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Archive for Saturday, September 6, 2008

Keegan: Big Mike deserves honor

September 6, 2008

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Finally, Kansas University lineman Mike McCormack's name goes up on the Ring of Honor at halftime of tonight's football game against Louisiana Tech.

McCormack doesn't have the name recognition of a Gale Sayers or a John Riggins, a John Hadl or even a Bobby Douglass.

Sayers ran the football with such speed and grace that he still jumps out of your television when his Chicago Bears highlights are shown.

McCormack didn't have the flashy personality of a Riggins or a Douglass. And he didn't hold the football, where most fans' eyes focus.

Yet, an argument could be made no KU football player accomplished more in the sport of football than McCormack, whose blocking for the Cleveland Browns earned him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. McCormack went on to serve in the NFL as a coach and club executive.

Those who worked with him in those capacities use similar words to describe him as those who played with him at Kansas, words such as strong, powerful, quiet, dignified, classy, smart and mature.

Many who witnessed McCormack eulogize his former college and pro teammate Galen Fiss called it the most moving memory of a man they ever had heard.

McCormack played varsity football for KU from 1948-50, when J.V. Sikes was the coach. As a freshman ineligible to play varsity football, he and classmates played against George Sauer's varsity squad on the baseball diamonds where the new football practice fields now are located, staying out there until someone scored. Under McCormack's leadership, that made for extra-long practices.

McCormack will enjoy his weekend as much to reunite with and swap stories with former teammates.

This story might even be told by Don Fambrough, then an assistant coach: Coach Sikes liked to honor McCormack's consistent commitment to excellence by calling him "Big Mike." One day while the team was scrimmaging, Sikes called for a simple dive play. McCormack's assignment was to block the linebacker. In atypical fashion, McCormack rubbed up against the linebacker in half-hearted fashion.

Instantly, it didn't feel right to McCormack, giving less than his best on a play.

"Coach, let's run that play again," McCormack said.

"No, Mike, in football you get only one chance," Sikes said. "Either you do it the first time or you don't do it. No second chance."

And then Sikes twisted the dagger.

"By the way," Sikes said, "I can't call you Big Mike anymore."

Back in the huddle, Fambrough said, tears streamed down McCormack's face. Sikes ran the next couple of plays away from McCormack, twisting the dagger a little deeper. And then Sikes went into the huddle and called the dive play again. Teammates braced themselves for one of the loudest explosions they ever would hear. McCormack flattened the poor linebacker.

"You're Big Mike again," Sikes said.

Lesson learned, Big Mike never again gave less than his best on a play. With a young KU offensive line struggling to find its way, it's nice timing to have the best blocker in school history honored, his story told.

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