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Nebraska vs. Kansas Sparks memory of a game gone by

(c) 1995 Copyright Nando.net
1995 Scripps Howard

Kansas City Star

LAWRENCE, Kan. (Nov 11, 1995 - 06:06 EST) -- A Kansas victory Saturday over top-ranked Nebraska would be "monumental" for the program, according to Jayhawks coach Glen Mason.

But unless a new stadium is constructed, a Kansas triumph in 1995 won't be as important as the 20-20 tie between the Jayhawks and the Cornhuskers in 1920. Kansas trailed 20-0 at halftime, and the result was celebrated like few others on campus.

From that game, Memorial Stadium, site of the 102nd meeting between neighbors and today one of the nation's oldest sports structures, was born.

And so was the legend of Phog Allen as one of the great motivators and story tellers college sports has ever known.

Allen retired in 1956 with more victories than any other college basketball coach, but upon his return to Kansas after seven years at Central Missouri State University, Allen coached football for one season. It was long enough to oversee one of the Jayhawks' most remarkable games and give Allen an embellished entry in his book, "Phog Allen's Sports Stories":

"Swooping down from the north, as Attila's Huns of old, the scarlet-clad Nebraska football giants of Coach Henry ("Indian") Schulte ran roughshod over the light but scrappy Kansas Jayhawkers during the first half of the 1920 homecoming game at Lawrence, 20-0."

There were no rankings in 1920, and football was a one-platoon game. But for games played 75 years apart, the Kansas-Nebraska match-up on Nov. 13, 1920, bore striking similarities to the buildup of this season's game.

Even then, Nebraska was a powerhouse. It had put together three undefeated teams in the 1910s and had won or tied for five straight Missouri Valley Conference championships. In 1920, the Cornhuskers had lost to Penn State and Notre Dame but were considered much stronger than Kansas.

At least, that's what Allen was telling everybody the week before the game.

"We'll have a hard time making a good showing against the Cornhuskers," Allen was quoted as saying by the Lawrence Journal World. "We'll send in a team that is none to good in spirits because of their losing the Valley championship last week."

Kansas entered the game with a 5-1 record and was coming off a loss at Oklahoma. The team was built around Dutch Lonborg, an All-Valley end who had been shifted to quarterback for his senior year. Lonborg later served as the athletic director at Northwestern, where he was instrumental in organizing the NCAA basketball tournament in 1939, and at Kansas.

Another member of the Kansas team, John Bunn, later coached basketball for 42 years at three schools, notably Stanford. Both would play major roles for the Jayhawks that day.

"Trooping exultantly off the field at the end of the first half, the happy Huskers shouted to a small boy who was marking up the scores, 'Say, sonny, you had better lay in a fresh supply of chalk. You are apt to run out during the second half."'

Missouri was Kansas' biggest rival, but the Nebraska game was drawing more interest than school officials had anticipated. McCook Field was built in 1892 and stood where the horseshoe portion of Memorial Stadium sits. The east-west field was bordered by sets of rickety wooden bleachers.

By midweek, the school announced only a few tickets remained and more than 10,000 fans were expected.

Allen continued to play psychological games.

"Our goal is to hold the score down," he said. "We do not want our best KU worn down so that they will be unable to beat the Tigers on Thanksgiving."

Then Allen issued an injury report and mentioned, of course, that just about everybody had some ailment, from bruises to blood poisoning. He said he might even start his second stringers, saving his starters for Missouri.

" ... An alumnus of earlier football fame broke into the dressing quarters, swearing 'Blankety, blank, black, etc., you boys are a bunch of white-livered so-and-so's and won't fight those blankety-blank Nebraskans like our old-timers did.' I cut him short with these words, 'Shut up! No one except a fool or a mule can be cursed. I am running this team, and I'm darned proud of these boys, even at this stage of the game."'

Kansas had been thinking about a new stadium for a year. In 1919, a committee of faculty, alumni and students had been formed to explore the possibilities of new structures. Their vision was a $1 million project -- a football stadium and student union that would stand as monuments to those who had fought and died in World War I.

One reason a new stadium was necessary, proponents argued, was to comfort alumni who were angry that the Missouri game had been removed from Kansas City in 1910. The Kansas City site had provided more seating.

A Million Dollar Drive was in the planning stages when school opened in the fall of 1920. But a spark was needed to generate enthusiasm among the students.

"Andy McDonald! Ed Sandefur! Warren Woody! George Hale! Captain George Nettles! Tad Reid! Dutch Lonborg! Harley Little! Frank Mandeville! Jonnie Bunn! Kenny Welch! Severt Higgins! and Carl McAdams! You are the men I am counting on! Out and after those red-shirted devils, who would run us out of chalk in the second half."

Nebraska could have as many as 15,000 fans on Saturday in Lawrence. In 1920, about 100 followers, a 45-member band, and -- gasp! -- co-ed cheerleaders made the trek with the team. They arrived in Kansas City on Friday.

In Lawrence that day, a pep rally fired up fans in the school's gymnasium and that night a bonfire on North College Hill lit up the campus.

Game day was clear and cool. Students and alumni from across the country flocked to McCook Field. Some old-timers complained there weren't enough rooms in Lawrence and had to stay in Kansas City and Topeka.

Kansas Gov. Henry Allen was in the stands.

Kickoff, as it is Saturday, was 2:30 p.m.

Nebraska's top players were John Pucelik, a guard, and Clarence Swanson, an end. The Cornhuskers did have their way early. They scored seven in the first quarter, 13 in the second. The Jayhawks hadn't come close to the end zone.

Kansas could not run against Nebraska, so it went to the air in the second half.

Lonborg threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Mandeville in the third quarter and another early in the fourth quarter, making it 20-14.

"Now, at least, Kansas could not be whitewashed. Truly, this was the best that both the players and rooters were hoping for. But Kansas grew confident. Nebraska looked worried. (After the second touchdown) the Kansas stands went wild. The Kansas team was, in a few fickle moments, transformed into supermen. The Nebraska giants were becoming impotent and uncertain."

A Nebraska fumble gave the ball back to Kansas, and this time, Bunn, a halfback, threw the touchdown pass, 27 yards to Mandeville. Sandefur missed his only extra point of the season.

"Pandemonium broke loose! A delirium for Kansas fans! They were weeping, shouting and crying for sheer joy. Cursing, pummeling and hugging! There was no reason for manifest now. It was a courageous little team that this mad crowd was worshiping. A gamer one never wore the cleats."

Nebraska reached the Kansas 10 three times in the second half but didn't score, preserving the draw. The Cornhuskers dominated the statistics, leading in total yards (319-196) and first downs (19-11). The Jayhawks punted 13 times.

When the game ended, Kansas students stormed the field. They wanted to carry the players off the field. But Coach Scrubby Laslett, a captain on the previous year's team, shooed them away.

Newspaper accounts of the game revealed the secret of the Jayhawks' second-half turnaround. It wasn't a Phog Allen speech.


Each player was given a cup of piping hot coffee with one lump of sugar. It was the idea of then Haskell coach Madison Bell, who had seen it work for schools in the east.

"Pall and gloom shrouded Nebraska's followers. Nonpartisan spectators, who came only to see the great Nebraska machine grind into fine bits the underdog, Kansas, now swing into great ovations for the boys who had done the impossible. Kansas had won a great 20 to 20 moral victory."

On Monday, during convocation, Allen and the team were seated on a platform and given a 10-minute ovation. The Kansas band played two fight songs. In the next two weeks, students and faculty had pledged $200,000.

On May 10, 1921, the male students took hammers and axes to the McCook bleachers, and only a few yards away, chancellor Ernest Lindley donned overalls, grabbed a horse-drawn plow and broke ground on the new stadium. Memorial Stadium was patterned after the structures at Harvard and Yale and was originally to seat 40,000.

But when it opened for the 1921 season, there was enough money only to complete parts of the east and west sides, about 18,000 seats.

On the formal dedication, Nov. 11, 1922, Kansas lost to Nebraska 28-0. The horseshoe was finished in 1927. The pledge drive had lost momentum throughout the 1920s. Pledges totaled $965,000, but only two-thirds of that was ever collected.

The bond was paid in 1947.

Last week, Kansas completed a waterproofing and column repair project that cost $834,000. Another $1 million in concrete repairs could happen this spring.

All tickets have been sold for Saturday's game, and if more than 51,574 show up in the stadium that currently seats 50,250, Kansas will have a record home crowd.

If the Jayhawks win, they'll have their first perfect home record since going 5-0 in 1951. Kansas has never been 6-0 at home.

Maybe the Jayhawks would settle for a tie.

"Like a majestic prelude to a powerful symphony was the persisting picture of that fighting group of boys who were down and out and who had the indefatigable courage to come back and to prove that 'a champ belongs.' We owe the beautiful $660,000 Memorial Stadium, which nestles in the bosom of Mount Oread at the University of Kansas largely to this valorous team."