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Roberson Reflects on Arrowhead Championship Moment

By Mark Janssen
 
 
Ell Roberson called it, "Our defining moment. We had won a lot of games, and gone to bowl games, but this was the Big 12 Championship."
 
That's true for him, for the Roberson-Darren Sproles backfield tandem and for the 1999 recruiting class.
 
"That was a highly-talented class," said Roberson, clicking off the names of Josh Buhl, Bryan Hickman, Andrew Shull and Nick Leckey. "It wasn't a perfect year, but it was a perfect way to end that season ... with a Big 12 title.
"And Darren? What can you say about him," Roberson continued. "The little guy had such a heart. He wouldn't give the rah-rah speech, but the team fed off his inner-spirit. Some people don't have to speak to make a point. He was one of those guys. He was one of those guys that you knew what you were going to get. He was a special cat."
 
And a special Wildcat.
 
When K-State returns to Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium Saturday for the 11 a.m. contest against Iowa State, fans will enter a sports venue where the Wildcats arguably scored their biggest victory in school history.
 
Kansas State 35, Oklahoma 7.
 
That's No. 1-ranked Oklahoma. Undefeated OU. The No. 1-ranked and undefeated Sooners with Heisman Trophy winner Josh White, and the score, one more time, K-State 35, OU 7!
 
It was a game that the networks were dreading. All knew that OU would win, the only question was by how many and how soon. This Big 12 title game was sure to be a rout.
 
And, it was.
 
One more time: K-State 35, OU 7.
 
After K-State went three-and-out on its first offensive possession, OU scored at the 12:11 mark of the first quarter.
 
"At that point, we still had confidence, but there was a feeling that we were going to have to put points on the board," said Roberson. "We thought we were going to have to score, score, score."
 
K-State did just that. Oklahoma did not.
 
Roberson hurled touchdown passes to Brian Casey, then James Terry, then Sproles and finally to Antoine Polite, while the win was accented by a 27-yard interception return by Ted Sims for 35 unanswered points.
 
At game's end, Sproles, a junior, had rushed for 235 yards, and Roberson, a senior, had passed for 227 and rushed for 62 more. The two Wildcats accounted for ... get this ... 524 out of K-State 519 yards. The other negative-five yards came on a team rush.
 
"I played on teams with other good backs, but that guy was special ... just amazing what he did in his career," said Roberson of Sproles, who now plays for the San Diego Chargers. "We had an offense where he could run, or I could run, or I could throw it to guys like JT (James Terry, who set a single-season receiving record with 1,232 yards). We had a lot of weapons. You couldn't fall asleep because you never knew who was going to make the big play."
 
This game was not the ending of a perfect season. At 4-0 and ranked No. 6 in the nation, with Roberson on the sidelines with a broken hand, Marshall stunned the Wildcats, 27-20. That was followed by losses to Texas, 24-20, and to Oklahoma State, 38-34, dropping K-State to 4-3.
 
"We had a tarnished year because of several injuries," Roberson said of the mid-year skid. "But we made up for it at the end."
 
The Wildcats followed with six straight wins to claim the Big 12 North and earn a trip to Kansas City for the title game in a stadium where they had opened the season back in August with a win over California.
 
"No one else believed in us, but we knew how well we were playing at that time of the year. We were peaking at the right time," said Roberson of the early-December game. "I heard the stories from my parents walking into the stadium on how they heard OU fans talking about how the game would be over in the first quarter."
 
It wasn't over in the first quarter, but arguably it was in the second after the Wildcats scored 21 unanswered points on three Roberson touchdown passes.
 
The Big 12 title win was one of historical proportions, but the Baytown, Texas, product hedges as to whether that game was K-State's best of the year.
 
"We went to Nebraska and whipped up on them pretty good earlier in the year," Roberson said of a 38-9 victory over the No. 18 Cornhuskers, when he passed for 313 yards and rushed for 90, accounting for three touchdowns. "But with what was at stake (Big 12 title), I guess you would have to say that the OU game was our best victory. It was a game that revived the K-State spirit in that we did something that had never happened before."
 
In a story that now can be told, Roberson played the second half of the 2003 season with a rotator cuff injury that was later diagnoses as being torn 75 to 80 percent off the bone.
 
Surgery following the Fiesta Bowl, which all but ended his NFL draft hopes, so he opted for a career in the Canadian Football League with the Montreal Alouettes, first as a quarterback and finally as a receiver.
 
"I never did recover from the surgery, and I ended up having to quit so I could maybe move my arm when I was 50," said Roberson. "As it turned out, continuing to play at K-State really damaged it, but I'd do it over again. I loved the sport, but it was tearing up my body."
 
Now 30, Roberson lives in Houston where he works as a safety process engineer for Sercel Incorporated, which manufactures cables used by companies like British Petroleum in finding off-shore oil.
 
In addition, Roberson is in the process of putting together a program to develop young quarterbacks in the Houston area. "It's a way to give back to the sport," he said.
 
Roberson, a 2003 graduate of K-State, says he has not been back to the campus since his graduation, but does add, "I would say at least once a week I get an e-mail from a special K-State fan."
 
One of those notes recently came from a mother with a picture of her five-year-old daughter named after the Wildcat quarterback. Her name was Elle.
 
"I still very much bleed Purple," said Roberson. "I have a room downstairs at my home and it's purple. I'm very proud of the five (bowl) rings I helped earn as a Wildcat."
 
 
We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact either Mark Janssen at mjanssen7@cox.net, or Kansas State Director of Athletic Communications/SID Kenny Lannou at klannou@kstatesports.com.