You’re probably familiar with the story of how K-State won a conference championship trophy this season in basketball. What you may not know is exactly how they brought the trophy home to Manhattan for the first time since 1977.
It involves a Chevy Tahoe, a bunch of Manhattan guys at Eskimo Joe’s, and a woman with Minnesota plates.
K-State entered Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State with a chance to win the Big 12 title. To win it outright, the Wildcats needed to beat the Cowboys in Stillwater, and KU had to lose at Baylor. As it happened, K-State lost 76-70 in a game that ended around 3 p.m. That meant KU would have to lose in their 5 p.m. game in order for K-State to even get a tie for the conference championship — and, as all good fatalistic K-State fans thought they knew, KU wasn’t going to lose.
Except they did.
So then there was a problem: An airplane had already taken K-State’s team, coaches and the various functionaries back to Manhattan. Meanwhile, there was a conference championship trophy still under wraps at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater. (There would have been a trophy-presentation ceremony in the locker room Saturday had the ‘Cats won, and then a public event Saturday night back in Manhattan, but that was not to be.)
Five guys from Manhattan had made the trip to Stillwater, hoping to see history. It was an idea that Josh Salmans of Manhattan came up with in February, but then he had to back out. Bernie Haney put the trip together, arranging to buy tickets through K-State after contacting senior associate athletics director Chad Weiberg. The traveling party: Haney, Scott Munsen, Jake Zeka, Curtis Snowden and Jason Shamburg. Mark Tindall of Manhattan was also one of the original cast, but he had to back out, too.
As it happens, those five bumped into Weiberg and some other K-State higher-ups at lunch in Stillwater before the game.
Afterward, Haney said there was an announcement about severe weather in the area, so they decided to stick around awhile and went over to Eskimo Joe’s, the famed watering hole in Stillwater. (Haney, as the designated driver, was not partaking of Joe’s main product, he and Munsen said.)
Anyway, they got a table at the packed place and had some dinner and decided to just settle in and watch the KU game. That game turned out to be quite enjoyable for the K-State fans, as Baylor won 81-58 to hand K-State a share of the conference title, the school’s first since 1977.
The five were headed to a gas station and to I-35 for the trip home at about 7:30 p.m. when Haney’s phone rang.
Casey Scott, a senior associate athletics director at K-State, had been in touch with his counterpart at Oklahoma State, asking about the trophy, since it had obviously become relevant again.
Scott called Weiberg looking for help. On a whim, Weiberg called Haney, who had worked with Weiberg for nearly 10 years in the development office at K-State athletics. Haney is currently the executive director of the K-State Golf Course Management and Research Foundation, so while he’s not employed by the athletics department, he has a close relationship.
Yes, Haney said, we’re still in Stillwater.
Well, hold it for a minute, said Weiberg. We might need you to pick up the Big 12 championship trophy. Weiberg called back: Could you guys pick it up?
“Obviously, the answer was not just ‘yes,’” said Munsen, “but ‘hell, yes!’”
They drove back over to Gallagher-Iba Arena, where they met one of the athletics officials for OSU along with a bodyguard-type, keeping care of the trophy, which was covered by a trash bag. The OSU officials asked: “Are you Bernie?” and then handed the thing over.
“We were like a kid in a candy store,” Haney said.
They carefully loaded the hardware into the back seat of Haney’s black Chevy Tahoe, Shamburg cuddling up with it to make sure it stayed safe.
“It was like we had a little baby in the car,” Munsen said.
They decided they had to somehow document the moment, so when they stopped for gas, they asked a woman with a Minnesota license tag to take their picture. She obliged, asking only “Did you guys steal this? I thought you lost today.”
The drive home took longer than it otherwise may have; Haney didn’t want to take any sharp corners or stop suddenly, due to the rather precious cargo.
Meanwhile, Munsen sent the photo to K-State athletics director John Currie to let him know the trophy was coming home; Currie tweeted it out to a bunch of his online followers, and social media went slightly bonkers.
Haney dropped off Munsen as the last passenger in Manhattan and then drove extremely slowly back to his house, getting home about 12:30 at night, and kept the trophy there overnight. He handed it over to Casey Scott at 9 a.m. Sunday, and then the basketball team got to celebrate with it later that day. It was set to appear at Monday night’s public event at Bramlage for the team.
“Funny things happen,” Munsen said.