December 10, 2013
By Mark Janssen
It was the 1981 season... something drastic had to be done in the K-State football camp.
Jim Dickey was preparing for his fourth season after years of four, three and four wins. Before that, Kansas State football had experienced only one winning season in the previous 26 years and averaged just 2.7 wins during that 26-year span of time.
Entering that '81 season, Dickey went strange beyond strange when he redshirted eight seniors with seven of those - Mike Simeta, Jim Bob Morris, Will Cokely, Vic Koenning, Amos Donaldson, Doug Hoppock and Wade Wentling - being returning starters from 1980.
"My coaching staff thought I was losing it... gone crazy," laughed Dickey at his decision. "My AD (DeLoss Dodds) was leaving, so he said he didn't care. As coaches, we know we're in a hazardous profession. If you don't win, that's it... you go sell cars."
Dickey was tired of his 19- and 20-year-olds going up against Nebraska's 22- to 24-year-olds. Redshirting was a way to age the Wildcat team. It was an attempt to get them bigger, faster, stronger for the 1982 season.
With Dickey's son, Darrell Ray, being a junior quarterback, the Wildcats went 2-9 in 1981 setting the stage for 1982.
With team unity at an all-time high via the redshirt program, "Making Tracks" was the official theme to the 1982 season.
Defender Jim Bob Morris said of the team, "I'd walk through the Valley of Death with these guys. We're a team. We're white, we're black, we're Samoans, and we're Mexicans... but we are all one."
The Samoans were the fullback/running back combination of Iosefatu Faraimo and Masi Toluao, who brought their own unity to the team through a war dance and chant of "Ah-Tongia," which meant "Go - Fight - Win."
K-State opened the year by defeating Kentucky, South Dakota and Wichita State by a combined count of 96-19. Next came a loss to Arizona State, a tie with Missouri, and a loss to Nebraska before wins over Kansas and Iowa State to put the 'Cats at 5-2-1 with three games remaining.
The Kansas game was played on a Thursday night and televised nationally by WTBS. It was the game when the Wildcats wore the gray jerseys and dominated the Jayhawks, 36-7.
"We knew we had to reach six wins to get to a bowl game," said then athletics director Dick Towers. "We played extremely tough at Oklahoma, but lost (24-10) in a game that really did go down to the wire. Then we came back home and lost to Oklahoma State (24-16)."
K-State was 5-4-1.
K-State needed a sixth win. The 'Cats had to have a sixth win to go bowling!
K-State's final game would be at home against Colorado.
"Politics became involved," said Towers. "We had no way to know how we were going to travel because we had never been to a bowl game, but we had to make a statement. I called the Independence Bowl, plus a high profile leader in Shreveport, who was in the seafood industry. I promised that Kansas State would buy 20,000 tickets at $15 to $20 per ticket. I told them we would fill the town with purple.
"Con (Colbert, business manager) wasn't so sure about the idea because we were on a tight budget, but all those bowls cared about were tickets sold, so we had to guarantee we'd buy those tickets," said Towers. "I remember them asking if I would put it in writing, and I said, 'Sure!' I said that we would fill the city with purple."
Still, K-State's bowl hopes were iffy, at best.
On Monday before the Colorado game, Towers didn't think K-State was in the bowl game even with a win. On Tuesday, he thought there was only a "fair chance." But by Wednesday after a host of telephone calls, plus Big 8 Commissioner Carl James lending a helping hand, the Wildcats were told that if they beat Colorado, then an invitation to the Independence Bowl would be extended.
It wasn't written in stone, but it was after Wednesday's practice that Towers told the K-State team that "...if we win the game, we're going."
With the success of the redshirt gamble on the line, and with an invite to the Independence Bowl on the line, K-State busted out to a 14-0 lead and rolled the Buffs by a 33-10 count for that needed sixth win of the season.
Only 24,300 K-Staters viewed the game.
As bowl representative Bob Vanatta, Kansas Governor John Carlin, President Duane Acker, plus Towers, Dickey and the Wildcat team celebrated in the locker room, the goal posts came tumbling down on the turf of KSU Stadium.
"They've waited a long time for an occasion like this, so I'm going to forgive every one of them," said Dickey. Laughing, he added, "I just wish I could be out there with them."
Dickey would add, "A number of you asked me at the beginning of the year if the redshirt idea would be a success and I said that the verdict was still out. Now it's safe to say that with the leadership of those eight seniors, plus the leadership of the other upperclassmen, it was a success. It provided a belief that we could win."
Dickey told the team afterward, "You can tell your grandkids about this one. You've worked hard to get here. You made history."
THE INDEPENDENCE BOWL
December 11, 1982
Wisconsin 14, Kansas State 3.
It was 38-degrees in Shreveport, La., with a night-time damp wind chill of 10 degrees.
With the game was played in pouring rain, it was appropriately in the locker room shower room that Dickey would address the media for the postgame interview: "I'm very disappointed with the way we played," he would summarize.
Young Darrell Ray Dickey was just 13-of-35 passing, Toluao was the leading rusher with 31 yards, and K-State had nine penalties.
While 49,523 tickets were sold, the announced crowd was 24,639.
"We sold 13,000 tickets and I think Wisconsin sold 1,300," said Towers. "We had so many people at the pep rally at the Holiday Inn it was claustrophobic. It wasn't the greatest of games, but we had K-Staters all over the place having a good time."
Plus, "We got $250,000, which went toward permanent stadium lights, plus we repainted Ahearn Field House, plus made some other needed improvements. But the biggest thing was Coach Dickey and his players were rewarded for their hard work."
The result was K-State's first-ever bowl game.