November 14, 2013
By Mark Janssen
In 1993, Kansas State's football team won nine games and earned an invitation to the Copper Bowl.
While the Wildcat fans were giddy with excitement over this first bowl win in the Bill Snyder era, within the locker room there was a certain degree of disappointment following the 9-2-1 season.
Yes, the Cats had won nine games in a single season for the first time since 1910, and yes, the Cats were going to only their second bowl game in the history of the school. But as All-American safety Jaime Mendez remembers it, "We honestly thought we could go undefeated. We thought we were that good. We knew the work we had put in and knew how close we were in 1991 (7-4) to doing something special."
A recent K-State Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, Mendez said in 1992 the team felt "...we were a quarterback away from doing great things." So when Chad May strolled onto campus, and when Kevin Lockett debuted as a freshman wide receiver, well, as Mendez said, "We thought we could be really, really good."
As it ended up, K-State went 9-2-1 with memorable wins coming over Minnesota, which snapped an 18-game non-conference road losing streak, plus No. 13 Oklahoma (21-7) ending a 22-game losing streak to the Sooners, Kansas (10-9), and finally Wyoming in the Copper Bowl, 52-17.
In the non-conference K-State had to hold on to edge Minnesota, 30-25, in Minneapolis.
"We let them get back in the game and the ghosts of old K-State started creeping back into our heads," reflected Mendez. "In the huddle I just said, 'Not this time. Not this time.' We had to get that road albatross off our back. Holding onto that victory sent us on our way."
The lone losses were to No. 6 Nebraska (45-28) in a game where May passed for 489 yards, and Iowa State, (27-23) in the game known for the Cyclone streaker, plus the tie with No. 16 Colorado, 16-16.
"We made plays to defeat Nebraska, but our program just wasn't to that point yet. We were too young in the program to know how to win against a team like Nebraska," said Mendez. "That was a team that was going to play for the national title, and we were playing in their house. We just came up a couple plays short."
Earning the first trip to a bowl game in the Bill Snyder era, Mendez said, "We were very happy for the seniors. We could now say, 'Now, all of this makes sense.' We had validated ourselves."
In the 52-17 win over Wyoming, Mendez said it was a game that just "snowballed." He would say, "It wasn't necessarily our best game, but we just 'snowballed' them."
It was a joyous occasion for the Wildcats, but only joyous to a point for Mendez.
"For me, it was also very, very sad," Mendez said. "I was happy to win, but there's a picture of me holding the trophy and crying. I knew at that time that I would never do this again. I would never put this uniform on again. I was glad, but also sad."
The 1993 team will be recognized Saturday during the game against TCU at Bill Snyder Family Stadium as the first bowl team coached by Bill Snyder.
SEPT. 26, 1992 - One game to remember for Mendez came in game two of the 1992 season when the Wildcats handled Temple, 35-14. In the game the K-State safety set a single game school record with four interceptions.
The Ohio native, who chose the Wildcats over Ohio State out of high school, remembers the game as "... just one of those games. I remember at one point saying, 'That guy's just throwing the ball right to me.' Two of them were pretty good plays, but the other two were just thrown right to me. I had much better games without any interceptions."
JAIME AND ESSENCE: A WINNING TEAM - It's not a competition, but Jaime and wife, Essence, have quite a rivalry going in their household.
Going through informal introductions on Match.com on Valentine's Day in 2008, Jaime learned that Essence Atkins was a Hollywood actress, while she was told that her new e-mail pen-pal used to play football at Kansas State.
Atkins has enjoyed parts in Half and Half and The Haunted House, just to name two roles, while Mendez bragged about being a Wildcat All-American, and a member of K-State's Ring of Honor.
Mendez also tried to woo his "Match" by saying he held the K-State record for interceptions with 15, and played in the Copper Bowl, and played briefly in the NFL and CFL.
Essence countered by saying she also semi-starred in The Cosby Show, and TV's Are We There Yet?
Finally after 19 months of "I did this," yah, but "I did this," the two were married in the fall of 2009 and just 21 months ago had their first child, Varro.
While Essence is acting in Hollywood, Jaime has his own credit card processing company in Los Angeles.