It can never be easy, right?
The Kansas/Texas football series over the past five years has been absolutely fascinating. We’ve had everything. Outside of Texas’ fifteen-point win in Austin in 2017, Kansas and Texas have played one-score games in every contest, and in every feasible fashion that one can have a one-score game. The bizarre-but-dramatic upset of 2016. The close game which felt much less close in the moment of 2018. The thrilling shootout heartbreak of 2019. The COVID cancellation of 2020.
And, now, this.
The 100+ combined point overtime shootout decided on a two-point conversion thrown to a walk-on backup fullback.
As I said a couple of weeks ago, I watch at least the first half of every KU football game. It hasn’t been pleasant this year, but that’s the case every year. I’m well accustomed to the unpleasantness. And I’ve been conditioned by it as well! I never fully, really thought that the Jayhawks were going to win this game. I didn’t until at least ten seconds after the final play ended. I kept waiting for a flag, or a booth review, or a call from the VAR to call it back. Even up by 21 points, even with the ball up 7 with a minute left to play after that interception. I wanted to believe, but I just always had that feeling in the back of my head that our hearts would be ripped out again.
Luckily for you people, my mental stability has been decreasing steadily ever since I got here, and I cannot get actual help for it here, so I have taken to my classic backup technique of talking at a camcorder and hoping I get something from it. On Saturday night, that technique finally paid off and delivered something other than despaired rambling: My live reaction to the final play.
I now… recognize that other people can now see what my room looks like, by that I mean it’s incredibly unimpressive. There’s probably a popular online trend of making fun of how sorry the bedrooms of men in their late twenties look, I don’t know if there really is, but I assume as much and if not it’s sure to be coming, and I’m sure that mine would fit in there. I got a few pictures, a CD case, and a cassette J-Card thumb-tacked to the wall behind the television. If it makes you feel any better, there was literally nothing on that wall two weeks ago but I figured out that the white walls were aggravating my already very significant eye strain issues so I put stuff up there and it did help a little bit, but I don’t have enough stuff to put up there outside of other CD cases.
I hate that I watched this by myself. I know that I had to, I know that’s a part of growing up, being lonely all the fucking time, but I wish I had been around other KU fans and alumni to experience this. KU fans are so interesting to be around during football games, especially football games that take place after basketball season begins. As a defense mechanism, lest we be too devastated by a 50 point blowout, we have to cover ourselves in a sort of performed detachment. It’s not fun to be around when the 50-point blowout we prophesized comes to fruition and we all act all numb and bored, but in games like this, when the Kansas Jayhawks look like a genuine, real-life Power 5 Big XII football team, that detachment gradually melts away. Every one of us desperately wants to live and die by this team’s successes and failures, and when we get the chance to do so, we really take it. Take this video filmed at Bullwinkle’s for example.
I would’ve loved to have been in Lawrence watching with a bunch of other people who opened themselves up to caring about this, ready to be hurt again. I’ve only been privvy to that a few times ever in my life, a couple of times when I was a young kid in the mid-2000’s, and really only once when I was in college in the mid-2010s.
I don’t know how to describe it. It’s a sort of desperate yearning that I can’t put to one word. I know that it’s not an idea unique to us, there’s desperate yearning everywhere, but it is a yearning built up by our unique shared experiences, much as the desperate yearnings of other fanbases are unique to them. There is something unique about how college football is the most significant, most moneyed collegiate sport in the United States, subject of borderline religious fervor in every corner of the country, including many of the places our team plays against, and our team just not warranting that. It’s a cultural touchstone you’re left out of. You turn on ESPN’s Gameday on Saturday morning and you see crowds showing up to watch a talk show larger than the one that will be in Memorial Stadium later that day. It’s depressing. Everybody else gets to have fun with football, or at least care about football, and we don’t. We get used to it, but the yearning doesn’t stop.
I really thought that the 2016 Texas win was the turning point. I thought that it was going to be the win that kickstarted a new, glorious era of Kansas Football. David Beaty came to our band rehearsal one day and said “In the future we’re gonna be preparing for a season where we’ll be playing fifteen games.” It didn’t pan out that way, and I should’ve been able back then to tell that a game in which Texas lost three fumbles and threw three interceptions and KU only managed to win on a field goal in overtime did not reflect a sustainable upward curve. But nobody can take away the joy and the memories of that night from me. We might’ve enjoyed that one, random, miraculous win over a team that didn’t make a bowl game and immediately fired their coach as much as fans in Clemson enjoyed their national championship win later that season.
I’m not making that same mistake this time around. I do believe that Lance Leipold was a good hire, and Jalon Daniels showed a lot of the promise that he showed early last year before the constant hits and pressure took their toll on him, and Devin Neal looks like a legitimately excellent young running back, and the defensive secondary made some fantastic plays. But I don’t think this is the catalyst that gets us honestly thinking about the playoff next year. I don’t think this is the catalyst that gets us honestly thinking about a bowl game next year. But I do think this game vindicated all of the time I spent still caring.
Because I do care. This matters a lot to me. As I said in my deliriously stressed state in the above video – “It matters desperately.” And it does. Kansas Jayhawks Football is one of the most important ongoing phenomena in my life for a variety of reasons – my parents met because of KU football. I had so many memories growing up watching KU football. It was ritualistic, every fall Saturday, going to the games. I had so many of my most intense memories as a student, positive and negative, with KU football, it’s been there my whole life, and it’s going to be there for the rest of my life, not just watching the games every fall Saturday, but from whatever the emotional affect of caring so desperately about this team for so long and never giving up on them is. Nelly, I am Kansas Football! Most of the time, it’s numbness, a lot of the time, it’s pain, but sometimes, it’s all worth it, and I have no personal control over what happens. All that I can do is hope and care.
This is what it’s about. This is what I have to do. I have to keep putting myself against it week after week after week, because eventually, nights like this happen. Rock Chalk.