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Monday, July 28, 2014

Best of 2010: KU's comeback against Colorado was unforgettable

BY J. BRADY McCOLLOUGH
The Wichita Eagle

The Eagle's sports staff looks back at the Best of 2010. Each writer shares a memorable moment from his or her beat.

When the Kansas football game against Colorado kicked off this year, I was not in the Memorial Stadium press box. It felt odd, but then again, it had been an odd season.

At that point, the Jayhawks had seemingly reversed everything accomplished by former coach Mark Mangino. In eight games under Turner Gill, they had lost to an FCS program, North Dakota State, and been bludgeoned by Baylor, Kansas State and Texas A&M.

Here was this game against Colorado, which was also winless in the Big 12, and the game was not televised. There was a feeling coming in that the game would be nowhere near a sellout, which had actually become a frequent occurrence during the last few seasons of KU football. My assignment from my editor was to capture a retro fall Saturday in Lawrence that would feel more like the Terry Allen days than the recent good times.

I decided the best way to start the day would be talking with the fans who were more interested in tailgating than seeing the first quarter. I call this process "scene hunting," and I picked up the vibe quickly. One KU fan joked that "We used to enjoy a couple drinks before the game. Now, we need a couple drinks before the game." Another said Kansas should bring Mangino back. Scene gathered, I headed for the press box with the first quarter nearly complete.

By halftime, the Jayhawks were trailing the woeful Buffaloes 35-10. Could KU really be this bad? CU quarterback Cody Hawkins, who at some point in his career had become a punch line, had completed 20 of 24 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns. KU was hopeless, which fit right along with my presumed storyline.

As I prepared to write a very gloomy piece about the state of the Kansas football program just three seasons removed from winning the Orange Bowl, Turner Gill was in the locker room telling his players "Get ready for the biggest comeback ever." I'm sure they didn't believe him. How could they, without being totally unrealistic?

Colorado built a 45-17 lead early in the fourth quarter. The stage was certainly set for the biggest comeback ever.

What happened next I'll never be able to explain, and that's OK. Kansas drove for a touchdown, which seemed pretty meaningless. But with 11 minutes left, Gill called for an onside kick, which KU recovered. Gill said that was the moment when he felt the tide turn. Maybe his players felt it, too. I still hadn't felt anything. Then quarterback Quinn Mecham found Johnathan Wilson for a 38-yard touchdown pass.

I started to feel that something noteworthy was happening, so I headed down for the field. I wanted to soak up as much atmosphere as I could in case the unthinkable occurred. If nothing else, the tone of my story was beginning to change.

Soon after I arrived on the field, KU's Tyler Patmon returned a Colorado fumble for a touchdown. Two plays later, he intercepted a pass. This was utterly ridiculous. The Jayhawks tied the game, then forced a Colorado punt, then took the lead on James Sims' fourth touchdown run of the game.

The greatest comeback in school history was watched by about 25,000 fans. People would have to watch the local news for the bare-minimum highlights. It was like being teleported to the 1980s.

No doubt, this was the best moment in KU sports in 2010. Sure, the Jayhawks went 3-9, but that third win was so phenomenal and seemed to say something about the type of man that Turner Gill is. He was able to see a positive thing happening with nothing but negatives swirling around him, and for 12 unbelievable minutes of football, the Jayhawks saw the world the same way as their coach. Nobody who was there will ever forget the result.

Check J. Brady McCollough's KU blog at blogs.kansas.com/jayhawk. Reach him at jmccollough@wichitaeagle.com.

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