Shocker summer: The football moment to remember

06/24/2014 12:54 PM

06/24/2014 12:54 PM

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in The Eagle on Sept. 12, 1982.

The play unfolded with a dreamlike slowness.

There he was, a receiver, wide open, dancing in the middle of the field waving his arms.

The sun-drenched Shocker fans could see him clearly from their seats in the horseshoe of Memorial Stadium at the University of Kansas. The people from the Boulevard State Bank already were standing on benches. So was the Shocker band and all the yellow-and-white capped Wichitans who made this pilgrimage.

Quarterback Prince McJunkins was fading backward toward them, looking through the tangle of bodies spinning, bouncing and leaping around him. A receiver was dancing in the middle of the field.

The moment hung there, suspended in time and the thick humid air, like well, like a last-second basketball shot. It was the promise of a moment like this that made the fans come here.

They had left Wichita early in the morning, stacking up 25 cars deep at the East Wichita entrance to the Kansas Turnpike. Then they had turned the Turnpike into a shimmering thread of vans, buses, cars, campers, mobile homes. Shocker and Jayhawk stickers filled windows. The sky welcomed them by turning baby blue with a faint veil of early morning haze. The air crackled with CB chatter. Shocker fans ribbed Jayhawk fans, and vice versa, in the lingo of the road.

All of the vehicles on the Turnpike, it seemed, were heading to Lawrence to see the first meeting between WSU and KU football teams since 1946.

Tailgates opened in the parking lots of Memorial Stadium. It was a day for the flaunting of symbols. WSU students Brian and Cindy Eldredge wore yellow T-shirts hailing the Shockers’ victory over KU in basketball in the NCAA playoffs in New Orleans two years ago. “Because I’m a radical,” Eldredge said, “I parked next to the dorms here, and we got a lot of crap. They got their noses so high in the sky they’re gonna fall.”

A contingent of Lebanese from Wichita clustered around a table in the lot. A candelabra sported red and blue candles, the KU school colors. A bowl of red and blue toothpicks sat nearby. “The only thing from Wichita State is the mustard,” said Glee Bayouth, laughing. Physician Jim Farha held a can of diet soft drink and announced, “We are here to see the Shockers beat the hell out of KU.”

“He’s here to operate on all the broken KU hearts after the game,” somebody said.

Bill Ayesh, head of the Shocker Alumni Foundation, said, “We’re gonna go home with a victory.” He and brother Dick Ayesh and Ray Farha remembered selling newspapers at the previous games between the schools many years ago.

Jeff Ayesh waved a KU pompon at the gathering. He had just arrived with a busload of South Central Kansas Pharmaceutical Association members from the Wichita area. Seventy-five percent were KU supporters, he said. “On the way up we exchanged insults and had a good time. On the way back, we’ll finish the beer.”

Ayesh was a 1978 KU grad. If KU won, he said with mock seriousness, “I will be very nice because I have a little more class than the WSU people who rubbed it in (after the 66-65 basketball win in New Orleans.) All the rubbing in, I’ve done it before the game.” He cited KU coverage in Playboy.

And if KU lost? “If we lose, we’re moving out of state.”

Nearby, a large sheet with the basketball score boldly emblazoned on it was draped over a huge motor home. Twenty people had ridden in the vehicle, most affiliated with Boulevard State Bank. “We’re planning to be as obnoxious as we can,” said Patrick Coulter, a member of the group, who added that some of them had succeeded in that goal so well before, they were once almost kicked out of a game.

“I just had a baby,” said Jan McClure, who gave birth six months ago. “And once you’ve had a baby, you’re ready to be turned loose.”

Greg Towne, a WSU senior who made the large sign, said, “We’re gonna beat their butts! The fever is up.”

Why flaunt the basketball score in enemy territory? “If they beat us, they’re not gonna take it easy on us.”

The heat rose and seeped through the Polo shirts that flooded the grounds. On the grassy slope of Mount Oread, in the shadow of the bell tower, the families of Duane Smith and John LaFever moved toward the stadium an hour before game time. “We’re still living on our earnings from New Orleans,” said Smith. How long is he gonna rub it in? “I got an hour,” he said.

The stadium slowly filled with 41,500 people. The number of those who had made the trip from Wichita was estimated at 5,000, though some put the number a few thousand higher at kickoff time. Shocker supporters were split into two sections at opposite ends. Some were in the horseshoe above the north end zone; some on the south side near the open end of the stadium.

The arrangement gave a stereophonic cheering effect as the kickoff spun through the air. The Shockers were receiving. But the ball sailed out of the end zone and quieted the crowd.

There were only sporadic chances to cheer at first – the first Shocker first down; a mock cheer when the north goalpost was fixed after flopping akimbo; a defensive stand.

When KU took a 7-0 lead, the loose sense of fun dissipated. Knit eyebrows, rather than school colors, symbolized their inner feelings. “I don’t think they can beat KU,” said Jim Duncan, whose son, Don, was playing in the Shocker band, “ ’cause they just might be a little out of their class. But we’ll see what happens.”

The score rose against the Shockers, 10-0. In the south end, Sue Petrie, a sophomore at WSU, whose brother goes to KU, barely flinched. “Could be a better score,” she said, “but it doesn’t matter.”

The Jayhawks mascots strolled by. “Shock the ’Hawk!” fans behind her yelled. “Chuck the Chicken!”

A long WSU field goal made it 10-3. “Now if we can just get our defense interested in the game,” somebody behind her said. And the defense responded with two consecutive quarterback sacks.

At the half, Francis Harmon of Harmon Office Supply in Wichita, stood in line at a concession stand. Buttons on his shirt proclaimed him a member of the Shocker Hell Raisers and the Shocker Alumni Club. “It’s a good game,” he said. “I think they can pass against KU, if they’ll just start throwing the ball.”

Otto Koerner, a Wichita attorney who earned three degrees from KU, also waited in line. “Looks like we’re doing better than what one might have expected,” he said.

KU rooter Cindy Lee, a school guidance counselor in Lawrence, stood in the shade of the concourse with her husband, Richard, a KU administrator. “I enjoy the enthusiasm of the Wichita crowd,” she said.

The heat had begun to take a small toll on the fans. Dr. Martin Wollmann stepped outside the first aid room under the stadium for a moment. “About a dozen people are overheated,” he said, adding that a few were from Wichita. “But there’s no real exhaustion cases.”

KU campus police officer V.L. Shore remembered the ’Hawks opener a year ago that put 200 in the infirmary. Shore said no incidents of violence between WSU and KU fans had occurred.

In the third quarter, WSU kicked another field goal to draw to 10-6. “They’re gonna beat ’em yet,” muttered an usher who was rooting for KU, but who was disgusted with the stodgy play of both teams.

High overhead in the press box, WSU athletic director Ted Bredehoft, his feet encased in a pair of yellow and black cowboy boots, moaned and threw up his hands. A Shocker defensive back had just intercepted a pass, run it deep into KU territory, then fumbled it back to the Jayhawks. Bredehoft recovered quickly and talked about the game he had dreamed of for so long. “I think it’s just great,” he said. “The people should be proud to be keeping all this money in Kansas.” Then he grimaced again at the tenseness of the game, and returned his gaze to the field.

Next to him sat Dr. George Farha, president of the Shocker Athletic Scholarship Organization, who had missed his family’s festivities in the parking lot by flying to Lawrence, “It’s been very exciting,” he said of the game. “It feels great, and should feel great for all the people of Kansas, regardless of who’s the winner.”

With just under five minutes left in the game, Wichitans Donald Hanni and his mother, Mary, huddled under the concourse of the horseshoe. They were on their way home. “We wanted to beat the crowd,” Hanni said. The game, he said, “was kind of disappointing. We thought they (the Shockers) could be better than that.”

Above them, the Shocker crowd roared. The Hannis were asked whether that made them want to return to their seats. “No,” said Donald Hanni, smiling wearily. “We’re leaving.”

Less than a minute after they left, the moment happened.

Don Dreher, Wichita State wide receiver, was free in the secondary. You could see him from the horseshoe, the south end zone, the press box.

McJunkins already had seen him. The ball floated downfield and nestled in Dreher’s arms. From the horseshoe, the crowd watched him angle for the end zone, leap and disappear. Then they erupted. With three minutes left in the game, WSU had snatched a 13-10 victory, its first win over KU since 1937.

The explosion from the Shocker fans made the stands rumble. They jumped up and down on their benches. There were cymbals and cowbells. Flags and arms waved. Mostly, there was unrelenting screaming. “Can you believe this!” screamed Joe Kreutzer, a member of the bank crowd. “This is a miracle!”

“Never in my wildest dreams ... ,” somebody else shouted.

Wichitan Bob McGrath pretended to faint. “I’ve only been waiting for this for 30 years!” he yelled. “That’s when I graduated from WSU! I saw them play in ’46!”

A KU fan sat near the celebrating Shocker followers with his chin in his hand, “I don’t look happy do I?” he said.

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