Category Archives: KU

B.H. Born: A True Jayhawk

Earlier today, it was announced that former KU basketball great, B.H. Born, passed away a few days ago. He was 80. The news gave me an immediate flashback to a “Where Are They Now?” article I wrote about Born for the Kansas City Star, I thought, a few years ago. Indeed, it was a “few years ago.” Ten to be exact…well, nine years and 10 months, but who’s counting. So, here’s a reprint of that article that ran on April 4, 2003, as the Jayhawks were preparing to play in the Final Four in New Orleans.

As baseball legend Yogi Berra might say about the Kansas Jayhawks: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Except, instead of going to the 2002 Final Four with player of the year Drew Gooden and then having the likes of Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich step up and lead the team to the 2003 Final Four, a similar scenario played out exactly 50 years ago for Kansas. After winning the national championship in 1952 with player of the year Clyde Lovellette, the 1953 Jayhawks got an incredible year from other players, and made it back to the national championship game.

Specifically in 1953, B.H. Born, a 6-9 junior post player from Medicine Lodge, Kan., gave the Jayhawks a boost. After seeing limited action as a sophomore behind Lovellette, averaging just 1.4 points a game, Born broke out in 1953 and led the Jayhawks in scoring with an 18.9 average.

“Everybody thought I was a flop after my sophomore year. I was an All-American high school player, but (head coach) Doc (“Phog” Allen) didn’t play me much since we had Clyde,” Born said. “So, I spent most of my time during my sophomore year on the bench.”

Today, Born, 70, lives in Peoria, Ill., with his wife of 45 years, Joan. Although he retired from Caterpillar Tractor Company in the late 1990s, Born remains active with the Alzheimer’s Association. Over the last six years, through a breakfast he has chaired, he has helped raise $50,000 for the organization.

Born, who played at Kansas during 1952-54, went to work and play basketball for Caterpillar shortly after graduation. He played in the AAU, where players worked for a company and played basketball for that company’s team.

He played for Caterpillar for five years and worked 43 years for the company in personnel and public affairs.

“I did a lot of hiring of the technical (engineering) people for about 40 years,” he said. “During my last three years, I led the activity programs, heading about 15 different programs that we had. We had a motor sports club, stamp club, square-dance club. You name it, we had a club for it.”

Playing for Caterpillar in 1958, Born was a member of the first U.S. team of any kind to play in the Soviet Union. The American team played six games in three cities, winning each one.

Born’s biggest contribution on the court, however, came at Kansas in 1953.

Although the biggest difference between the 1953 and 2003 Kansas teams is that the 1953 squad lost seven players to graduation, the two seasons are uncannily similar. That team, much like this year’s, wasn’t expected to do a lot despite reaching the Final Four the previous season. And, much like this year’s team, the questions about the team started after an early-season loss. The 1953 Jayhawks lost their second game of the season to Rice.

But in much the same way that Collison, Hinrich and Keith Langford have stepped up this year, Born and the Kelley brothers – Al and Dean (the only returning starter from 1952) – led the 1953 Jayhawks to an undefeated record at home and the conference championship.

“At the start of the year, we felt like we were the underdog,” Born said. “But, we were in shape and we would outrun some of the teams. We won quite a few games that people didn’t expect.”

Another huge similarity: defense.

“Our defense is the reason we won. We pressured at the half-court line,” said Born. “When we played Washington in the semifinals, we had eight points before they shot the ball. We shocked them a little because they thought they were going to roll right through us. We used to push that defense.”

The Jayhawks eventually lost the national championship to Indiana at Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium. But Born, the only KU starter taller than 6-1, scored 51 points in the Final Four – more points than he scored during the entire 1952 season. He won the MVP award for the tournament, becoming the first player from a losing team to do so.

“Winning the 1952 tournament was the highlight of my time at KU. The other highlight was being the MVP of the tournament in 1953,” he said. “I wasn’t happy about losing the game, obviously, which takes a little away from the honor.”

Although Born would trade his MVP award for the national championship in 1953, the honor possibly has helped him return to other Final Fours.

“I usually put a note on the (Final Four ticket) application that says something like, ‘I was the MVP of the tournament in 1953, and I’d sure like to get back to the tournament.’ Then I include my address and phone number. I don’t know if it helps, but I have been getting tickets, so maybe it does. There’s one advantage to being the MVP, I guess.”

Eventually, I’ll start updating the blog on a regular basis. Eventually. In the meantime, feel free to visit or “like” AuthorMattFulks on Facebook.


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Memories of Christmases past

As we sat around the dinner table on Christmas afternoon — my parents, my wife and daughter, my brother and his wife, and an uncle — Dad thought we’d go around and have each person share a memorable Christmas present from the past. Coincidentally, I had put together a similar column earlier in the day for the Kansas City T-Bones’ website…you can read that here. So my answer was fairly fresh in my mind.

The T-Bones column and the Christmas dinnertime discussion made me remember a column that I’ve done in the past, where I asked various sports personalities to share memories of their favorite Christmas presents*. This seemed like a good time to share those.

(*I’ve written a syndicated column, and did this type of piece each Christmas. Lord willing, I’ll try to remember to do it again in 2013. It all started, though, when I was co-hosting a radio show called Saturday Sidelines at WAKM in the Nashville, Tenn., market. Long-time Major League pitcher Bill Gullickson lived in the area, and I’d gotten to know him pretty well over the years. For a Saturday Sidelines special, Bill and his family allowed my co-host, Chuck Morris, and me into their home a few days before Christmas to record the show that was going to run on Christmas morning. All we did during that show was talk about Christmas memories and traditions. It ended up being one of our more popular episodes.)

The first of the personalities’ memories, which echoes my sentiments exactly, is from Fred White, long-time Royals radio announcer:

“I don’t have one special memory from Christmas … well, actually, one really big one. Every Christmas, period. Each one was special in our family growing up. They gave me years of great memories with family and friends.”

“When I was about 12 or 13, I got a TV for my bedroom. It was with that TV that I began to practice (broadcasting) games with the sound turned down. Our tradition was opening family presents Christmas Eve and then Santa came Christmas morning. I have many wonderful memories of snowy Christmas Eves in Green Bay.”

— Kevin Harlan, CBS Sports announcer and Kansas City resident


“When I was 4 years old, right after World War II broke out, our family moved into our first big house, which included indoor plumbing. That home felt like a mansion to me. Our first Christmas there, my brother and I each received one present, a toy machine gun. We had great times with those. Of course, times were different back then. But, the biggest thing about this time of year for me is family. I particularly learned that while I was playing and coaching. In the NFL, especially back then, we didn’t get much time to be with our families. When you’re not with family, you miss all the talking and laughing. Being together with family is important.”

— Tom Flores, former Chiefs player and (should-be Hall of Fame) coach for the Raiders


“I was either 8 or 9 years old, and my folks returned home to Lawrence from Kansas City, and placed a sack on the floor. It looked like hamburgers (which then were 6 for 25 cents, believe it or not). I bent down and opened the sack, and inside was the cutest puppy you have ever seen. I named him Scrappy, and he was my very best friend for the next 11 years. While I was in the service (during World War II), he was killed in a dog fight, but my folks wouldn’t tell me that until years later. I still remember him with great affection.”

— Max Falkenstien, legendary KU announcer for 60 years


“The gift that most changed my life was a drum set I received when I was 14, from my mom and dad. Then, on my 50th birthday, that feeling was recreated when I got another drum set from my wonderful wife, Lib. I had a recurring gift and recurring dream. It was one of those wonderful things that actually happened twice.

“I loved my John Callison glove, but then my old man traded Callison for Gene Freeze, which negated that deal. It didn’t negate the trade, unfortunately, but it just negated the gift.”

— Mike Veeck, the son of legendary baseball marketer Bill Veeck and the originator of “Disco Demolition Night” at Chicago’s Comiskey Park


Whether you got what you wanted or what you deserved, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas yesterday and have a joy-filled remaining 2012.

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In honor of 12/12/12…Flashback to KU’s famous “12th man”

Although I’m not a big numbers person, in honor of today being 12/12/12, it seemed like a good time to re-publish this “Behind the Stats” column I wrote in December 2007 for Metro Sports about KU’s most famous (or infamous, depending on your view) 12th man, Rick Abernethy. I’ve made minor edits for clarification.

Rick Abernethy will always remember the headline in the Miami Herald on January 2, 1969: “It’s All My Fault, Blame Me”

“The type they used must’ve been as big as when they announced Pearl Harbor,” Abernethy said with a laugh from his home in Leawood.

Indeed, it’s one of the worst tags to hang on an athlete: goat. It’s worse than “bust” or “past his prime.” It’s as bad as being called Bonds. Well, maybe not.

But it’s a tag that Abernethy has carried with him, to some degree, for nearly 45 years. During the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day, 1969, a game the sixth-ranked Jayhawks lost 15-14 to No. 3 Penn State, KU had its goat.

Abernethy, a fifth-year senior linebacker, was the 12th man in KU’s infamous “12th man” loss that day. He was labeled the goat.

“It bothers me, sure,” he said, “but I don’t ever really get tired of talking about it. I can look at it humorously now.”

For almost 15 years, Abernethy carried the guilt from that loss. Finally, in 1982, he watched the game for the first time. Not only did he watch it; he broke it down. At the time, Abernethy was the strength coach for the Chiefs. He also broke down film for the coaches, so to break down that 1969 Orange Bowl would be a breeze. At least physically. During the NFL strike in ’82, Abernethy had a little extra time on his hands, plus the 15-year reunion of the Orange Bowl team was coming up, so he decided to go to Lawrence and get the film.

For the most part, no one really knew what happened in that game. Not the coaches nor the players nor the media. People had guessed, but no one went to the painstaking detail of figuring it out exactly. Abernethy did. And he watched in disbelief. There were 12 men on the field for four straight plays!

“I will say that I wasn’t the 12th man on the field for the first three plays,” Abernethy said, again with a laugh. “Of course, I was when they blew the whistle on us. But I’d rather be the 12th man on the field than the 11th man on the bench with 10 on field.”

Kansas had a great team in 1968. A four-point loss to Oklahoma was the only thing that kept the Jayhawks from a perfect regular season and the Big Eight title outright.

“In my opinion, when you look at nine guys from that team who went to play professional football,” said Abernethy, “I still think it’s the greatest season KU ever had.”

The week the KU went down to Miami for the Orange Bowl, coach Pepper Rodgers inserted a new defense that the Jayhawks hadn’t used before. It was more of a 4-4-3 prevent defense. The NCAA’s rules at the time stated that a team could sub four guys on a change of possession or for the punt and kick teams. But then only two subs per play. When KU subbed, the player coming in would shout the name of the guy he was replacing two times and tap him on the shoulder pads.

With KU leading Penn State 14-7 with about a minute to play, the Nittany Lions went from midfield to KU’s 3 with a long pass play. The Jayhawks quickly needed to change out of their new prevent and into a goal-line defense. The only problem was that they needed to sub more than two guys. Three came in, two went out. Using his memory and his notes from watching the game film, Abernethy says Orville Turgeon was one of the three but he didn’t tap anyone.

On third down, Penn State scored. Coach Joe Paterno decided to go for the win with a two-point conversion. The Jayhawks finished making their substitutions by bringing in two more players. Two went out. See the problem? Still 12 men on the field.

“Nobody came in for me,” Abernethy said. “(Vernon) Vanoy and I were trying to occupy the same spot in the huddle. I should’ve known then that I shouldn’t have been in there, but nobody substituted me.”

Abernethy broke up the pass on the two-point conversion and the Jayhawks started celebrating their victory. Then, the official pulled out his flag. Among the noise and the chaos, there was some confusion about the call. Abernethy knew.

When the official told Abernethy and Emory Hicks, KU’s defensive captain and Abernethy’s roommate, the call, Abernethy and Hicks gave each other a sad, blank stare. They knew who the 12th man was.

Abernethy took the slow 30-yard walk down the KU sideline. On the second two-point attempt, Bob Campbell ran it to the left for, in essence, the Penn State win. Eight seconds remained, but it wasn’t enough time for the Jayhawks.

“I was devastated,” Abernethy said. “The newspaper people were walking around the locker room, trying to figure out what happened. I was crying. Emory was sitting next to me saying it wasn’t my fault. A writer from the Miami Herald heard me say it was my fault and they ran with it, including that headline.”

Looking back, the game didn’t necessarily come down to that play. KU had a chance to go up by 10 earlier in the fourth quarter. The Jayhawks had the ball at the Penn State 5 on fourth-and-1. Instead of going for the almost-sure three points, Rodgers chose to go for it. John Riggins was stuffed at the line.

“It was just a series of unfortunate events,” Abernethy says of the fourth quarter.

But it was easier for Abernethy to blame himself. And for people to say he was the 12th man.

Abernethy, who had gone to Center High School, moved back to the Kansas City area after receiving his degree in Advertising Journalism. He went to work for Phillips 66, but quickly decided he wanted to get into teaching and coaching.

After returning to KU and working with Don Fambrough as an assistant, Abernethy coached at several schools in the Kansas City area, including Wyandotte, Center and Ruskin. Then Marv Levy offered him the job with the Chiefs.

Today, he calls going to the NFL a “big mistake,” although it did give him a chance to watch the film from that Orange Bowl game and stop blaming himself for KU’s loss.

“The only thing I blame myself for now is that when we were lining up in the huddle, I should’ve known,” said Abernethy, who spent 18 years in the dairy business after Levy left to coach the Buffalo Bills. “If I could change it, I would in a heartbeat. If we would’ve lost the game with the right defense in there, I could’ve accepted that.

“Do I absolve myself from the blame? Not totally. Will I ever forget it? No. But look. If that — being the 12th man in a football game — is the worst thing that ever happens to me, I’ve had a pretty good life.”

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Behind the Stats: 1960 contest most debated in KU-MU rivalry

In Friday’s Wall Street Journal, there was an article about today’s Border War between Kansas and Missouri, and how today’s game is likely the last football game between the two. At least for the next several years. The WSJ article points out the most disputed game in the rivalry, the 1960 contest, when Missouri was going into the game with a shot at the national championship. With that in mind, and since this likely is the last football game between the two schools for the next several years, here is an updated reprint of an article I wrote about that game.

Kansas vs. Missouri, according to the KU media guide: 55-55-9

Missouri vs. Kansas, according to the MU media guide: 56-54-9

Oddly, that figures.

You wouldn’t really expect anything other than at least a mild discrepancy in the all-time football series record between the schools, would you?

Shoot, it’s impressive that they disagree on only one game. Of course, in the game that provides the difference in record, which happened 51 years ago, the implications were enormous. And the outcome heartbreaking. Or laughable. Depending on which side of the state line you’re pulling for.

Appropriately for this story, the player at the center of the controversy, Bert Coan, jokes that he “didn’t have much of a career” atKansas.

He’s right to an extent. Coan certainly had all the makings for a good career at running back with his size (6-foot-4,210 pounds) and 9.4 speed. But things didn’t pan out.

After playing his freshman season at Texas Christian, Coan enrolled at Kansas. He redshirted one season, played a season and then suffered a season-ending injury the next year after he broke his leg in spring practices. He entered the pro draft and eventually spent six seasons with the Chiefs. But the mark he left at Kansas has remained the biggest legend in the rivalry with Missouri, at least before Saturday’s contest.

Just how did Coan, a Texan by birth who started his career at TCU, end up at Kansas? The true facts are that Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans founder Bud Adams, a former KU football player, knew Coan and mentioned Kansas to him. It’s also true that Coan took a flight to Chicago with Adams before attending Kansas. Any other facts, for the most part, have been up in the air.

Missouri fans would have you believe that Coan was drugged and then forced to go to Kansas. Really, Tiger fans will tell you, that’s the only way anyone would go to school in Lawrence.

The colorful and late Don Fambrough, the long-time KU player and coach who used to rally his KU teams by insisting that William Quantrill was a Missouri alum, offered a different take on the Coan story.

“Bud didn’t have any idea he was breaking the rules,” Fambrough, who was an assistant coach for Jack Mitchell, said in Max Falkenstien’s book, “A Good Place to Stop.” “Bud was taking some people up to Chicago to the All-Star game and happened to have an empty seat on his plane. As I remember he just happened to run into Bert on the street and asked him if he wanted to go to Chicago to see the All-Star game. Naturally, Bert said yes.”

When that version was read to him, Coan just chuckled and then offered the right side of the story. After all, as with any story there are always at least two sides plus the factual side.

“I guess it’s safe to say it now, but I was illegally recruited off the TCU campus,” he says. “I was working, driving a concrete truck and (Adams) called me and asked if I wanted to go up (to Chicago). He was about to create a new (American Football League) team and all of the owners were meeting in Chicago at the Hilton, which was part of the reason for him being there. I thought he might want me to play with the Oilers, so I went with him. I had no idea he was going to talk about Kansas the entire time.

“When I first visited the KU campus, (head coach Jack) Mitchell was leery, and I don’t think he had any idea what was going on.”

Bert Coan, because of or in spite of his career at KU, is usually the player from the 1960 squad known as “that player” or the “ineligible player.”

Coan, who still lives in Texas, laughs today that if it hadn’t been for one of the Jayhawks’ seven wins that season, he wouldn’t be getting these phone calls every few years.

See, at that time in college football, the national champion was crowned before the bowl games. Basically, the team ranked No. 1 at the end of the regular season was picked as the national champ.

Heading into the season finale, the Tigers found themselves undefeated at 9-0 and ranked No.1 inthe country. The only obstacle between the Tigers and the national championship was a home game against the Jayhawks on Nov. 19.

Easier said than done.

Kansas wasn’t exactly minced meat. The Jayhawks were ranked No. 11. Their only losses were against No. 2 Syracuse and at No. 1 Iowa.

“Naturally you’re afraid of a 9-0 team,” says Coan, “but we felt like we matched up with Missouri pretty well.”

“Coach Dan Devine was a superb coach, but that week he did not let us think Kansas was going to be an easy game,” Andy Russell, who was a sophomore linebacker and fullback for the Tigers, said from his office in Pittsburgh. “We worked hard and scrimmaged during the week and some players thought he wore us out. That was the first mistake.”

Offensively, Missouri’s main play that season was a wide sweep with Norris Stevenson. The Tigers always ran it to the right side.

“The Kansas coaches, not being dunces, decided they weren’t going to let us run that play,” Russell said. “Six guys penetrated the right side of the field and there was no way to run that play. But that was our big play and we kept running it. So, possibly the second mistake was that Devine got stubborn.”

In the only time during this rivalry when one of the teams was ranked No. 1, the Jayhawks dominated the Tigers. Missouri didn’t get a first down until the clock showed 9:06 … left in the third quarter. They didn’t get another until the fourth quarter.

Coan led all rushers in the game with 67 yards. He also scored two touchdowns, one by air and one by ground. The Jayhawks went on to win 23-7.

As Ernie Mehl wrote in The Kansas City Times: “Not even the most partisan Missouri fan could deny that the better team on the field in this classic came away with the heavy end of the score. It was so completely convincing there was nothing to look back upon as a turning point.”

Missouri’s victory would come off the field as the Big Eight Conference looked closer at the season for KU, which already had been placed on one-year probation for the recruitment of Coan. In case you need more fuel for the rivalry, it’s always been widely speculated that Missouri A.D. and former coach Don Faurot led the Big Eight’s witch hunt against Coan and the Jayhawks.

About a month after the contest, the Big Eight ruled that Coan was ineligible and the Jayhawks needed to forfeit wins against Colorado and Missouri.

The damage was done already. The loss to Kansas dropped Missouri to No.5 in the polls, which meant the Tigers would have to wait a few more years before winning a national championship. (They’re still waiting.) That wasn’t necessarily a consolation for the Jayhawks.

“Sure it hurt,” Coan says of the forfeits. “I felt bad about it, like I had let everybody down. When you’re 18 years old, though, it’s hard to think down the line about things like that.”

Missouri quickly changed its record. Kansas hasn’t been so quick to do so. (Nor has the NCAA.)

So, which school has the all-time record correct? As you might expect from the players, it doesn’t really matter.

“If you look at the record, it shows they forfeited, but we didn’t win that game,” Russell says. “They beat us. That’s all there is to it.”

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