Combined, retired newspaper men Chuck Woodling and Bill Mayer worked for the Journal-World for more than 100 years, which is another way of saying they watched many, many bad football teams toil on the wrong end of blowouts.
KU has lost its last two football games by a combined score of 114-14, but neither Lawrence resident considers this team the worst he has seen.
“What a mess!” Mayer e-mailed after the Baylor fiasco. “But it’s been worse. In 1954, Chuck Mather’s first year, KU went 0-10 for the first time in its history and the closest it came to anyone was 18 points, losing to Southern Methodist in a driving rain in the Dallas Cotton Bowl. Head SMU coach happened to be Chalmer Woodard, former Lawrence High genius.”
Mayer, a Jayhawker at heart, went on to write that the North Dakota State debacle was the worst game he had seen by a “Jayhawk crew” in 65 years.
“Right now, a 2-10 record is about the only thing a realist would project,” he wrote before the gridders of KU fell 52 points short against the men from Manhattan on Thursday.
Nights such as that explain why Mayer devoted more space to scribing about cagers than footballers.
The first KU football game Woodling remembered covering was the third of the 1968 season, a 68-7 KU victory against New Mexico.
The ’68 Jayhawks, captained by John Zook, lost, 15-14, to Penn State in the Orange Bowl. Woodling was well on his way to covering a KU football dynasty, except that the squad went 1-9 the next season. But that ’69 bunch wasn’t the worst Woodling covered. That dubious distinction belonged to Glen Mason’s first team, which went 1-10 in 1988.
“That team had players who didn’t fit where they were playing,” Woodling said. “There really wasn’t anybody who fit the mold of what you would think a player at that position would be. They had maybe a 6-foot-7, 210-pound defensive tackle, a 5-9, 210-pound freshman nose guard walk-on. The defense on that team was a lot like the defense on this team in that it was slow.”
Mason didn’t recruit those players.
“He tried to toughen them up,” Woodling said. “One of the first things he did was get them up early and get them to run up the 14th Street hill. Pretty steep hill. If you talked to them, they would tell you they didn’t enjoy that very much. He tried to squeeze what he could out of them. I thought for sure that team wouldn’t win a game, but somehow it beat K-State late in the year.”
Woodling said of passes from Kelly Donohoe to Willie Vaughn, “That was basically their whole offense.”
What makes these Jayhawks better than those?
“It has players who seem to fit where they’re playing,” Woodling said. “But they don’t have anybody who can make anything happen. They don’t have anybody on defense who can make a play to turn things around to give them some spark, some enthusiasm.
“On offense, they don’t seem to have anyone who can make a big play. Big plays are really important in football.”
So are big, fast recruits. How many of those Turner Gill and staff land will determine how long they stay in Lawrence.