Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Coach's Corner

By Andy "Coach" Cotton

NOVEMBER 23, 1998:  Manhattan, Kansas: We imagine, I think, that it's easy to tear down a goal post. But it's not. They die hard. Once upon a time, when a goal post was three sticks of wood stuck in the dirt, maybe, but a reinforced, steel goalpost is another matter. It took a mad throng of purple-and-white a good 30 minutes to finally defeat this stubborn object. But this is Kansas State, so why should anything come easy?

Thirty minutes to ravage a goal post and exorcise a nightmare of a 29-year losing streak. Despite this gloomy history, K-State was a heavy favorite to win this game, but you can't put a point spread on so much psychic history. This game may have been the most important event in the history of this isolated town of 60,000 buried deep in the Kansas prairie. Their football team isundefeated and ranked #1 in the country, a heady, disorienting place for a town whose Wildcats have given them nothing but losing.

So, all of a sudden, people in fancy places begin to notice you have a red-hot rocket of a football team, but deep in your heart maybe you're not so sure. The Big Red Bully who's been kicking the shit out of you for 30 years is here. This is what the expression "whistlingpast the graveyard" is all about.

A sort of disbelieving, repressed hysteria grips the sell-out crowd at KSU Stadium. On the hundreds of acres of parking lot turned tailgate party, there's no yelling for the scalps of the louts from the north. No Herbie Husker things hanging from radio antennas, just white people dressed in purple, with tight, anal smiles. Considering the psychological magnitude of the game, this skeptical attitude is understandable. And, until the final Nebraska pass falls harmlessly, four hours later, 42,000 people cheer and hold their collective breath, both at the same time.

If they could have seen into the great heart of All-American quarterback Michael Bishop, the pre-game beef and ribs might have gone down easier. Bishop, with a cocky, ride-me-baby-cause-we're-not-gonna-lose attitude, just wasn't going to let that three-decade streak go on any longer. What an extraordinary athlete is this Michael Bishop, who in only two years at KSU holds every important QB record they keep. I can't remember seeing a more riveting, exciting quarterbacking exhibition than the senior from Willis, Texas gave today. Though he was personally responsible for six KSU turnovers, this brilliant, never-quit player also accounted for two rushing touchdowns, including a 50-yarder where the stiff jock straps of two would-be Nebraska tacklers are still frozen on the artificial turf. But don't mistake the 205-pound Bishop as a typical run-first-throw-if-desperate college QB. That would be a mistake. Through the air, Bishop was superb, completing over half of 33 throws for 300 yards and two pretty TDs. On the full run, he was flicking the ball 60 yards upfield, dropping the skin into very tight places. In all, Bishop accounted for over 500 yards of K-State offense.

He's a hothead. He yells at officials, teammates, and coaches, but damn, can this kid make plays. His egregious mistakes only serve to highlight his unique combination of football skills. Bishop's errors, which might destroy the confidence of most, only seemed to heighten his resolve. He never blinks, and therein lies another component of his unusual talent: a steely mental toughness and an absolute refusal to lose.

Think I'm overdoing it? His college record is now 45-1, with two Jr. College National Championships at Blinn College. A big-time national championship is only three games away. His coach, grandfatherly Bill Snyder (a notorious control freak in a business where control freak is redundant) says mistakes don't bother his QB. "Sometimes turnovers rattle a player, but he handles it extremely well," says Snyder, "He'll make mistakes, but it's his fierce competitive nature which allows him to shrug it off." We don't hear much serious talk of a Heisman for Bishop, mainly because Snyder, admirably, won't let his athletic department play the hype game. You have to see Bishop to believe. This guy is the best player I've ever watched. Warren Moon must have looked like this at 21.

The proud Nebraska team, a program that has dominated mid-western football for 40 years, won't die easy. A cold, purple, late afternoon sky blended smoothly with the funeral-quiet purple mass as Bishop calmly led his team, just five minutes from another loss, on a precise, surgical 80-yard drive in 10 plays, erasing Nebraska's final lead.

Twice, 30,000 hysterical people pour prematurely onto the field. On the third time, the clock finally reads 0:00 and it's over. Excited families pose for pictures all over the field. Happy athletes stay and share the moment with the relieved populace. Many are carried in triumph from the field. The school president stands on a bench pumping his fists. Can you imagine that at UT? The school, to its credit, does nothing to spoil the fun (I can't imagine that, either).

Half an hour after the game ends, a still-in-uniform quarterback goes careening wildly back out to the field, a wide smile on his baby face. I'm standing next to a man with an equally large and familiar grin; his T-shirt reads, "I'm MichaelBishop's Dad." He says softly, over and over, "That's my boy, that's my boy."


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