LAWRENCE — His introduction to a college football rivalry came in the fall of 1985.
Charlie Weis was a lowly graduate assistant at South Carolina, the kind of position that leads to Friday night film sessions with hot wings and not much sleep. Weis was working for South Carolina coach Joe Morrison, and like most schools in the South, the fan base was rabid.
But there was always one way to keep the locals happy, no matter what else happened during the season. If South Carolina could beat in-state rival Clemson, life was good for the Gamecocks.
“You could go ‘one-and-whatever’,” Weis says, “as long as you beat Clemson, nothing else mattered.”
Nearly three decades later, Weis is in the rare position to test that old theory about rivals. In his first two seasons at Kansas, Weis has guided the Jayhawks to a combined 4-19 record. But as KU prepares to conclude its season against in-state rival K-State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, Weis and Kansas have one more chance at a season-saving Hail Mary.
“In this state, it’s Kansas and Kansas State,” Weis says. “It’s been one-sided as of late and nothing would be better for us. It all ends Saturday. So nothing would be better than to put our best performance of the year out there on Saturday morning and see if we can’t beat a formidable opponent, who happens to be our in-state rival.”
Maybe a victory over K-State wouldn’t solve all of Kansas’ problems, but it would certainly be a good place to start. Kansas has lost four straight against K-State by an average score of 47.8 to 13.5.
The Jayhawks still hold the all-time series lead over K-State. But the Wildcats are 16-4 against KU in the last 20 years, with three of those losses coming during Bill Snyder’s three-year retirement.
It might be over-simplifying to say that K-State has dominated Kansas because Snyder has put more emphasis on the rivalry than his KU counterparts. But that’s partly how Weis sees it. But now that the Border War days between Kansas and Mizzou are fading into history, the Jayhawks should be free to re-focus on a more familial opponent.
“When Missouri left to go to the SEC,” Weis said. “I think it was time for Kansas to recognize that Kansas State is, without a doubt, the most important game of the year. I think Coach Snyder has done that for years; he’s magnified the importance of this game and you could see how, over the last several years, it’s turned into a one-sided affair.”
Such words might irk Kansas State fans — or even Kansas fans in the central and western part of the state. For years, the kids that grew up in McPherson, Hutchinson or Salina grew up immersed in the Sunflower Showdown.
Weis didn’t make any players available to reporters this week, citing an altered practice schedule around the Thanksgiving holiday. But one year after arriving at Kansas, Weis has new perspective on the Sunflower Showdown. Mostly, he says, it’s about the supermarkets, and the cubicles, and all the other places where a Kansas fan and K-State fan might meet.
“It’s when you walk into the grocery market with someone who roots for the other team and you get the last jab,” Weis said. “When you’re at work and one of your compadres comes up that you know … it’s all those things. So you’re not playing just for your football team and your student body, (but) for all those people who go into work on Monday and have an opportunity to take shots.
“Most of the time we’ve been receiving the shots. It would be really nice to walk into work on Monday, for most people, and be able to fire the shots instead of taking them.”