Little Apple Woes

Kansas StateThe weather was mild according to the locals in Manhattan, Kansas, on Saturday, December 1, 2012. High of 57; low of 39. Downright balmy. ‘Tis the season.

‘Twas also the season – like all seasons in Manhattan since 2002 – for the Texas Longhorns to get beat on the football field. Time and again, basically every other year, the “better on paper” Longhorns travel to Manhattan – through Kansas City of course – for their spanking from daddy, better-known as Kansas State coach Bill Snyder.

Snyder, you might recall, is one of the best coaches to ever holler at officials. Not that the stately Snyder would ever “holler”, you understand. You think Jesus feeding the masses was hard? Try winning football games in Manhattan, Kansas. Talk about miracles.

I hopped a plane in the winter of 2012 to cover the Texas-Kansas State game, not realizing the scope of my error. Yes, I appreciated Inside Texas sending me to cover the game. Yes, it was nice have someone else buy me food for a couple of days. Yes, my seat in the warm press box was perfect. Yes, I even got a Heisman autograph from Gino Torretta for my son.

And after flying to Kansas City, finding a car and driving to Manhattan, I was hopeful that my alma mater would give me something to make the trip worth the time and effort. Alas, not so much.

Entering the stadium, the parking attendants were friendly and welcoming and sweet. “So glad you made it,” they said. Knowing the trouble Texas had winning games here, I immediately thought, “Yes, I’ll bet you are…”

The Longhorns – led by quarterback Case McCoy – built a small halftime lead it couldn’t hold, losing to 8th-year senior Collin Klein and the Wildcats, 42-24. As the temperature fell, so too did Texas’ chance at breaking a losing streak in Manhattan that began after Texas won the 2002 game.

Three times the Longhorns turned the ball over against the Wildcats, resulting in 21 points. The win clinched the Big 12 Championship for Kansas State, and the crowd in general – and the student body in particular – was giddy to say the very least.

The chants began with about five minutes remaining: “We Own Texas (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)… We Own Texas (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)…”

When it ended, there were fireworks, and the Wildcats lingered on the field for the post-game, hail-to-the-champs presentation. Students poured onto the field from behind the Texas bench.

The stadium – you know, the one named after the head coach – was under renovation, so the Longhorn coaches and players had to meet the press under a glorified tent. Writers took notes while wearing gloves. It was loud, cold and dark. Those in burnt orange did not want to be in Kansas anymore.

Mack was Mack: congrats to Kansas State, we made too many mistakes, Klein is great, etc. etc. The disappointed players had to raise their voices above the celebration that took place less than 100 yards away. Not a good scene.

Afterwards, to get back to the hotel near the Kansas City airport, I had to drive slowly through dense fog, arriving around 2 a.m., back up at 4:30 to catch my early flight. “Never again” was the thought while gulping a cocktail of coffee and ibuprofen.

Fortunately for Texas, this Saturday’s game against the Purple Wizard begins in the morning, not at night, when the patrons have time to get properly “juiced” for the game. Glancing at the Wildcats’ last two games, you’d think – on paper – that Texas would be able to come to Kansas and take care of business.

Kansas has quarterback injury problems, and no big-play threats on offense. A defense that early in the season looked like the best in the league suddenly looks vulnerable after a barrage of points from Texas Tech and Oklahoma. The Longhorns are bigger, faster, better-funded and in greater need of a win. Coach Snyder doesn’t have to win Saturday; the dude’s name, after all, is on the stadium.

As for Charlie Strong, he probably DOES need to win, and can only hope this Longhorn group can break the Manhattan spell. If not, the flight back to Austin will be even worse than usual.