It all comes down to two games today for the 2013 Big 12 Conference Championship. If you live in the state of Kansas, today is going to be a lot of fun. The Kansas State Wildcats and Kansas Jayhawks are vying with each other to see if either can come out on top. Depending on the outcome of the Wildcats game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater at 12:30 p.m., and Kansas’ match-up in Waco against the Baylor Bears tonight at 5:00 p.m., either school from the Sunflower State can either win the title outright or share the championship with their in-state rival.
I was born and raised in central Kansas in a very rural area, where I grew up on a farm. It is Wildcat country. Kansas State was an agriculture school and Kansas was a liberal school tucked away in the eastern part of the state, away from the every day realities of rural life. K-State ruled! When I was a young lad, I was kind of a contrary sort. My whole family always supported the Wildcats. I was looking for any reason to upset the peace around the dinner table so I chose the Jayhawks as my team.
I barely recall many of those games when I first started pulling for the Jayhawks. I know now who played on those teams but I can’t remember any specific moments for those contests. I do remember though, in 1977, when Kansas State played Marquette in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. I was 10-years old, and we were huddled around our black and white television. We were eating supper on TV trays, some kind of soup or stew. When K-State lost to Al McGuire and Butch Lee by one point, 67-66, I leaped to my feet and and flung my TV tray, soup and all, into the air. Even though I was a Jayhawk fan, I still was pulling for the Wildcats to win.
I vividly remember the match-ups between Darnell Valentine and Rolando Blackman in the late 70′s and how great I thought both players were, but I always found myself pulling for K-State when they weren’t playing the Jayhawks. Not so with my friends and family; they never cheered for Kansas. They always wanted KU to lose every game. I didn’t feel this way about a team until the early 1980′s when I loathed the Missouri Tigers. You know those guys – Norm Stewart, Jon Sundvold, and Steve Stipanovich. Man, I hated those guys. They just seemed to dominate KU in those days and I just couldn’t stand them. They were the first sports team I cheered passionately against.
When I graduated, I wanted to go to KU immediately but at the time, I couldn’t afford to. I attended Hutchinson Community College for two years – a fine basketball school in its own right. I watched an exhibition game in Hutchinson when KU came there to play under Larry Brown (try imagining that now). I also took a trip to Manhattan once during those years and watched KSU host Wayman Tisdale and Oklahoma at Ahearn Field House. The thing I remember most about the game was Wildcat fans throwing oranges at Tisdale while he was warming up, causing him to have to sit on the bench with his coaching staff surrounding him. Never did understand that one.
When I came to KU, I discovered that my personal feelings were matched by most Jayhawk fans – a loathing for everything Missouri and a relative apathy toward Kansas State. Sure, KU fans got fired up the week in which K-State games were scheduled, but people around here never really railed against Kansas State otherwise. Not so with my friends who were Wildcats. They hated KU like we did Missouri. Both schools were horrible at the time in football, so it was all about basketball.
K-State had some really good basketball teams in those days. Mitch Richmond was a terrific player. He was just cursed with the fact he played in Manhattan at the same time Danny Manning was ruling the college world at Kansas. While this was the early years of the absolute domination of Kansas State by the Jayhawks, one that has inexplicably lasted thirty years, Kansas State actually beat KU in Lawrence in 1988, ending a 55-game home winning streak. In the NCAA Tournament that year, KU actually had to beat K-State in the Elite Eight before going on to win the NCAA Championship.
All of this is just background for how things are today. Missouri is gone and KU fans are looking for a rival. K-State is a natural choice. The problem is that K-State has football now and KU has basketball. It is how things are. I want KU to win football games; I am very passionate about it. That being said, I pull for the Wildcats whenever it isn’t against the best interests of my school. I would love for K-State to be KU’s rival in hoops but it is so hard because KU has dominated KSU for so long. I am just stating a fact here. Since 1983 Kansas has won 63 times; Kansas State only 9. That is not a rivalry. At least not for us.
My K-State friends hate KU. The one sided basketball record over the past 30 years isn’t the only reason though. Wildcat fans have hated KU for as long as I can remember. Fans of the purple consider KU their fiercest rival and this is natural and how it should be. I would love to feel that boiling blood bubbling over feeling that no longer exists without Missouri on the schedule. It would be great for KU to feel that way toward KSU.
Today could go a long way toward that goal but it isn’t there yet for me. I want KU to win the Big 12 title outright. It would be great if KU won today and K-State lost for me. I would not be happy if KU loses and K-State wins. That title is ours, one way or another. The funny thing is, if KU and KSU end up sharing the championship at the end of the day. I will still be happy. I will happy for my Wildcat friends. The great thing though, is that Wildcat fans probably won’t feel the same. They will be glad to have a part of their first Big 12 championship ever. They will be glad to have their first conference title since 1977. But they will hate sharing it with KU.
That is how rivals should feel about each other.
Today is a big day for basketball fans in the Sunflower State. All I know is that at least one of these to schools will be Big 12 champs when it is over and that is a great thing for the state of Kansas. It’s going to be a fun day!