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The most inglorious big-time football reputation in the country belongs to Kansas Stale. The Wildcats have had one winning season in the last 27 and have been shut out 50 times in that span. Over the last seven years, the 'Cats have won six conference games in the Big Eight.
After 21 games without a win in the mid-60s, Kansas State whipped Colorado State in the 1967 opener. The 'Cats got so pumped up by that signal triumph that they went out and lost the remaining nine games on the schedule. Kansas State has tried everything to turn itself around, including cheating. One year the Wildcats signed 43 recruits to scholarships (the limit was 30). Another time players competed in junior varsity games under assumed names. All this got the 'Cats was two devastating probations during the 1970s. In 1980 the Kansas State press guide was marked down in national judging because there was no page devoted to the school's bowl record; the Wildcats have never been to a bowl.
Anyway, desperate situations require desperate solutions, which is why Coach Jim Dickey jolted not only his players but also the football coaching fraternity last fall when he announced he was redshirting 18 players—including almost all of his best players, among them eight stunned seniors. All-Big Eight Guard Amos Donaldson says, "I thought he was joking when I first heard about it."
Nope, no more jokes at K-State. Dickey simply decided to toss in the towel on 1981 (the Wildcats went 2-9) and pin all his hopes on 1982. Dickey is putting his job on the line, and he says, "A failure this year would be not having a winning season." On the other hand, Chuck Neinas, executive director of the College Football Association, says, "If this thing works, Dickey will have all the have-nots of the nation copying him."
Why did Dickey decide to do such a revolutionary thing? "My mother told me," he says, "that there's never a wrong time to do the right thing." For K-State this is definitely not the wrong year. The 'Cats have seven home games and could win six of them, against Kentucky, South Dakota, Wichita State, Kansas, Oklahoma State and Colorado. And as long as we're talking miracles, should the Wildcats win these six games and then scrape out another victory from among Arizona State, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa State or Oklahoma, they'll be 7-4. That could get them that long overdue bowl bid.
Dickey, whose record after four years at K-State is 12-32, says the idea hit him in 1980, when his team beat Colorado 17-14. "It's probably best to get the bad over early," said Dickey as he walked off the field with Colorado Coach Chuck Fairbanks.
"I' m not sure it's over," said Fairbanks. It clearly wasn't, and Fairbanks has since escaped back to the pros. But Fairbanks' remark got Dickey to thinking. "I' m not much better off than Fairbanks. I've got to come up with some kind of plan to keep us from being a doormat." A couple of weeks ago, Dickey stared across the football stadium, his eyes sparkling, and he said, "I' m anxious to see how it works. A year older doesn't necessarily mean better."
But at least the Wildcats can hardly be worse. And the atmosphere around K-State is positively giddy. Senior Defensive Back Jim Bob Morris wears a shirt emblazoned with I SURVIVED THE REDSHIRT YEAR '81 on the front and READY TO KICK ASS IN '82 on the back. Even Dickey sounds uncharacteristically crazed when he lauds one of his players, Linebacker Dan Ruzich. "He has the shortest fuse of any player I've ever coached," Dickey says. "He'll strike anything that quivers twice."
K-State has never had much talent or depth, and in 1978 Dickey could see his way clear to redshirting only one freshman, Quarterback Darrell Ray Dickey, who's also his son. Darrell didn't like it one bit. Backup signal caller Stan Weber, an '81 redshirt, who was hurt this spring and is questionable for the fall, says, "We're like the kid who was afraid to try in school because it would leave him without any excuses when he failed. We've got the physical confidence now not to be afraid to try."
Before the '81 season Dickey said, "Last year [when K-State was 3-8] we let my wife call a lot of the plays. This year we're not going to." Then the 'Cats went 2-9. Which proves that whether Jim or Inez calls the plays doesn't matter much. Which is the way it has always been in Manhattan, Kans. Now we'll learn whether anything can make a difference.