As an increasingly gray-haired guy, I probably ought to be the one to offer some sage advice. I know there are some young whippersnappers in the audience working themselves into a froth over the idea of Kansas State playing for the national championship in football later this season, and I suppose the adult thing to do would be to tell you to chill out.
I guess the intelligent thing would be to advise you to smile. Sit back and enjoy the heck out of it while it lasts, and realize that it will all come crashing down at some point. I should tell you that life will go on. I know this because I’ve already been through it.
You’ll save your sanity if you can keep a little distance. That would be the wise thing to say.
If I were really mature, I would remind you that it wasn’t too long ago that K-State was ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the country, and I would tell you how I spent untold hours worrying about whether the Cats were going to play for the title. This was 1998, when K-State had what I would consider superior talent compared to this year — and compared to the rest of the football teams in the country that year. The same thing happened in 1999, when the Cats won their first nine games and were ranked fifth in the country, and 2000, when they were ranked second after winning their first six.
What happens in these situations is this: You start worrying all the time about all sorts of dumb stuff: Whether Oregon wins, how much Oregon wins by, whether Ohio State’s quarterback throws a bunch of touchdown passes, whether Miami beats UCLA. (Mmmph. More on that in a minute.)
You worry about what some blowhard (oh, say, Stephen A. Smith) says on ESPN about your fellas. You worry about the strength-of-schedule factor in computer ranking formulas, for God’s sake. You worry about a columnist at the L.A. Times who has it in for Bill Snyder. Everywhere, there’s somebody lurking around the corner trying to sabotage your hopes and dreams, and somehow, it all seems relevant and important.
Here’s what I should say: Sports are supposed to be fun. As somebody once said, you need to enjoy the wins and tolerate the losses. That doesn’t mean that fans have to condone losing, and of course part of the fun of being a fan is the ranting. I get that.
But if I really had some brains in my head, I’d tell you that you’ll just be punishing yourself if you get too caught up in the chase. Screaming at the TV is no way to go through an otherwise glorious autumn. There’s nothing you can control about any of this — whether K-State is perceived by the experts as a top team, whether the computer formulas favor Notre Dame, or (most relevantly) even whether K-State beats Texas Tech this Saturday. That would be the sensible thing to say.
In 1998, I would remind you, all of the chatter and all of the predictions didn’t amount to squat. K-State rolled into the Big 12 Championship game as a prohibitive favorite, built up a big lead, and the fans went bonkers when (in fact) Miami did beat UCLA, which was another undefeated team that had stood in the way of a national title-game appearance for K-State. That was totally irrelevant, as it turned out, because Texas A&M came back to beat the ‘Cats on that god-forsaken December day in St. Louis, and that was the end of the national championship chase.
It still feels like a punch in the gut to remember that game. It felt like something was stolen away — something that all of us as fans had come to take for granted. It felt suddenly like we had been tricked — like the Music Man suddenly just went on down the river to the next town, and we were left with emptiness in Manhappiness.
Same dadgum thing happened a couple years later, when Bobby Stoops came in with all his carpetbaggers and beat our Cats, and went on and won the national title for OU. Wait a minute! That was ours!
So I should probably advise you to just ignore the noise, and appreciate what we have here — a team that doesn’t really look all that wildly talented, led by a quarterback who really doesn’t throw the ball right and a pint-sized running back. Just a couple of years ago, the defense couldn’t stop anybody, and now they’re putting the clamps on the Heisman front-runners. It’s really easy to see it all going away as quickly as it came — as we learned in, say, 2007 and 2008. Never forget that K-State was a doormat for decades, and most likely will be again someday.
Well, that’s what I should say.
What I’m really saying inside is: So, if OU can take out Notre Dame, and USC can knock off Oregon, then we’re in! Shove it, Stephen A. Smith!