Football in Kansas

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October 10th 2015
Published: October 11th 2015
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Saturday was quite the day - not so much for sightseeing, but for spectating. And it was an all-Kansas day: I woke up in Kansas, drove around Kansas, and spent the night in Kansas.

As I mentioned at the start of this trip, one of the primary reasons to go was to see my TCU Horned Frogs play some football in person. Last night was the first of those games. But before I left home, I found tickets to the Baylor-Kansas football game for $9 online, and I couldn't pass that up. One of my life-goals (because I hate the phrase "bucket list") is to visit all of the FBS football stadiums; what better way to visit than to attend a game? Plus, Baylor is reputed to be a good school (ranked #3 as of this writing). By all accounts, they are the biggest obstacle for TCU to get into the national championship game, so I thought I would scope out the competition.

The University of Kansas (abbreviated and called KU for some reason) is a beautiful campus. It's situated on two levels, with the academic buildings atop the hill and the football stadium and fields in a valley below. The drive in to the campus was uneventful and flat. It took less than an hour to get from my hotel to the campus, 45 miles away. As someone accustomed to heavy gameday traffic, this was a pleasant surprise. I parked at the bookstore and took the campus shuttle to the stadium. I didn't really need to take the shuttle, but the parking attendants insisted that this was one of the perks of parking in their lot. For as long as we had to wait before the bus took off, I could've walked to the stadium in the same time. But it was a pleasant ride and I got to see stuff that I probably wouldn't have seen. The mascot for Kansas is the Jayhawk, and they have several statues of the creature around campus. Once off the bus, I walked to the Union, which had food and a bookstore that was open. I like to get pennants from schools I visit, though I came up empty today. They were all too big and too expensive. I like the smaller ones that cost about $8, but these were at least $15 and the larger size. I'm not getting a pennant that big from a school I care that little about. So I settled for a small pin - I was wearing blue shorts and a red shirt, the school colors for Kansas, but I had on a TCU hat and a black jacket; I'm sure people were pretty confused.

The pre-game festivities were nothing special, though there is a large hill where a lot of tailgating goes on, just outside the stadium. I got to watch the band march in, and I did have a couple people ask me if I had driven up from Fort Worth (my TCU hat), and even a few saying I was at the wrong game. I always let them know that I would be at the right game later on in the evening. Once inside the stadium, it became very warm. The temperature was still in the 50s, but the sun game was strong. I've now got a sunburn on my face from my time there. My seat was phenomenal - row one, seat one, at the corner of the end zone. The band was 2 sections away, so a good distance for being heard but not overpowered. There really weren't a lot of people at the game. The "good seats" on the home sideline looked pretty filled up, but elsewhere, not so much. There was a decent Baylor contingent, and even some of them right behind me. I thought that would make a perfect reason to be on TV - cute kids with a Baylor flag behind me, the guy in front with TCU hat on. Come on, TV people - this was made for broadcasting! One of the kids in Kansas gear asked the guy patrolling the field whether he would allow us to "storm the field" if we won. The guy and I traded smirks and he said, "of course." Optimism.

The game was rather uninteresting. It was competitive for about 10 minutes, until Baylor went up 21-7. Then it turned ugly. By the half, it was 52-7, so I decided I had better places to be than getting sunburnt. Baylor certainly looked like a championship-caliber team, but I don't know if Kansas is a true measuring stick for that.

The drive to Manhattan was uneventful, as well. I had no traffic leaving Lawrence, and even in Manhattan, there was little backup. I know I got there 3.5 hours before kickoff, but still. I managed to get a space about 2 blocks from the stadium from some local youth group at their church. Convenient. The people in Manhattan were universally friendly. And really, it was a bit disorienting to see all this purple, but still know that most of it was the "enemy." I heard several K-State fans saying the same thing as they passed by me. You would think they would've called for a black-out or a white-out, but no. Thus, when we got into the stadium, it looked like we were all on the same side; really, from behind, you couldn't tell at all.

Once I picked up my tickets at the Visiting Team Will Call, I went in and checked out the stadium. It was pretty nice. The architecture, as I found out during the game, was intended to amplify the volume of the home crowd. Really, there's no way less than 60,000 people could make that much noise. Well done, K-State folks. Along the southern end of the concourse, there is a "county fair" feel - they've allowed several booths/tents to be set up that sell things like purple popcorn, funnel cakes, and a thing called a "potato tornado" (see the pictures). I had to try one of those. Lots of sodium, and it really tastes like the good, thick potato chips have been skewered for ease of eating. They told me they make a "hot dog tornado," which means that they put a hot dog in the middle of that thing. I wasn't that adventurous. Inside the stadium, the K-State fans were never rude to us at all. The TCU section was a small sliver of one corner of the end zone - if this were any other stadium, and any other team, we could've told by the difference in color. There were small pockets of TCU fans elsewhere, but my section was the most concentrated,

There was a family behind me with two small boys, and they were all into the game. When TCU started to do poorly, I thought the dad was going to lose it. Their tone with their children wasn't the most ... parental. I mean, we started the game with a touchdown, the first play from scrimmage. That was a nice way to start, but it didn't keep up. According to Vegas, TCU were ~10-point favorites. We got up to 17-14, but then it all went to pot. Some poor defense, questionable calling by the refs, and a turnover had us down 35-17 at halftime. The mood in our section was dour; elsewhere, they were jubilant. I would've been, too: an unranked team leading the #2 team in the nation by 18 points! But no one left.

In the 2nd half, things turned around. You could feel the momentum building in our section, and slowly but surely, you could feel it seeping out of the home crowd. We cut their lead to 4 by the end of the 3rd quarter, and even though they scored early in the 4th to go back up by 11, there was no stopping Trevone Boykin from putting this team in the win column. I was reminded a lot of the many Georgia games I attended in the 2013 season (all of them). I definitely got my money's worth at K-State. And the only time the home crowd was rude to any of us was during the game - when their team did something good, the people around us celebrated at us, instead of with each other. That's just classy. But once it was over, no one yelled at me, or cussed at me, or spat on me. Walking through the parking lot after the game, I had one guy make a point to say "good game," to me, and then when I was almost back to my car, an older lady actually grabbed my hand and said, "That was a good game." We all agreed that no one could've predicted it to go like that. That's for sure.

The drive to my hotel was uneventful. Lots of dark, flat land. Very few lights, if any. But the roads are straight! I had to stop at a gas station; I guess I should say "the" gas station, since it took 40 miles from leaving the game before I encountered one. I figured I could make it to the hotel, but I just wanted to be safe. The station, though, had no one inside, and the lights were off; but the pump was lit up and on. So I filled up in the middle of nowhere, with no one around. Then I got to my hotel, and that was my Saturday.

Additional photos below
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11th October 2015
Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, KS

Excitement is in the air.

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