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Bring back Touchdown

By Bill Felber

It’s always awkward to write a Sunday column about football when the deadline for the column precedes the outcome of the game. So if by chance we have lost to Baylor Saturday night and I have wasted this space, I apologize in advance.

But I have a football-related idea, I want to air it, and this is my only chance.

Years ago, decades really, K-State had a mascot. I don’t mean Willie. I like Willie as much as the next person. Willie has posed for pictures with my kid, signed his t-shirt, and done all manner of positive Willie-related things. Willie stays.

I’m talking about a real, live, wildcat mascot.

K-State used to have one. Its name was Touchdown, and between the 1930s and 1970s it was a fixture at home football games. Touchdown watched the games from a cage on the sideline, overseen by handlers and providing inspiration to the players and crowd.

Then for some unexplained or unrecalled reason, Touchdown went away. I want to trace that departure to the late 1970s, and I want to blame it on a sense of animal rights political correctness that found it offensive or dangerous to subject Touchdown to crowds of 30,000 cheering spectators. I may be wrong about almost every aspect of the preceding sentence, specifically about the 30,000 fans — a crowd that large would have been rare in the late 1970s — and also about the fact that they were cheering, which they often weren’t back then.

If Touchdown were brought back these days, of course, he or she would have to deal with crowds of 50,000, and they manifestly would be cheering…but what of it? Why should a cat be considered in greater decibel peril than, for instance, me? And if you think cats get nervous, you should see the guy in row 24, seat 9 when the ref blows a call. But that’s another story.

I’m not even sure Touchdown’s departure was linked to safety concerns. Maybe K-State and Touchdown couldn’t come to terms on a new contract extension, and the Cat decided to retire. Maybe he or she was embarrassed by all the losing. I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know. K-State is (assuming we have beaten Baylor) 11-0, facing a Dec. 1 game against Texas that can propel the Wildcats to the national championship game, and no amount of inspiration for that occasion is too much. To that end, the return of Touchdown would be a superb rallying point.

There are as of this writing at least two viable Touchdown candidates in Manhattan. Both are bobcats — one male, one female — living at Sunset Zoo. Technically, bobcats are not wildcats, but for inspirational purposes the difference is semantic except to fellow bobcats or wildcats.

I’m guessing that zoo officials might have a problem with freeing one of the cats for duty off premises, where it would run at least a theoretical risk of exposure to cat diseases that could jeopardize the remainder of the zoo’s population. If for professional reasons they feel a need to stand in the way of this idea, well, they get paid to make those calls.

On the other hand, the zoo does maintain a collection of animals who precisely do duty in the general population, and I don’t see why there would be any prohibition against a cat being among them. Beyond that, bobcats (and wildcats, for that matter) are not endangered species. So if the zoo animals are unavailable, it would not be an unduly difficult proposition for the university to obtain one of its own. Any care and treatment this Touchdown requires could be provided by one of the best vet schools in the country, a school that already treats the zoo’s cats.

I’ve also heard it argued this is a bad idea because Touchdown is a relic from an age when KSU football was frankly awful, as if the mascot had anything to do with that.

Texas has Bevo. Colorado has Ralphie. Oklahoma has Boomer and Sooner. The Naval Academy has Bill the goat. A&M has Reveille. KU has … well, never mind what KU has. All those other animals are big hits at home games. K-State should bring back Touchdown…and it should do so Dec. 1.

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