I expected my weekend in Kansas City to be good. A surprising performance by the KU football team made it even better.

First off, thanks to the R’s and B’s for hosting me last week. And thanks to Mary Y for insisting I attend her 30th birthday blowout. That alone would have made for a fine weekend.

I was not looking forward to the KU – Georgia Tech game all that much, to be honest. After KU’s horrendous loss a week earlier, what already looked like a difficult game seemed to be a hopeless cause. While it was going to be fun to return to Lawrence for the first time in five years, and to Memorial Stadium for the first time in nine years, the small detail of getting blown out by a very good team tempered that excitement. I’ve seen plenty of blowouts in that stadium over the years. I didn’t want to spoil the trip by seeing another.

It was a glorious day on Mt. Oread, though. The weather was near-ideal for a late summer weekend. While I think true football schools would still dismiss the KU football experience as small-time, it’s much better than it used to be. Get within a mile of the stadium and the tailgaters in every open space make it obvious there’s a football game. That didn’t used to be the case.

The team helped the cause by hanging in there early. They quickly matched down the field and tied the game after a quick Tech TD. They bottled up Tech’s tricky offense. Then they took the lead. This was fun! We were going to make it to halftime and still be in the game!

When Tech kicked a late field goal to take a three-point lead into the half, there was a feeling of satisfaction in the stadium. Sure, Tech was getting the ball first after the break, and would likely take over the game, but we didn’t look inept. Jordan Webb looked solid at QB. James Sims was a revelation in the backfield. Other first year players were making big plays. The constant refrain in the stands was “How did we lose last week?” While there was still a lot of football to be played, this clearly wasn’t going to be the disaster most KU fans expected.

The second half was even better.

Tech couldn’t move the ball early. Another strong drive put KU back in the lead. Seconds into the fourth quarter, Webb hit Daymond Patterson with a quick screen. After bouncing off a couple tacklers, Patterson broke into the clear and scampered 32 yards for a touchdown. It was a <a href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jC0vc5HirU”>Monte Cozzens-esque</a> run. Suddenly KU was up 11 on the #15 team in the country with less than a quarter to play. The stadium was beginning to believe.
Could we hold on?

After exchanging punts, Tech took over on their own four. If we could hold them here, the game was over. Busted coverage on a quick screen put the Yellow Jackets at midfield. Then a beautiful pass and a two-point conversion cut the lead to three with 7:48 to play. The mood in the stadium shifted 180 degrees: it was a nice effort, but we were all sure KU was going to lose.

A friend tried to pump us up. “If I told you we were going to give up over 300 yards rushing and still be up by three with seven minutes to play, you would take that, wouldn’t you?” Still, we weren’t optimistic.

It was a tense few minutes, but when a Josh Nesbitt pass fell incomplete on fourth down, we could finally celebrate. KU 28, Georgia Tech 25.

All day I felt jealous of the fans that got to experience the renaissance of KU football after I moved away. The first win over K-State in 12 years in 2004. Breaking the Nebraska streak in 2005. The entire 2007 season, capped by the 72 points hung on the Huskers. There were a handful of good wins when I was in school, notably the 1992 win over Oklahoma. But that came in a different era. To have experienced the more recent big wins, as the stadium and crowd have changed, was something I was bummed to have not seen first hand. Saturday was my chance to experience one of those moments.

It was also a terrific day for the program after the previous week. There were serious questions whether Lew Perkins had made the correct choice when choosing a new coach. There was a fear that a horrific season that ended with just one or two wins would destroy the recruiting momentum Turner Gill had been building. The team may still only win a couple games this year; it’s too soon to declare all the errors of week one permanently corrected. But this win goes a long way towards getting KU football back on track.

Other random bits:

A bit odd being back in Lawrence after so long. We didn’t spend a lot of time in town, but the areas I did see had changed a lot. The biggest shock was the Big Yellow House I lived in for two years is now brown. How dare they!

The beer is still cold and tasty at Louise’s West.

Love how it’s been beaten into most KU fans’ heads that we should wear blue on game days. I don’t think I owned a true KU blue shirt when I was in school. Now everyone rocks the proper color at games. A very good change.

Not a fan of the uniform tweaks this year. I preferred the gray pants to the white and the black shoes to white. Not having names on the backs of jerseys is just dumb.

In the era of Madden and lengthy NFL breakdown shows, it’s fun to go to football games and hear every guy complaining about every play during breaks in the action. “Did you see the linebackers come up? Why the hell are we doing that?” “What are we thinking not keeping a back in to block on third and nine?” Everyone is an expert now.

Taco John’s failed to properly season our post-game Potato Oles. An indefensible tragedy.

You know you’re old when you spend a lot of time in a college time saying, “I hope these kids are appreciating their college years.”

Oh yeah, Rock Chalk, bitches!