Archive for Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Chinstraps and Mouthpieces: Bowl trip well worth scurry to north Texas

December 28, 2005

It was a short trip to Texas.

Kansas played Houston on Friday in the Fort Worth Bowl on the Texas Christian University campus.

My brother lives a half-hour's drive from the stadium in Fort Worth, so it was a golden opportunity to watch the Jayhawks in their 10th bowl in school history.

It's been years since Kansas played at a bowl I legitimately could attend. In 1992 and 1995 the Jayhawks played in Hawaii. In 2003, the Jayhawks again were far from home -- in Florida.

Clearly this was the best opportunity to catch my first KU bowl game.

But what a ride it was.

I headed for Texas with a friend from college about 5 p.m. Thursday and arrived in the Fort Worth area about 1:30 p.m. Friday.

At 7:30 a.m. Saturday, I was headed back to Kansas to catch a Christmas service in my hometown in north-central Kansas.

To review, that's 30 hours spent in Fort Worth. It took 16 hours to get there and back before Christmas.

More than 1,000 miles later, though, I'm glad I made the quick trip.

KU won its first bowl game in 10 years and capped a strong finish to the season with a convincing victory against Houston.

But the trip wasn't just about the football game.

Although I was there for a short time, I had plenty of experiences traveling to and staying in Fort Worth.

Here are my Top 10 Reasons the Fort Worth Bowl was Worth the Drive:

10. Braum's.

The restaurant is to Texas, Oklahoma and parts of Kansas what Sonic is to our area -- they're everywhere. On the way to Texas, we stopped at one Thursday in Norman, Okla.

Like Sonic, Braum's usually is a good place to stop. The walk-in burger and ice cream joint also offers a small variety of groceries.

This Braum's, though, didn't have the best service. It took quite some time to get our orders. In addition, the ketchup dispensers were empty. A customer, displeased with the lack of ketchup, headed to the grocery area, grabbed a bottle of ketchup and headed back to his table.

We arrived at the restaurant moments before Oklahoma and Oklahoma State basketball fans filed into Braum's. They were coming from the Ford Center in Oklahoma City where both teams were playing holiday games. Oklahoma lost to West Virginia, while OSU defeated Tennessee that night.

The wait at Braum's was long, but we did have the opportunity to chat with other KU fans heading south. A couple from Topeka also was making the trek. We again saw them moments before the bowl game started Friday.

9. Thoughts from Mother Superior.

Friday morning, I helped my brother deliver some presents to the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, which is near Fort Worth. The monastery for Carmelite Nuns is a client of the construction firm for which my brother works. I met two wonderful nuns there, one of whom asked me about the bowl game.

She jokingly called the Fort Worth Bowl "the granddaddy," making reference to the nickname for the longstanding Rose Bowl, a much more prestigious holiday bowl.

8. Travel agency.

At times I wondered whether the trip would become a reality. Some people in my group were traveling from my hometown to Lawrence and then car-pooling down to Texas. Exactly who would be going with whom at what time became the difficult part. Luckily, we finally settled on travel plans and everyone made it back safely. Perhaps I've found a new profession?

7. Hold on to your seat.

During KU's last touchdown pass, a fan fell onto the field from the first row. I didn't notice the mishap until after the play finished. While watching the touchdown pass on the replay board, I noticed someone in the background leaning over the railing and falling onto the field -- in slow motion. The first row was fairly close to the field, so it appeared as though the youngster wasn't injured. Why he fell over, however, was a different story. I'm not sure how he got into the predicament in the first place.

6. A big flock.

KU blue was more prevalent than Houston red at Friday's game. Fans of both schools had reasonable drives to the game, but more Jayhawks flew south than Cougars journeyed north for this one.

5. What's with the hand signal?

Several universities have hand signals to signify something about their schools. Texas has "Hook 'em Horns," while TCU has a symbol that represents their Horned Frog mascot.

Houston, meanwhile, has a unique symbol. Cougar fans fold the ring finger of the hand toward the palm. We thought the sign somehow formed a "U" and "H" for the University of Houston, but in reality has a deeper meaning. According to the bowl program, the signal originally had the middle and index fingers extended similar to the peace sign. That was supposed to represent "V" for victory.

However, one year, the symbol changed. Houston traveled to Austin to take on the Texas Longhorns. The school's mascot at the time, a live cougar named Shasta, also was supposed to make the trip. While trying to transport the animal, though, one of the animal's fingers was severed when the cage door was closed.

Texas fans poked fun at Houston by bending their thumb over the ring finger. Texas won that game in 1953. In 1976, after Houston routed Texas, 30-0, Cougar faithful flashed the hand signal in victory.

4. This is December?

Temperatures Friday in Texas were in the 70s -- not bad weather two days before Christmas. Of course, Christmas Day in Kansas was beautiful as well.

3. Home for Christmas.

We left Fort Worth about 7:30 a.m. Saturday, and I managed to reach my Kansas destination in time for Christmas Eve church service, which included my mother's performance in the choir Saturday afternoon.

2. Converted Wildcats.

My brother and nephew also attended the bowl game. However both are Kansas State fans. I convinced my brother, the K-State alum, to wear one of my sweatshirts, although he still wore a K-State hat. The nephew, however, wasn't as accommodating. He wore a K-State sweatshirt, but did wear a Jayhawk sticker.

I told him I would return the favor sometime at a K-State game. As for wearing a sweatshirt as my brother did, that will be unlikely.

1. Winning season.

KU's 42-13 win against Houston was great for many reasons. It was the Jayhawks' first bowl win since 1995 and first winning season since that year. In addition, the Kansas offense was playing at the level that the KU's vaunted defense had competed at all season long.

Now that the great ride has ended, it's time to look to next year. The Jayhawks lose many key players from this year's defense. KU also must replace some key players on offense, but the biggest factor for the Jayhawks is to break a curse the program has felt with bowls. KU now is 4-6 in bowl games -- 3-1 in its last four -- but the Jayhawks have yet to compete in bowls in successive seasons.

Who knows, KU might break that streak next season. With two other bowls within driving distance in Texas -- the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio -- that wouldn't be a bad draw for the Jayhawks.

Even better, the games wouldn't be played two days before Christmas.

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