Archive for Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Chinstraps and Mouthpieces

Razorback a sure hit in home of the Phog

May 26, 2004

"Woo pig sooey," meet "Rock Chalk Jayhawk."

It's clear former president Bill Clinton always will be an Arkansas Razorback, but for one day in May -- in Allen Fieldhouse -- the Yale graduate and Rhodes Scholar was a Jayhawk.

Before Clinton gave the inaugural speech of the Dole Lecture Series on Friday, KU coach Bill Self and the Kansas men's basketball team presented Clinton and Dole with personalized KU basketball jerseys.

Later in the day, local officials presented the Arkansas native with a United We Stand shirt bearing an American flag and the pesky 1941 edition of the Jayhawk mascot.

Clinton's speech, rightfully so, rarely made mention of sports, but Clinton did make reference to the KU basketball team and even his own Razorbacks.

The speech originally was scheduled for the air-conditioned and comfortable Lied Center, but with demand for tickets extremely high, the Dole Institute personnel moved the speech to the much larger Allen Fieldhouse.

I scoffed at the idea originally. After all, I had waited in line once already and had two of those coveted 700 for-the-general-public tickets in the Lied Center balcony.

The fieldhouse is a storied structure and it's the perfect venue -- in the winter. Acoustics and sound systems never have been the arena's strong points.

But on Friday, those concerns were moot.

General public ticket-holders to the Lied Center were rewarded with seats on the fieldhouse floor squarely in front of the podium. Sitting nine rows from the former president, I had the perfect vantage point. As for the sound system, equipment brought in specifically for the event carried Clinton's voice with southern-drawl clarity.

Former Sen. Dole, as humorous as ever, told the energized audience that Lawrence was the only place in Kansas where he receives so many compliments, but so few votes.

Dole's introduction was perfect for Friday's lecture. Once rivals, the former political opponents now are friends. Nonpartisanship, after all, is supposed to be the focal point of the lecture series.

So far, so good.

Clinton used to watch Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson's pressure defense, known as "40 Minutes of Hell."

It was hot and muggy Friday, but Clinton's speech was more like "An Hour of Fresh Air."

Clinton still is articulate and can captivate an audience.

At the Lied Center waiting for tickets two weeks ago and again Friday, Mirror advertising representative Paula Gish proudly showed off pictures of Clinton with her oldest son, Cooper, to others standing in line. In those pictures, Coop was just a baby when Clinton made a stop in Kansas City, Mo. His mother took the photographs, which show a much-younger Bill Clinton.

Now ready to enter junior high at Tonganoxie, Cooper has a picture to complement the others. After Clinton's speech, Paula explained to the former president that he had already met her son. Clinton readily agreed to another photograph. Cooper now has an updated picture and a signature from the former president.

And although I have no photographs of myself with Clinton, I did shake his hand. I was taken aback by the amazing opportunity, but luckily the mob of people pushing to see Clinton kept me upright.

In retrospect, the fieldhouse was a perfect venue for a former president who has a great love for sports.

Unfortunately a black curtain covered up the "Beware of the Phog" sign in the north end of the building, but Clinton still knew where he was -- for the most part.

In his opening words, Clinton spoke about Kansas' season, which included falling one game shy of the Jayhawks' third consecutive Final Four.

Clinton however, referred to the local school as UK instead of KU. That first abbreviation is more commonly reserved for the University of Kentucky, a fellow basketball powerhouse some Jayhawk fans love to hate.

But it's all relative.

After all, he is from Arkansas.

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