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Sunflower Showdown: 1906

Ahead of this weekend's game against Kansas, we take a look back at Sunflower Showdowns of years gone by, beginning with the first win for Kansas State.

The 1905 Aggies lost to KU and swore to win the next time
The 1905 Aggies lost to KU and swore to win the next time
K-State 150 Archives

This Saturday, the 111th edition of the Sunflower Showdown will be played in Manhattan, against a backdrop of constant media chatter, a brand-new playoff system, and intense expectations for at least one team, and possibly both.

But things were very different more than a century ago. For one, Kansas State University, or Kansas State Agriculture College as it was known back then, was barely a few decades old and enrollment was still small enough that the entire student body could be photographed in front of Anderson Hall without obscuring the building:

Anderson Hall-old

Courtesy of KSU Libraries

The history of the Kansas-Kansas State series is long, if not exactly storied. The teams started playing each other regularly in 1902 and those early years of the series were completely dominated by the University of Kansas. In fact, Kansas State had managed to score only four points in as many games, losing 16-0, 34-0, 41-4, and 28-0. The Aggies and their fans had developed something of an inferiority complex.

But everything changed in 1906. First, the Board of Regents, taking note of the number of football-related deaths that had occurred nationwide in 1905, changed the rules to make the game "less brutal and dangerous," in keeping with the movement to reform football. Second, Mike Ahearn, who favored a quicker style of play, had become Kansas State's head coach the previous year, and would go on to be one of the most successful coaches in school history.

The game against Kansas was played at Athletic Park, an open public square between Bluemont Avenue and 8th Street (close to the current location of Bluemont Elementary School), and wooden grandstands were erected for the first time. A small locker room was also provided for team use for the first time, and a record crowd of 1,500 attended the game.

K.S.A.C. beat KU 6-4 that day, behind the brilliant play of left half Carl Mallon, who played both ways and kicked goal for the Aggies, and was responsible for Kansas State's only score. The 1907 College Annual would go on to say that Mallon would "long be remembered as the man who scored a touch-down against K.U."

Carl Mallon, K-State’s first real local hero. College Annual 1907, Kansas State Agricultural College

Source: Kansas State Agricultural College 1907 College Annual

The Industrial, the school newspaper of the time, had this to say about the game:

The victory of the College over the State University on the gridiron yesterday brought forth an enthusiasm among our students and citizens that was without parallel in the history of the institution; all the more because it had been a clean game from start to finish. The streets were thronged in the evening with shouting students, a bonfire was lighted, the College bell rang, speeches were made--all felt that it was a famous victory.

The student body began to perfect the art of rivalry trolling in the spring of 1907, by dedicating the 1907 College Annual to the football team "which has done so much to bring our Institution before the people of the Middle West, and which was second to none in this state." Of course, this was not entirely true. In fact, the Aggies had lost to Wichita (12-6) and Washburn (5-4) that year, but they had finally beaten KU and that was all anybody really cared about in Manhattan.

Maybe things weren't that different back in the day?


Note: Photographs from the KSU Libraries Archive are used under a Creative Commons license. The 1907 College Annual is in the public domain and available for download at Details about Athletic Park and the game were drawn from J.T. Willard, History of the Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science (Kansas State College Press, 1940).