To be sure, the particular Manhattan (pop. 23,000) where Kansas State University is located has an atmosphere of bucolic prairie contentment that is positively 19th century compared to that other Manhattan (pop. 1,500,000) and, admittedly, the majority of K-State's 12,000 students would agree with the campus leader who said, "Most of us here are farm kids, and we don't go off on many toots."
But the Swinging Sixties have by no means bypassed K-State. Now and then, when there is an ROTC review, 30 or 40 campus angries will picket about Vietnam. Medium miniskirts are plentiful, and it is possible to find kids who say they enjoy smoking marijuana, which grows all over the campus. And the toots they go off on at K-State? Well, they can be absolutely pseudopsychedelic.
Take the night of Sept. 23, 1967. In pink flashing arcs from state police car dome lights, 8,000 people—most of them wearing garments colored an outlandish purple—raced onto the runway of the Manhattan Municipal Airport. The crowd was howling in unison: "Purple Power. Purple Power." Most wore big white buttons stamped with a single purple word: "Pride." A plane landed and the crowd surged up to it almost before the wheels stopped rolling and yelled: "We got pride! We got pride!" Out into the sea of purple people stepped the Kansas State football team and its coach, Vince Gibson, who only beamed modestly when somebody shrieked: "Vince walks on water!"
The scene was pure electric grape.
The stimulant behind this was one that will never be isolated in a lab or sold as trip juice. All that had happened was Kansas State had beaten Colorado State University 17-7 in Fort Collins that afternoon, thereby qualifying as this year's example of new coach, new attitude, new-mood football madness—and never mind if the team never wins again.
For years K-State football has been too dim to believe. In the late '40s the team lost 28 straight, won one from Arkansas State College, lost seven, beat that well-known gridiron power Fort Hays State, lost eight, won from Baker University, then played 19 without a win. After a respectable 7-3 season in 1954, 13 years were spent compiling a 21-94-2 record—which bottomed out in 1966 in the bowels of a winless trench 21 games deep. The last coach to preside over this shambles was Doug Weaver, a scholarly gentleman who quit last year after seven humbling seasons to enroll as a student in the University of Kansas law school.
Then last winter came Vince Gibson, 33, an Alabama-born fireball shaped like a fireplug, who decided—if reluctantly—to try K-State's head coaching job after seven years of assistant coaching at Florida State and Tennessee. Gibson has a reputation for being a sound football coach. He also has the guts of a steeplejack, the shameless flamboyance of a P. T. Barnum and the pow'fulest drawl this side of Pappy Yokum. "Ah tole 'em Ah wouldn't come to Kainsas 'less they gimme the he'p Ah hadda have. Ah said, 'We gonna win, we gonna win games'—but Ah hadda have what Ah asked foah."
Among other things, Gibson asked foah an $800,000 athletic dormitory (with pool, sauna and a phone in every room) and a new stadium. The dormitory was finished in less than five months ("Man, they started diggin' befoah the blueprints were even done"). And bulldozers are already scraping ground for the long-discussed $1.6 million stadium. Gibson also renovated the locker room, which quite understandably had the aura and appearance of a dungeon after witnessing so much futility. It is now freshly painted, piped with stereo and carpeted purple wall to wall. It is also papered with signs—a basic Gibson gimmick. There are be-nasty signs ("Gang tackling is the trademark of the Wildcats"), philosophical signs ("Luck is when preparation meets opportunity") and folksy-coach signs ("Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser").
The sign Gibson likes best is just plain "Pride." He put it in foot-high letters over the practice field and he had hundreds of buttons made. "They didn't have prahd," he says. "Not the team, not kids, not alums, not anyone. How could they aftah what they had been through? Ah jes tole 'em alla time—have prahd and we gonna win some games."
Gibson saturated Kansas with the message. He wangled three weekly television shows, and he made dozens of speeches, 54 of them in one month alone.