MANHATTAN — It's impossible for Kansas State athletic director John Currie to talk about the Cotton Bowl without getting nostalgic.
His grandfather traveled by train from North Carolina to attend the football game nearly 60 years ago. Currie has a long-standing friendship with Cotton Bowl president Rick Baker. And he has fond memories of the two Cotton Bowls he was a part of before coming to K-State.
Without his first Cotton Bowl, in 2001, Currie might not be where he is today.
On that cold New Year's Day, Currie got his first up-close glimpse of K-State. While attending the Cotton Bowl as an assistant athletic director at Tennessee, Currie looked on as K-State fans packed the stadium and the Wildcats beat the Volunteers 35-21.
"That was my first experience with K-State," Currie said. "And it was a powerful one."
So powerful that he often refers to that game when speaking to fans and alumni at events across the region. He admired the way K-Staters made the drive south to give the Wildcats a crowd advantage in poor weather. He was impressed by K-State football coach Bill Snyder, and how tough his team played.
He didn't know much about K-State at the time, but he liked the culture of the school right away. When the university needed an athletic director in 2009, he wasted no time applying for the job.
"Walking into that 2001 game, it was pretty incredible to see all the purple," Currie said. "Walking in there at 10 in the morning and seeing 45,000 K-Staters singing and chanting and supporting their team.... That game was a pretty good example of the toughness of K-State's team, because K-State certainly performed tremendously that day."
As much as he is looking forward to heading to Arlington, Texas, next month and making new memories while watching K-State play Arkansas, he often finds himself thinking about both the past and future.
Earning an invitation to the Cotton Bowl was a goal he had for K-State's football team when he moved to Manhattan. It is a prestigious game that only quality teams get to play in, and it has historical meaning to people across the country.
He's confident the current K-State team and its fans will enjoy the experience, too.
"Anyone who has ever been to the Cotton Bowl, whether as a fan, a student-athlete, a coach or an administrator, wants to go back," Currie said. "The event is operated in a first-class manner. The hospitality, the treatment and the attention to detail of the people in the organization is second to none.
"This is one of the very special places in college football."