"They'd come out in good crowds to see me talk an' Ah asked a man once in some little place in the tail end of Kansas how come so many come. He told me, 'They wanna git a look at the nut who thinks K-State evah gonna win.' "
Purple pride has blossomed all over Kansas, but it flourishes best in Manhattan, of course. Department stores there feature purple dresses in window displays. One dry cleaner began returning freshly cleaned suits with a purple-and-white handkerchief in the breast pocket. Gibson even convinced one haberdasher to risk $4,000 by ordering 20 dozen incredibly purple blazers with a KSU emblem on the pocket. Since purple sport coats are not big with most men and since it is a color notorious for fading to odd hues, the clothier had to get bolts especially dyed and cut to order. So far he has sold more than 200 blazers at $30 apiece.
In trying to eradicate the "defeatist attitude" on K-State's campus, Gibson went to more uncommon extremes. When K-State's sports publicist, Dev Nelson, prepared the team brochure, he listed one position as "weak-side line backer," a familiar enough term. Gibson censored it on the grounds that "weak" was no word for Wildcats; the position is now called "backside linebacker," a perhaps questionable improvement. Gibson also demanded a redesign of the oversized head worn by Willie Wildcat, K-State's sideline mascot. For years it had resembled a moronic Mickey Mouse; now it has fangs.
Of course, this was all so much grape juice until September 23 and the Colorado State victory. But since then the magnificent purple fog spun by Vince Gibson has hung on and on. K-State lost its next game to a good VPI team 15-3, but the Wildcats played well and there was pride aplenty. Next came Nebraska, a team ranked in the Top Ten. Incredibly, valiant underdog Kansas State held a 14-13 lead on a muddy, wind-swept field until, with just 71 seconds to play, the Nebraska kicker, who had missed twice before that day, lofted a desperate field-goal try into the wind from the 31-yard line. Gibson swears the ball was sailing a foot outside the goal posts when a gust caught it and blew it in for a 16-14 Cornhusker victory. The K-State campus was ecstatic in defeat, and the next week, against Iowa State, K-State was favored to win a game—for the first time in almost anybody's memory. Instead, the Wildcats pussyfooted to a 17-0 defeat, but that still was no reason to hang up the purple coat, even though the catty word in some faculty circles was "Pride has died."
Last Saturday in its homecoming game against Oklahoma, the new K-State spirit faced its severest test. If the Wildcats could lose to Oklahoma by just a little the season would be a success, for of all the sorry statistics in K-State football volumes, none comes close to matching the lopsided tragedy of the Oklahoma-Kansas State series.
It was as if Ethiopia went to war against Italy once a year. Before last week's game K-State had not won since 1934, the year Lynn Waldorf was the Wildcat coach, Alf Landon was still a rising Republican politician and Vince Gibson was born. There was a tie in 1936, but since then K-State had lost 30 in a row—and if those games had been played end to end the score would have been Oklahoma 1,081, Kansas State 90.
Nevertheless many K-Staters were in a water-walking mood before last Saturday's game. In the glow of a pep-rally bonfire, they listened eagerly to a cautious Vince Gibson. "Now, Ah said we gonna win some. Ah also said we gonna lose some." The crowd roared back at him, "We gonna win! We gonna win!"
In the dressing room before the kick-off Gibson had the team kneel on the purple carpeting while he prayed aloud. Then, in a hoarse whisper, he said, "Prahd can win. Let's show 'em that." The players leaped to the door with cries of "Pride, baby. Pride."
Unfortunately this was a day when pride precedeth a fall. Oklahoma has not been touted a great deal this year, even though it soundly whipped Washington State and Maryland before losing, but barely, to a good Texas team. All along, the Sooners have shown surprising strength, particularly considering the death from a heart attack last May of their popular young (38) coach, Jim Mackenzie. Assistant Coach Chuck Fairbanks took over at that difficult time, and just how well he has done was all too apparent against K-State.
K-State kicked off, and its defense, which had performed well in the first four games, looked stubborn enough to cramp Oklahoma's rugged offense. It took Oklahoma 15 plays and nearly eight minutes to score. But the Sooners never did give up the ball on that grinding drive, and even a grim K-State goal-line stand that forced Oklahoma to use four plays from the three-yard line for the touchdown proved to be no more than temporary heroism. Indeed, Fairbanks' team looked suspiciously like the legendary Sooner teams of the '50s. Quarterback Bob Warmack, a lanky junior, displayed a mastery at faking that left the K-State defense groping helplessly again and again. He passed well and ran well, too, when not giving the ball to two classy tailbacks, senior Ron Shotts and sophomore Steve Owens. Vince Gibson's kids could salvage only a scintilla of pride by putting on one 80-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter as K-State lost 46-7.