washington, and might have had a third if he hadn't been injured in preseason when Denver won their first ring.

Also, there is still one Shocker left in the NFL... The Big Tuna, Bill Parcells, Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys, played and got his first assistant coaching gig at WSU.

Steve Jacob 11 years, 10 months ago

Best way to get around Title IX, dump the football team.

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