In the Monday piece I authored regarding former Seahawks still in the playoffs, I noted that I have rooted for New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees for quite some time, dating all the way back to his college days as a member of the Purdue Boilermakers. Multiple commenters noted that they’d love to hear the story behind that, and while many likely think it may have to do with actually meeting Brees in person or something of that nature, it is far less interesting. My Brees fanhood is extremely simple, and the story is extremely uninteresting.
In any case, as I pointed out Monday, this dates back to the 1998 college bowl season. I am not much of a college football fan, but back in the 1990s I would regularly plant myself in front of the television to enjoy multiple games. I knew who Drew Brees was, simply because at that time ESPN regularly showed Big Ten matchups in the early time slot, and I had watched him lead Joe Tiller’s offense on multiple occasions.
However, as many of you already know, I grew up in Big 8 country before the Big 8 swallowed up half of the Southwest Athletic Conference and became the Big 12. Specifically, I grew up the son of an alum of the University of Kansas, and from an early age we would regularly attend football games each fall. The first game I ever attended was on Halloween of 1987 when my beloved Jayhawks put up a great fight, but eventually lost to the number 1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners 71-10.
For those who are too young to remember the state of college football in the state of Kansas in the 1980s, it wasn’t always like it was now. While the Kansas State Wildcats have established themselves as a program of note over the last three decades, at that time things were much different. Well, they were different for the Wildcats at least.
The week after the Jayhawks let Oklahoma off the hook with a 61 point victory, the Hawks and Wildcats faced off in what was jokingly dubbed the Toilet Bowl, a game that would determine who finished in last place in the Big 8 and who would finish in next to last place in the Big 8. Kansas State entered the game 0-8 with an average margin of defeat of more than 30 points a game. Kansas entered at 1-7, losing by an average of 27 points per game, with their lone victory coming in a 16-15 defeat of Southern Illinois, an FCS (then Div I-AA) opponent brought in to pad the record.
The two teams were so bad that the Wichita Eagle-Beacon ran a story in the lead up to the game that the way to solve the football woes at the both the University of Kansas and Kansas State University was to abolish the football programs. Wichita State University had discontinued the football program for budgetary reasons after the 1986 season, and for a very brief period of time this became a very real possibility.
The much anticipated matchup between the two programs went about how one would expect such a game to go, and as the game took place before college football adopted overtime for the 1996 season, it ended in a 17-17 tie. That led to the final standings for the 1987 Big 8 season looking like this (screengrab taken from WikiPedia).
However, the futures of both football programs would improve over the coming years, with the Jayhawks hiring Glen Mason prior to the 1988 season and the Wildcats bringing Bill Snyder in for 1989. Mason managed a decent turnaround, taking the team to a couple of bowl games in the early 90s, while Snyder pulled off one of the greatest turnarounds in NCAA football history.
While the Wildcats never finished in the top five in either the AP or Coaches poll, they were on the brink of playing for a national championship towards the end of the 1998 season. After starting 11-0 behind a suffocating defense and a nearly unstoppable offense led by senior quarterback Michael Bishop and freshman wide receiver Aaron Lockett, K-State went into the Big 12 Championship Game simply needing to knock off the Texas A&M Aggies to likely earn a shot at the national title.
For those who don’t know how that game went down, take the six minutes to watch this video, and you’ll understand why Michael Dickson has a lot of work to do to supplant Shane Lechler as my all time favorite punter.
That loss by the Wildcats proved costly, as they not only fell out of national championship contention, but also dropped from the BCS picture to playing in the Alamo Bowl, a huge step down. Living in Kansas at that time, I heard all the complaints from Kansas State fans and supporters that they had been jobbed out of a BCS bowl, and that it was only the timing of their loss that led to the Mildcats missing out on a New Year’s Day bowl game.
Personally, I had hoped that the Cats would play in a BCS bowl so that they would get destroyed, but I had to pin my hopes on the Boilermakers and their plucky young sophomore quarterback who played in a gimicky “spread” offense. I won’t bore all of you with the details of how myself and two of my best friends watched that game at Luke Air Force Base on a road trip out to San Diego (where we would stay at MCAS Miramar during our annual road trip out that way) to watch the Holiday Bowl the following day. Here’s the final drive of the game for the Boilermakers.
And that is why I have a soft spot in my heart for Drew Brees against any opponent not named the Seattle Seahawks.