Kansas University football fans, particularly since 2005, understandably have become optimists. A 38-17 record, including the current 5-0, and three bowl victories will do that to followers who too often have been triumph-deprived. KU’s overall record of 566-543-58 is far from shameful, but it has suffered too many droughts.
Yet while it’s OK for onlookers to think KU has a fairly easy touch tonight at Colorado, a Jayhawk football team which doesn’t view this test with fear, maybe even terror, is in perfect shape to get ambushed. Particularly if the linebackers and secondary can’t muster far fiercer restrictive actions than they did in the squeaker past Iowa State.
Lots of folks don’t seem to realize that Colorado holds a 41-24-3 series lead on Kansas and enjoys a 23-9 advantage at Boulder. The Buffaloes, whatever their problems, have a history of yanking the rug from beneath KU’s collective feet.
Kansas repeatedly has sent promising teams to Colorado with a crying need for a victory and has been sent home shedding tears. The 1961 Jayhawk club with stratospheric preseason hopes suffered one of the hardest slaps in the face in league history. Imagine leading, 19-0, two minutes into the fourth quarter and losing, 20-19.
While the heralded 1961 KU season ended 7-3-1, and the cold winter was a little warmer due to a Bluebonnet Bowl victory over Rice, there was a near-disastrous start, and Colorado drove a third nail into the coffin. KU had a fantastic 1960 season that officially was a 7-2-1 before a pair of forfeits to Colorado and Missouri were forced by the Bert Coan ineligibility case.
Most of those ’60 stars were back in ’61, and the Jayhawk Nation sensed a brilliant run-up to the Missouri finale. Talented KU planned revenge since its 23-7 romp over the unbeaten Tigers in ’60 was snatched away mainly by MU finagling in the league-meeting room.
The ’61 start, however, was a debacle. A TCU field goal created a 17-16 upset in the season opener; then Bob Devaney guided Wyoming to a 6-6 tie here. The Colorado game was seen as KU’s first victory. With Texas A&M; transfer Rodger McFarland playing quarterback and normal QB John Hadl back at left half, where he had been as a sophomore, the Jayhawks powered to a 19-0 lead.
Also working in that KU backfield were Curtis McClinton, Lee Flachsbarth, Jim Jarrett and Ken Coleman. Enter CU quarterback Gale Weidner, who used ends Ken Blair and Jerry Hillebrand to get the three TDs. Hillebrand kicked the deciding points. Wally Barnes booted the lone KU extra point; McClinton fell short on a pair of two-point conversion rushes.
What had shaped up as one of KU’s greatest years was off to an 0-2-1 start. The next week, Kansas got on track with a 21-7 victory over Iowa State, and ran off a 6-0 string until it was dumped (ouch!) by Missouri, 10-7. A lot of politicking by coach Jack Mitchell and friend Bud Adams of Houston allowed KU (7-3-1) to save face and salvage pride in the Bluebonnet Bowl.
That ’61 KU team, top to bottom, was better than this 2009 edition. It got sidetracked at Colorado; the same could happen to the ’09 guys tonight. Let’s hope the thin air, rebound-eager Buffaloes and a highly questionable KU defense don’t combine to keep these Jayhawks from greeting Oklahoma with a 6-0 record.