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Sunflower Showdown: 1934

Ahead of this weekend's game against Kansas, we take a look back at Sunflower Showdowns of years gone by, including the game from 1934.

The early 1930s were not a great time in the state of Kansas. The Crash of 1929 had segued into the Great Depression and devastated the lives of thousands of citizens, including students at Kansas State. Unable to support themselves financially, many students were forced to take part-time jobs, but with staggering unemployment in town, some had no choice but to drop out, at least temporarily.

One bright spot through those dark days had been the football team and its streak of success against in-state rival Kansas. The Wildcats had won seven of the last ten games between the teams, including all of the meetings in Lawrence since 1924, when The Jinx had officially been put to bed. Conversely, Kansas State had not won in Manhattan since 1926 either, and both teams were eager to end their runs of futility.

From 1928 to 1933, the Wildcats were led by Bo McMillin, who coached the team to six successful seasons, including an 8-2 season in 1931 that nearly earned Kansas State a Rose Bowl berth. But in 1934, he left to coach at Indiana University, and would ultimately lead the Hoosiers to their only outright conference title. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.

Looking for a coach to take over in Manhattan, athletic director Mike Ahearn turned to the day's hottest young prospect. Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf was lured away from Oklahoma A&M, where he'd gone 34-10-7 and brought three Missouri Valley Conference titles to Stillwater, while never losing to in-state rival Oklahoma.

Waldorf-1934

Source: Kansas State College 1934 Royal Purple

The new coach brought an assistant coach with him, former Iowa player and Oklahoma City head coach, Wesley Fry. Along with Fry, track coach Ward Haylett, and future basketball coach Owen "Chili" Cochrane made up the rest of Waldorf's star-studded staff.

waldorf-assistants

Source: Kansas State College 1934 Royal Purple

Waldorf favored a methodical style of football that stressed fundamentals, but this was not immediately popular in Manhattan. Kansas State opened the season with a 13-0 win over Fort Hays Teachers College, but played Manhattan College to an ugly tie at muddy Ebbets Field and in the program's first night game on the road, spotted Marquette 27 points and lost the game, despite a furious 20-point rally in the second half.

So the fans were understandably nervous about the Homecoming game against Kansas, and a smaller-than-expected crowd of about 11,000 attended the game. School officials were disappointed by the turnout and blamed radio broadcasting of the game for the lower turnout.

The game itself was nearly as disappointing as the poor attendance. Kansas State fumbled the ball eight times, including four times inside their own 20. Another late fumble, this time deep in Kansas territory, cost the Wildcats a sure touchdown. But the defense was stout that day, and the Jayhawks never managed to get on the board. The first half ended in a scoreless tie.

The Jayhawks' only sustained drive of the game ended when Kansas quarterback Bob White threw an interception that Maurice "Red" Elder, a fullback who played both ways, ran back 70 yards with the help of excellent blocking for a 7-0 lead early in the second half.

1934ku-game

Source: Kansas State College 1934 Royal Purple

It was all Kansas State after that, as the Wildcats ran 37 plays to just 24 from the Jayhawks. In the fourth quarter, the team took the ball 60 yards in eight plays and flashy sophomore quarterback Leo Ayers scampered 11 yards for Kansas State's second touchdown of the day. That was the final scoring opportunity for either team, and the Wildcats won the game 13-0.

It was one of the sloppiest contests in the series, and Waldorf would go on to say:

This was the only game that eight fumbles couldn't lose.

If the crowd had been less than enthusiastic before the game, they more than made it for it afterwards. Soon after the game, a rumor began to spread that classes were going to be cancelled on Monday in celebration. The school authorities made it very clear that this was not true and that this Monday holiday was entirely "illegal." Undeterred, groups of students formed pickets to block various entrances all over campus on Monday and effectively prevented students from attending classes. This horizontal strike, which included street dancing on the corner of 15th and Laramie and protest marches on Poyntz finally wound down when a not-entirely-disapproving Mike Ahearn turned the crowds away at the Wareham Opera House and told the students to go back to class.

Not all students were in favor of a Monday holiday. The Collegian's Sports Eye, Dan Partner, was fairly disgusted by the whole idea:

Kansas State beats Kansas 13-0 and there is no school on Monday. Why the high compliment to K.U.? It's getting to be a habit at Kansas State and such a celebration seems unnecessary. If it's a one-day holiday for beating an ordinary opponent, what'll it be if Nebraska is licked?

The 1934 team was loaded with all-conference talent. Leading the pack was team captain George Maddox, who would become only the second player in school history to be named a first team All-American by the Associated Press. Along with this accolade, Maddox earned a slightly more dubious distinction: he was featured on a box of Wheaties in 1935. Maddox would go on to play for Curly Lambeau's Green Bay Packers.

Other stalwarts on the team included halfback Oren Stoner, who was a consensus all-conference pick, and running guard Gene Sundgren, who received an honorable mention in the AP All-American team.

Stoner would go on to be a longtime football coach at Field Kindley High School in Coffeyville, Kansas. Sundgren became a successful cattle rancher and ultimately, president of the Kansas Livestock Association.

The team would ride the victory over Kansas to a perfect 5-0 record in the Big Six, including a surprise 19-7 victory over the mighty Nebraska Cornhuskers, keyed by two sweeping end run touchdowns by Stoner that would "always be remembered by those who saw the feat."

It was Kansas State's first major conference title. It would be 69 years before the school would win another.

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Note: The 1935 Royal Purple yearbook is available for download at Archive.org, as part of KSU Libraries' Open Access program. Details of the 1934 Kansas game were drawn from game reports in the Royal Purple and various stories in the Kansas State Collegian (Tuesday, October 23, 1934).