On September 9, 1993, Kansas State knocked off UNLV 36-20 to improve their record to 4-0. It marked the first time since 1931 that K-State had started the season 4-0. A good time was had by all, and I left the stadium feeling proud and elated, and left town the following day still abuzz with excitement and hope.
It would be 21 years and 46 days before I ever set foot in Manhattan again.
I had hit a rough patch personally not long before that game, and only began to recover a couple of years later when I landed a really great job... in Virginia. So during the true glory days of Snyder I, my annual pilgramage to see the Wildcats was always during bowl season; December (or early January) was a time I could afford to take away from work, while September and October were notoriously overloaded with critical projects. So I never really had the opportunity to come home again, despite it not being a financial problem.
And then the good job evaporated, and despite moving back to the midwest I wasn't able to afford to go to any games, and didn't really have anyone to go with anyway. But this season, the stars aligned thanks to plans made by KSUEMAW!, PurpleBrunette, and Nugget and some help from our sort-of-former colleague Derek Smith. Coincidentally, those plans landed on Homecoming week. For the first time in an entire adult lifespan, I got in the car Friday morning and made the six-hour drive to the promised land, landing at Derek's swinging bachelor pad downtown at around 1:00.
The changes to Manhattan since my last visit are astonishing. Downtown's been overhauled; when I was a student, the mall was there but virtually nothing around it was. There was some development out on 113, but nothing like what's there now. Interestingly, Aggieville isn't that different. Oh, some business have disappeared and been replaced by others (RIP Sports Fan-Attic and Brothers), and others have relocated, but it's still basically the same as it was in the Eighties.
Of course, the biggest change of all has been out on Kimball Avenue between College and Denison.
The early start time on Saturday precluded any serious pre-gaming, much to our chagrin. Derek arrived first, as he was itching to get to the stadium and I still wasn't ready to face the world yet. I finally arrived at about 9:00; KSUEMAW!, PB, Nugget, and Nugget's lovely bride (wearing a Texas shirt, for which we'll grudgingly forgive her) took another 45 minutes to get there because they insisted on walking from Aggieville. In the interim, Derek and I hung out with JT. Just after the quartet arrived, Derek had to depart to get up to the press box, leaving the five of us to our own devices. We then spent about 90 minutes roaming around and taking in all the changes while fruitlessly trying to meet up with readers and Twitter pals. There was a somewhat bizarre incident: K-State Dean of Students Pat Bosco had dropped his all-access ID badge and Nugget found it. Nugget chased him down at full sprint, caught Bosco just before he got into his car, and returned it; he got a warm handshake and some nice words in return. Sadly, none of us had the presence of mind to get a snap of that.
After a stop to get the above Very Important Photo, we made our way into the stadium; Nugget's parents also joined us just before kickoff. Our seats were in the southeast corner, up in the 51st row; it was a perfect spot to see pretty much everything important that happened in the first half. (The student section, on the other hand, got to see all the fun in the second stanza.) Our neighbors were an eclectic bunch. Behind us were some old guys, at least one of whom apparently had been away from the stadium even longer than I had -- 1971, if I understood him correctly. In front of us was a Michigan State fan decked out in Sparty gear, joined by two friends from Mexico who had never before even seen a game of American football. And directly below us was the main concentration of Longhorn faithful, along with their pep band.
The First Half
The Wildcats drove toward our end zone in the first quarter. Texas -- hampered by accomplished precisely nothing on their first two drives, losing a yard over six plays and adding insult to injury with a 12-yard shanked punt following the second three-and-out. But while the Wildcats were able to move the ball well into the red zone, getting first-and-10 at the 20 on both drives, their execution once they got there was horrible. On the first drive, the Cats benefitted from a pass interference call in the end zone which placed the ball at the two. Three plays later, the ball was still at the two, and Matt McCrane had to come on to punch through a 19-yard field goal. The second drive also stalled out after picking up 8 yards on the first play from the 20. McCrane again had to step in, this time from 30 to give K-State a 6-0 lead. On their final drive of the quarter, Texas was able to lurch across midfield, taking their offense away from the surely critical effect of our voices on their concentration... but the defense stiffened as soon as the Longhorns set foot on Wildcat turf.
As soon as the K-State offense had to operate with their backs to us, they lost the plot. On the first two plays of the second quarter, Jake Waters was sacked. The second sack left the Wildcats with fourth-and-25 from their own two-yard line, giving Nick Walsh little room to operate. Texas nearly blocked the kick, and although the lack of a return made for a successful change of possession, the punt itself was only 38 yards. Texas had the ball at the Wildcat 40. Three plays later, they had a first down inside the 20, but after a one-yard Johnathan Gray run a holding penalty pushed the Horns back, and a third-down sack by Elijah Lee took them out of field goal range. K-State regained the ball at their own 8.
They did nothing with it. Two incompletions and a one-yard run by DeMarcus Robinson led to another Walsh punt from inside his own end zone, but this one was crushed; a 46-yarder which Jaxon Shipley had no choice but to fair catch. The Longhorns couldn't actually cross the 50, and suffered their third three-and-out of the half.
Finally, the offense mounted a drive, although it started with a five-yard loss on a handoff to Charles Jones. He made up for it, gaining 18 yards on four carries during the rest of the drive. The key plays, though, were a 24-yard completion to Curry Sexton, a pass interference penalty which got K-State to the Texas 28, and -- after a four-yard loss on a Waters carry -- a 29-yard hookup with Tyler Lockett which resulted in a first down from the three. Robinson then scooted in for the game's first touchdown. K-State had a 13-point lead, and had outgained Texas 168-39.
Armanti Foreman busted a return to mid-field on the ensuing kickoff, but it was called back due to holding. The Longhorns did manage to get to midfield on their own steam, although Dante Barnett almost picked off Tyrone Swoopes just before Texas crossed the 50. But after Gray busted a 6-yard run to get to the Wildcat 45, the Horns were slammed backward immediately when Ryan Mueller brought Swoopes down in the backfield. Two incompletions later, one of which was again nearly picked off by Barnett, and Texas was obliged to punt; with 35 seconds left in the half and slated to receive the second-half kick, the Wildcats knelt down and jogged to the locker room.
The Second Half
The Cats failed to score on the opening drive of the second half, getting into Texas territory thanks to a pass interference call but stalling out. The Longhorns then moved the ball well, picking up 39 yards on six plays to march from their own 13 into Wildcat territory. The third key play of the game then occured. On a reverse, D'Onta Foreman dropped the ball trying to hand off. Valentino Coleman fell on the ball, and Waters responded with three completions for 18 yards and a pair of runs for 10 to get to the 29. Right below us on the next play, Waters hit Sexton at the 5-yard line, but the play was called back due to holding. After two incompletions, Waters hit Deante Burton, but only for 18 yards; the 'Cats settled for a 38-yard field goal from McCrane and went up 16-0.
Again, the Longhorns were able to move the ball. Swoopes hit Marcus Johnson for 21 and Shipley for 21, and as the quarter came to an end the Longhorns were encroaching on the Wildcat red zone. Four plays later came the most controversial play of the afternoon. On 4th-and-1 from the Wildcat 14, Gray ran into the line and was stopped. From our angle, it seemed pretty clear, but then again from that distance nothing really is.
The 'Cats, again moving away from us, surged downfield. Waters went to Lockett three times, Burton twice, and Lockett twice more, moving the team 57 yards in short order. Jones took it the rest of the way, picking up 14 and 8 to get to the one, then squirting in for the score to effectively end the game. But while the result was no longer in doubt, a couple of very important benchmarks were still in play, and you better believe we were keeping an eye on the auxiliary scoreboard next to the jumbotron.
Texas went three-and-out, wasting two minutes. K-State went three-and-out, wasting another two. Then, buried at their own 20, Texas again failed to earn a first down -- Barnett failing, on third down, for the third time to intercept a pass that hit his hands. Barnett had more drops on the day than the entire receiving corps, and this fact continued to amuse us for the remainder of the day. With just 4:32 to play, K-State had prevented Texas from gaining the five yards they needed to break the 200-yard barrier, and all that was required now was to burn the clock enough to preserve both that mark and the shutout. Easy-peasy; Jones started with a nine-yard gain, then Joe Hubener performed a disturbingly evocative impersonation of Collin Klein. The backup quarterback carried the ball five times for 46 yards on the final drive, finishing with a 20-yard burst that almost carried him into the end zone. Downed at the five with just seconds to play, the Wildcats opted to kneel down rather than try and score, and the 'Cats were bowl eligible.
The Wildcat defense held Texas to 90 yards on the ground and 106 through the air. The Longhorns only managed 3.77 yards per play, while giving up just over five-per to the K-State offense. Once again, K-State had three players run for over 45 yards -- but this time, it was Robinson, Jones, and Hubener rather than Robinson, Jones, and Waters. Lockett quietly had an excellent game, hauling in 8 balls for 103 yards; that was a "quiet" performance largely because we were too busy enjoying something that really hadn't happened since the Stephen F. Austin game. The Wildcat passing game was not simply Waters to Lockett and Sexton on Saturday. Burton also caught four balls, and Kody Cook returned to the box score with a pair of catches. Zach Trujillo even got in on the act; the only disappointment in the passing game was that Glenn Gronkowski never caught a pass. (He did actually get a carry for a change, though.)
For an 11am game the choice of seats had been perfect. The day had been cool to start, but was starting to warm up. But our seats, only a handful of rows down from the top of the section, were still under the gentle protection of the video board's shadow, and they would remain there until the final whistle -- literally so, as the sun finally started pouring its rays down on our row as we began gathering our things. We trekked to downtown and filled up at Old Chicago before retiring for some afternoon rest. In my case, that turned into an actual full sleep -- the cost of having only gotten about eight hours of sleep in the preceding four days. By the time I arrived at Keltic Star later that night, my compatriots were already three sheets to the wind.
Don't worry, they'll vouch for me: I caught up. I caught up quick. Strongbow is some good stuff, after all. But we'll spare you further details, other than to note that Certain Parties may have engaged in party fouls and might even have been cut off by our adorable and charming server. But at least they didn't get 86ed like the guys who showed up about 45 minutes before last call and managed to destroy an entire tray of drinks so comprehensively that we got wet 10 feet away.
Sunday morning, after brunching with Derek at Aggie Station, I finally aimed the car away from Manhattan. There's a pain in my heart now; I still love that town and everything about it, and I don't know when I'll be able to return.
But I sure hope it won't take another 21 years.