LAWRENCE — The day the streak ended, Baylor’s students flooded onto the field at Casey Stadium before the last seconds had even ticked off the clock.
They had been through four years of suffering and blowout defeats in Waco, Texas. They had lost 29 consecutive Big 12 games, and they carried the stigma that came with the longest losing streak in Big 12 history. Baylor was located in the heart of Texas, but it might as well have been a football wasteland.
On Oct. 5, 2002, Baylor finally broke through. A kicker named Daniel Andino made a 33-yard field goal in the final seconds, and the Bears were all set to finish off a 35-32 victory over Kansas, still in its first season under then-coach Mark Mangino.
As the Baylor students rushed the field, Kansas still had enough time to return a kickoff. But on the sideline, Baylor coach Kevin Steele was ready to do anything to end the streak.
“If they would have run it back,” Steele would say that day. “I would have tackled him.”
Eleven years later, Kansas coach Charlie Weis can probably relate. In his second season at KU, he has watched the Jayhawks’ Big 12 losing streak grow to 24 games — 12 of those losses coming under his watch. If the Jayhawks lose out in the Big 12 for the third straight year — falling in their last six games — they will break Baylor’s record for Big 12 futility.
If fate wasn’t cruel enough, Baylor — the Big 12’s old doormat — is now one of country’s hottest programs, arriving in Lawrence this Saturday with a 6-0 record and No. 6 ranking in the Associated Press poll. In six seasons at Baylor, head coach Art Briles has built a blooming juggernaut in central Texas, an offense that is averaging 64 points and more than 700 yards per game.
“Every once in a while you hit it big,” Weis said.
In this case, Weis says, he is speaking about Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who served as the catalyst for this new wave of Baylor success.
“He was a relatively obscure player a few years ago,” Weis said. “He steps up and has the career that he did; it makes recruiting that much easier. Everyone wants to be the next RG3 at their respective positions. He brought them a lot of credibility.”
The easy implication, of course, is that Weis’ program hasn’t hit it big yet — the KU version of RG3 has not arrived in Lawrence. But Weis is also pointing out that sometimes football turnarounds can’t happen overnight. If anybody is looking at Baylor as a model for a football boom in Lawrence, it’s important to remember this: It took Briles three seasons at Baylor before he had a team that finished above .500.
“It wasn’t like you walk in and wave a magic wand,” Weis said, “and all your problems are solved.”
Even after Baylor snapped its 29-game Big 12 losing streak — a stretch that also began after a victory over KU in 1998 — it took another eight years to climb to respectability. Steele, who is now on the staff at Alabama, was fired at the tail end of the 2002 season, and his successor, Guy Morriss, led Baylor to five losing seasons before Briles took over in 2008.
After last week’s 71-7 victory over Iowa State, Briles’ program has now won 10 straight games, its longest winning streak since 1936-37. For Weis, a one-game Big 12 streak would probably be enough for now. In two years at Kansas, he has often talked about taking incremental steps, building the program one block of progress at a time.
A victory over a top-10 team would be more than a step. But considering Baylor’s offensive firepower, a win certainly won’t be expected by those outside the KU locker room.
Eleven years ago this month, as Baylor prepared to play Kansas, Baylor’s Steele would often hear similar sentiment.
“It doesn’t matter who that opponent is,” Steele said, “because it hasn’t mattered the last four years.”
As the streak stretches on in Lawrence, Weis would probably agree.