On Sept. 4, 1993, Kansas State lined up at noon to play New Mexico State in an otherwise run-of-the-mill college football game. Nobody around the country much cared—two perennial doormats knocking heads in flyover country.
For folks who bothered to make it to Manhattan on that warm late-summer day, it was noteworthy as the first game for the Dev Nelson Press Box. That was a five-story structure on the west side of KSU Stadium that included space for the working news media as well as 22 suites for donors willing to pay for the luxury of watching the game from inside. It was built for $3.3 million. The idea, of course, was to wring more money out of the stadium to underwrite the football program and the rest of the K-State athletics operation.
Twenty seasons later, the same idea is behind the plan to blow up that very structure on Saturday morning. In its place before next season will stand a $75 million building with more luxury suites and exclusive seating areas.
The Wildcats won 34-10 that day behind 103 rushing yards by Rod Schiller. So began an era that would have been entirely unfathomable at the time. In the 20-year life of the Dev Nelson Press Box, the Wildcats went 115-24-1 in Manhattan. That means K-State won 82 percent of the games played on the field in front of that structure.
That remarkable run ended on Dec. 1, fittingly enough, with a 42-24 win over Texas to clinch the Big 12 title for K-State. The game was broadcast by ABC in prime time, with a blimp overhead, and big-time bowl invitations and the conference crown in the balance. A sellout crowd of about 50,000 watched.
Bookends? There are your bookends: On one end, an afternoon game nobody cared about against New Mexico State. On the other, a sold-out prime time event for a conference championship. Both of them wins.
To put it in perspective, you’d have to total all the wins—both home and away—for the previous 40 seasons in order to equal the number of wins witnessed by the Dev Nelson Press Box during its lifetime. Of course, the structure itself didn’t really have much to do with it – the real issue is the rise of the football program under Bill Snyder, who had started an upward trajectory four years before, in his first year in 1989.
But when the press box opened, it was not entirely clear that Snyder’s turnaround project at K-State would go much further than lifting the Wildcats above the laughingstock level. The ‘Cats had gone 1-10 in 1989, Snyder’s first season, winning for the first time in three years. In 1990, they went 5-6, and in 1991, they were 7-4. But 1992 saw a step backward, to 5-6, and nobody knew which way it was headed from there.
K-State decided to go ahead with a project that was viewed at the time as almost extravagant. It took the area for the news media from a level “below a Texas high school stadium” to “viewed as sort of the 8th wonder of the world,” according to former K-State president Jon Wefald. The overall project also included new practice fields, an indoor practice facility and improvements to the locker room and coaches’ offices. The athletic department borrowed money on the bond market on the theory that they could also get more people to buy tickets.
“It was a calculated risk of the highest order,” Wefald said.
Donors committed to $100,000 per suite over five years on faith of at least some entertainment; Wefald said K-Staters were so hungry for winning foot-