November 22, 1963: An Emotional Day for the Wildcats, and the Nation
It was 50 years ago - Nov. 22, 1963 - and if you're at least 60 years of age, it's very likely that you remember where you were around 12:30 in the afternoon.
If you were a Kansas State football player, you were taking a lunch break south of Wichita during a bus trip to Stillwater, Okla., for a Big 8 football game scheduled for the next day - November 23 - against Oklahoma State in the 1963 finale.
It was the day ... the exact time of that Friday ... that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in the Dealey Plaza area of Dallas by a bullet fired from an Italian Carcano bolt-action rifle.
"We heard that he had been shot, but was still alive," said Ralph McFillen, a 1963 Wildcat. "We didn't learn that he had died until we got to Stillwater."
The Wildcats went through their normal walk-through on Friday with quarterback Larry Corrigan describing the session as one where "... we were running into each other and not into it at all."
Later that night the players opted not to go to a normal pregame movie, but instead watched the reports of the assassination on television.
During the evening, K-State learned that the game would be not postponed, but cancelled. Oklahoma State and Oklahoma were already scheduled for the next Saturday leaving no opportunity to make up the game.
"It was a letdown because he had a good shot at winning. We had just defeated Iowa State (21-10) to end a long (26-game) conference losing streak, and here was a chance to get another win over an Oklahoma State team that had won just one game," said wide receiver Spencer Puls. "We understood that Saturday wasn't the time to play the game, but we sure wanted to find another day to play it so we could end our careers with consecutive wins."
Fullback/defensive end Willis Crenshaw said of his thoughts, "We were in total disbelief. We wanted to play, but considering the event, it would have been in bad taste to have played the game."
The next day K-State was back on the bus heading north in what Puls defined as a "long, sober ride back."
No one took the turn of events harder than Corrigan: "A death is far greater than playing a football game, but there was still a feeling of being cheated out of our final game at Kansas State."
Once back on campus, and with the majority of the students gone because of that upcoming Thanksgiving break, Crenshaw recounted:
"I climbed the fence around Memorial Stadium and went out and sat at the 50-yard-line," the 72-year-old Corrigan said with his voice cracking with emotion earlier this fall. "I knew I would never play here again; I would never hear the band again.
"It was a beautiful night, but I just thought, 'What the heck is going on here?' Someone had just shot our President and I would never play football again. It was a lonely time for a college senior trying to figure out life," he continued. "Then we wake up the next day and see Lee Harvey Oswald shot by Jack Ruby on TV and that really confounded things even more. It was just getting weirder by the hour."
Tomorrow is Friday, November 22, with a game against another Oklahoma school ... the Sooners ... scheduled for Saturday, November 23.
They are the exact dates that 50 years ago the United States lost its President, and to the 1963 team, the exact weekend that the Wildcat seniors were denied the opportunity to play in their final Kansas State game.
"An emotional time for a lot of reasons," said Corrigan.
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