There are dates and games that I will never forget from my 40+ years associated with Kansas State football. The 1982 Sunflower Showdown is definitely one of those events that I will always remember. It was Saturday, October 23, 1982. In Manhattan. A sellout crowd at KSU Stadium. K-State vs. University of Kansas in the 1980sThursday release of Sunflower Showdown. And the lights, yes, the lights, we will always remember. They were temporary lights.
Almost every college football game started at 1:10 p.m. This rivalry game became the first in Big 8 Conference history to be played under lights. The game was televised on TBS to a national audience. So the night was already special.
During spring training before the 1982 season, I blew out my knee so I was on crutches. I was standing on the sideline before the game. My K-State teammates warmed up on one side of the field and Kansas on the other. There was anticipation in the air. There were 45,595 fans in the stands. You could already tell that there was just something different about this game.
We had a 3-2-1 record in the Sunflower Showdown. Under head coach Jim Dickey, we beat Kentucky 23-9, South Dakota 42-3 and Wichita State 31-7. But we also suffered a 30-7 loss at No. 13 Arizona State, tied Missouri 7-7 and lost 49-3 at No. 6 Nebraska. We worked hard for this moment. It is important to understand that most of the starters or players who had the capacity to start redshirted in the 1981 season. They all wanted to stay another year. I was one of those players who redshirted. We knew 1982 could be a big year in the history of our football program. Weeks later on Senior Day we beat Colorado 33-10 and went to our first ever bowl game — the Independence Bowl.
But it all came back to the K-State/KU game. The season was on. Did K-State get in over their heads and get to their first bowl game? How good has K-State been this year? Could K-State do it?
We have answered this question. And no one who witnessed the game will ever forget it.
As my teammates warmed up on the soccer field in purple jerseys, I decided to head to the locker room. There was so much to remember about that special game — I remember it like it was yesterday — but I’ll always remember walking into the locker room.
Inside the locker room, gray jerseys hung from every single locker.
“What the heck?” I said.
I found my good friend Jim “Shorty” Kleinau, the longtime equipment manager for K-State football.
“What’s up Shorty?” I asked.
He said: “We made special jerseys for this special game.”
I could not believe it. Our players had no idea. I grabbed my gray number 12 jersey and tucked it away.
Moments later, the team entered the locker room.
We had silver helmets, just like now, and we had white pants with purple jerseys, and the coaches would say, “Take off the purple jerseys and put on these gray jerseys.” Our dressing room exploded. There was no doubt what would happen at the Sunflower Showdown. Unless there was some crazy curveball from the football gods, this game was over.
We came out of the locker room and I changed into my gray jersey and headed to the sideline and the Cats ran down the concrete ramp and this place was on fire and the K-State fans were erupting. You think players like alternate jerseys, well, nobody changed uniforms in 1982. It just didn’t happen. So this place was crazy on steroids.
There was no netting on the jerseys. They were cloth jerseys. They probably wouldn’t last five games. They were jerseys once upon a time in history. That blew the top off the K-State football program.
There was no doubt who had the better team. Although Kansas had won the previous three games — the Jayhawks had to forfeit their 20-18 victory in 1980 due to an ineligible player, but I still count that as a loss — there was no doubt that K-State was the better team in 1982. We hammered them, hammered them the whole game and were significantly better. In college football at that time, you rarely had a game on TV, but here we were on TV at night in our stadium playing our opponents and wearing these gray jerseys and it was a perfect K-State scenario, the way it all played out, how the temporary lights worked, how the fans roared and how the Wildcats played.
We won 36:7.
KU’s only score came on a 26-yard interception return late in the game against our backups. It was K-State’s most lopsided win over Kansas since a 46-0 win in 1955. So this was huge. It was electric. K-State fans tore down both goals. I mean, everybody was into it. What’s amazing, it was so unusual, I mean, everything about it was so unusual – the jerseys, the lights, the night game. The excitement didn’t stop. All night everyone was pinching each other like, “Is this really happening? Are we really at a Big 8 night game? Are we really beating the crap out of our rival? Are we really having this much fun?” And, by the way, the nation watched the match on television.
By the end of the game, the excitement level was so high that I think the goal-scoring had less to do with beating KU than it did with us being wrapped up in the environment and the craziness. No one wanted the night to end. The fans finishing things off by crashing the goals seemed perfect.
I also remember the 1982 K-State/KU game for another reason. Exactly three weeks ago, I met my future wife, Nancy Freshnock, a K-State cheerleader, at the K-State Alumni Association event hotel. Of course, I was injured, so I attended the event with a few of my friends from Goddard High School who attended Arizona State. I met Nancy at the hotel. When we got to the KU game, it was like, “Wow, everything is coming together.” Not only did the K-State/KU game mean something to everyone, but my dating my future wife coincided with that game. Everything fell into place. Nancy and I dated for five years and married in 1987. K-State went bowling 40 years ago and I was lucky enough to meet Nancy Freshnock 40 years ago.
Coach Jim Dickey came to Kansas City a few years ago. About 15 to 20 guys met Coach Dickey at Steve Willis’ house. We sat outside and talked about the summer night. It got quiet and I said, “Coach, I don’t know if you remember those days as well as we do, but thank you for everything you did for us. Maybe you remember it like we all do.” .”
I unbuttoned my shirt.
I was wearing a gray #12 jersey underneath.