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John Mabry: This party was long overdue

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — I remember a time when Kansas was a basketball school. You remember, right, that time when KU didn’t have a prayer against Nebraska on the football field, but Bucknell might think twice before upsetting the Phoggy tradition of Jayhawk hoops. This is weird stuff, just not so much.

First off, KU’s 40-15 win Saturday does not put Mark Mangino’s crew in the same class with USC or Texas or even Colorado (which rolled KU 44-13 two weeks ago).

And second, beating Nebraska has become about as big a deal as taking out the trash.

But I’m here to tell you, it’s funny seeing 50,000-plus fans still in their seats here after halftime. Unlike past visits, I didn’t see many folks strolling to The Wheel in the third quarter to talk about Bill Self’s latest recruit.

There was much rejoicing when it ended, and another set of goal posts was dismantled at the expense of Husker pride.

Mangino had satisfied all the letter writers who begged for an end to the 36-year drought. KU quarterback Jason Swanson had thrilled the fans, and they thrilled him back with hugs of gratitude.

“It’s just a great feeling to help people after the 36 years of history they have been through,” he said.

There are more than a few reasons why every Rock Chalker with a cell-phone camera was snapping that scoreboard after the game (“My new screen saver,” said one fan).

It’s because of 51-7 and 63-7 and 63-10 and 54-2 and 70-0 and 56-0 and 56-0 again. You get the point. It’s about the points. That’s why Tim Hearshman and his father and son — three generations of Jayhawk fans — had to be asked by security to leave the field while posing for photos long after the clock struck 0:00.

“I love the fact we got 40 points on them,” Hearshman said. “I wish it could have been 80. They’ve run the score up on us. Out of those 36 years, they’ve run the score up on us, I don’t know how many times, trying to score touchdowns in the fourth quarter with two minutes left.”

Tim’s son, Dan, said, “that pretty much seals the end of the dominance.”

When I was studying barley and hops here back in the mid-1980s, I always thought it was kind of cool how you might run into Larry Brown at one of the hot spots after a big Kansas basketball win.

I don’t remember seeing Bob Valesente out on the town on too many Saturday nights. Heaven knows, if someone ever needed a cold one, it was Coach Val, who in two seasons as KU’s head coach (1986-87) was outscored by Nebraska 124-2.

Don Fambrough had eight cracks at NU. He just missed a win in a 10-9 loss in 1973, but Fambrough never beat the Huskers. Neither did Bud Moore or Mike Gottfried or Valesente or Glen Mason or Terry Allen.

Mason came close in the famous “Where’s June Henley?” affair in 1993 (a 21-20 NU win). Allen came close in 1999 before Bobby Newcombe bailed out the Huskers in a 24-17 game. But it was a 51-7 loss to NU in 2001 that marked the end of Allen’s tenure here.

Pepper Rodgers was the last KU coach to beat the Huskers, back in 1968. Mangino’s win was for the many who failed, including Fambrough, who grabbed me by the shoulder after the game and didn’t let go until he had explained why this Kansas team is special, perhaps more special than a 5-4 record (complete with salivating Champs Bowl rep) might suggest.

“This is a group of kids that just played their butts off,” Fambrough said, “and they will not stand to be defeated. They proved that today.

“Another thing to mention about them — they’re in top physical condition. Mangino works their butts off, and it pays off on Saturday. He’s done a tremendous job for us, and the kids love him. They respect him, and they play for him.”

They also play for Fambrough, who is generous with the pep talks.

“We had a lot of fun last week (before the Missouri game), and I talked to them about (William Clarke) Quantrill coming over,” Fambrough said. “So this week, I told ’em, ‘I made a big mistake. Quantrill was not from Missouri. He was from Nebraska.’”

Nick Kurtenbach really is from Nebraska — Lindsay, to be precise — and the win was extra sweet for the KU sophomore.

“Once in a lifetime, you know?” he said.

One problem, though. The win might have cost Kurtenbach a best pal.

“I probably had 60 or 70 people come down (for the game),” he said. “I had a bunch of people rush me after the game, and everybody had Jayhawk (gear) on.

“But my best friend had red on. I don’t know what the deal with that is. Hopefully, he’ll be wearing blue next week.”

During my degree-quest in Lawrence, the most memorable KU football game was a 28-11 Homecoming win against No. 2 Oklahoma in 1984. The attendance that day was a whopping 29,500.

On this day, a stadium-record crowd of 51,750 saw something no more amazing but no less newsworthy.

And yes, there are pictures.

Reach John Mabry at 473-7320 or jmabry@journalstar.com.

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