While we trudge our way through the boredom of no sports and staying at home, we found ourselves a project. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at Kansas State‘s rivals and figuring out five athletes from each school that... well, maybe we don’t like them, but we don’t hate them. Today’s target: Baylor.
It’s easy to hate Baylor.
There have been so many incidents in Waco which really go beyond the pale that the Bears are an easy target, and a lot of their athletes have been so ripe for derision that it’s almost too easy.
However, our staff took a collective deep breath, hunkered down, and managed to dig through the refuse to find five people who once suited up in the green and gold who we’re actually pretty okay with.
5) Robert Griffin III
Oh, rest assured. There was one day when we hated Baylor’s Heisman-winning quarterback. That day was October 23, 2010, when Griffin led the Bears to a brutal 47-42 win over the Cats at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco. Griffin threw for 404 yards that day (and Jay Finley rumbled for 250 on the ground), and a Wildcat team which had not yet unleashed the magic of Optimus Prime got blown out. The score, for those who don’t recall, was misleading; K-State scored immediately after Baylor’s final touchdown on a trick play — a 67-yard pass from Daniel Thomas to Aubrey Quarles — and then squeezed in another consolation score with seven seconds left on the clock.
Two weeks later, Garrett Gilbert turned in the greatest performance ever by a K-State quarterback in the game forever to be known as The Great Kleining, and little did we know what that was going to mean eleven months later.
On October 1, 2011, Griffin and the Bears came to Manhattan. Baylor was ranked 15th in the AP poll. K-State was unranked. Both teams were 3-0, but Baylor had scored 154 points in three games, one of which was the opener against TCU, ranked 14th to open that season. K-State had barely escaped their opener against Eastern Kentucky, and had to scrape and claw their way to a decent enough non-conference win at Miami.
And all anyone wanted to talk about was Robert Griffin III.
Griffin was good. He threw for 346 yards and five touchdowns. Heading into the final frame, Baylor led 35-26, but the Wildcat defense hunkered down. Arthur Brown was already having a good day, but in the fourth quarter he became a star. With 5:43 to go, Collin Klein bulldozed his way into the end zone from a yard out to bring K-State within two.
On the very next play, Brown picked Griffin off, giving the Wildcats the ball at the Baylor 15. K-State had to settle for Anthony Cantele’s third field goal of the game, but that was enough to take a 36-35 lead and give the defense three minutes and ten seconds to try to hold on.
They didn’t need it. On their first play from scrimmage, Brown sacked Griffin. The defense held, and Griffin threw an incompletion on fourth-and-one with 1:08 to go, and suddenly it was K-State sitting unbeaten, not Griffin.
But here’s the thing. As much as those two games could have cemented Griffin as someone K-State fans could hate, it’s almost impossible to do so. Griffin had a beaming personality. He was absolutely electric to watch. He was cocky, sure, but he wasn’t a punk like some later Big 12 quarterbacks one could mention.
And then the poor guy got drafted by the worst franchise in the NFL and his career went to hell.
4) Mike Singletary
Actually, K-State fans have no reason to hate Mike Singletary anyway; when he was at Baylor the teams had only played once, ever, a decade prior... and Vince Gibson’s Wildcats had won that one 45-15.
So putting the greatest defensive player in Baylor history on this list was sort of a no-brainer. Singletary, of course, was part of the 1985 Chicago Bears team which captivated America. He was also part of the most embarrassing music video ever made.
Man, look at that nerd. Can’t hate that.
3) Michael Johnson
Sprinters are a cocky breed, no doubt. Michael Johnson was no exception, but we’re just not equipped to hate a guy who won five gold medals in three different Olympics (although he had to return one — the 4x400m in 2000 — because Antonio Pettigrew was on steroids). For 12 years, Johnson held the world record in the 200m before Usain Bolt officially became the World’s Fastest Man, and still holds the US record.
And he was clean. In Olympic track and field of the 1990s, that carries huge weight.
2) Hayden Fry
What? You didn’t realize that Hayden Fry was a Bear? Yup. He was a quarterback in Waco in the late 1940s, although he only started a few games.
But he’s the only guy who can reasonably claim Bill Snyder as part of his own coaching tree, so we’re giving him his due here. He’s a Baylor guy, and we don’t hate him.
(Yes, Bill Snyder worked for John McKay at USC. For one year. Please.)
1) Isaiah Austin
As a player at Baylor, Isaiah Austin was relatively inoffensive. Indeed, even then he was widely perceived as a pretty good dude even outside of Waco. What gets him the top spot on our list, of course, is what happened after he graduated.
Austin was one of the best defenders in the Big 12 as a freshman and sophomore despite being blind in one eye, and declared for the 2014 NBA Draft. Four days before that draft, however, he received a diagnosis of Marfan syndrome and was informed that continuing to play basketball would potentially kill him due to oversized arteries in his heart.
Adam Silver invited him to New York anyway, and after the 15th pick in the draft, Silver drafted Austin himself on behalf of the NBA. It was legitimately one of the most heartwarming moments ever to occur during a draft telecast.
If you can hate this guy, you’re a monster.
What you may not know, however, is that Austin’s story had a happy ending of sorts. In 2016, he was medically re-cleared to play basketball. He’s been kicking around foreign leagues, including a 16-game stint in Guangxi of the Chinese NBL where he averaged an eye-popping 34.6 points and 13.4 rebounds. A year later, he went off for 33.2 and 10.4.
Austin was a good guy, and he deserved a break.
Some folks our staff also came up with include Rico Gathers, Grant Teaff, Santana Dotson, Jeremy Wariner, and, um, Patrick Dennehy.
You knew we’d get that in here somewhere, didn’t you?
NEXT UP: Iowa State.