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Moore and Yost built winner

Throughout the World Series — and even before — there’s been plenty of talk about the job Ned Yost has done managing the Royals. (Or, more appropriately, mis-managing the Royals.) Hey, even I’ve been on that bashwagon. Sure I could do a better job of managing this club, at least that’s what we all think. Is Ned Yost the best manager in baseball? Of course not. He’s not even the best manager in the American League. But like it or not, Yost is doing something that only one other manager in Major League Baseball is doing right now — managing a team in the World Series. Getting to this point has been years in the making, starting with David Glass hiring Dayton Moore to become Kansas City’s general manager. So, before you bash Yost much more, here’s a quick little piece about Moore — and Yost — deserve credit for this club being right here, right now.

What a difference a year makes. Or seven or eight.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore, a baseball man from the days before he could even think about becoming a man, has desired to cultivate the Royals into winners more than you can imagine. That’s been the case since he became the club’s sixth general manager on June 8, 2006. Developing a winner, though, takes time — longer, evidently, than many fans were willing to wait — especially with how depleted the Royals farm system was, according to various people around baseball, when Moore took over.

And it certainly took time. In Moore’s seventh full season, 2013, the Royals finished 86-76. It was the club’s first winning season since 2003, and the most number of victories since winning 92 in 1989. Even though the Royals were in the chase for a Wild Card berth until the last week of the season, they fell short and finished third in the Central, seven games behind Detroit.

Key players on the 2013 roster were homegrown, including Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, both of whom were Allard Baird draft picks; Greg Holland (10th round, 2007), Eric Hosmer (first round, 2008), Mike Moustakas (first round, 2007), and Salvador Perez (non-drafted free agent signing, 2006).

After the winning record and Wild Card push in 2013, many fans remained unhappy with the progress and with Moore’s excitement. Still, he felt there was reason to look ahead optimistically to 2014.

“I believe that all our players that are signed long-term or under team control are going to get better,” he said during his 2013 postseason press conference. “That is a comforting feeling. Is it just going to happen? No. They are going to have to continue to work hard, apply instructions and make adjustments. They are going to have to continue to commit to becoming great players.”

But decades of losing can do funny things to a fan base, whether that fan base is old enough to remember the “glory days” of the 1970s and ‘80s or young enough to be part of today’s society of instant gratification. So, after enduring losing season after losing season and bad trade after bad acquisition under previous general managers, seven seasons of waiting for “the process” to work was an eternity.

Are you kidding, Zack Greinke to Milwaukee for (mainly) a light-hitting shortstop named Alcides Escobar and an outfielder named Lorenzo Cain, who had played a whopping 43 games in the big leagues in six professional seasons? And then you’re going to send the future greatest Royal ever, Wil Myers, along with two stud minor-league pitchers for a short-term starter in James Shields and a barely-average starter named Wade Davis?

Of course, making matters worse, Moore backed Ned Yost, whom he’d hired in May 2010 to lead this club. Throughout 2013 and ‘14, in particular, fans came up with all sorts of words to describe Yost, and most of them aren’t very pleasant. He’s unapologetic. He comes off as condescending. And he’s made moves that fans and former players alike think are boneheaded, which has fostered the term “Yosted” to describe anything and everything negative in life.

Of course, it was a controversial decision Yost made in the sixth inning of the Wild Card game that almost kept the Royals from advancing in the 2014 playoffs. After starter Shields gave up a bloop single and then issued a walk, with two on and nobody out and Kansas City holding a 3-2 lead with Brandon Moss — who homered earlier — coming to the plate, Yost pulled Shields, who’d thrown 88 pitches, and brought in starter Yordano Ventura. Moss sent Ventura’s third pitch 432 feet to dead center. It seemed as though social media might combust at once with thousands of fans and other detractors saying how the Royals had been “Yosted.” Funny, though. The Royals overcame any questionable judgment decisions in that first postseason game and went on to make 2014 the “Yostseason.”

“I don’t need vindication,” Yost said after the Royals swept the Orioles in the ALCS. “I’m comfortable with who I am. And everything that I look at, I don’t look at much. But I’m the dumbest guy on the face of the earth. But I know that’s not true. … I am smart enough to hire really, really good coaches and use them. But I’m real comfortable in my own skin. I don’t feel like I need vindication. I’m not looking for it, don’t care for it.

“My whole goal — none of this was ever about me. To winning a championship was all about this city, our fans and these players. I’ve been there six times before, I know how special it is. And I wanted my players to experience it. I wanted the city of Kansas City to experience it and our fans.”

And, thanks to Dayton Moore, who built a deep farm system and assembled a club with pitching and speed that could win at spacious Kauffman Stadium, Ned Yost was able to take that group of players, push the right buttons and use each player to his strength, and lead them to the World Series for the first time in their careers and only the third time in Royals franchise history, en route to becoming the first manager ever to win his first eight postseason games as a skipper.

“These kids, from the minute you saw them you knew they were going to be special,” Yost said after winning the A.L. championship. “Then they won championships in A-ball together and they won championships in Double‑A together and they won championships in Triple‑A together. And then their goal was to get up here and win a championship, and today they accomplished that.”

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CwM: Ken Morrow and the “Miracle on Ice,” Part 2

Last week, I started a weekly Q&A with some type of sports or entertainment “personality.” I’m cheating a little, perhaps, because the first two weeks are with the same person. So, here is the second of two parts with Kansas Citian Ken Morrow, who was a defenseman on the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey team that beat the Soviet Union and then subsequent gold medal against Finland two days later. (You can read the first part here.)

Besides the game itself, Morrow and I talked about coach Herb Brooks and his influence on the team. Although the movie “Miracle” brought Brooks to light more a few years ago, he isn’t considered one of the greatest coaches of all-time. He should be.

Matt Fulks: When was it apparent in that Olympic game with the Soviets that you could actually win?Ken Morrow

Ken Morrow: For me, it was coming out of that first period, tied 2-2. For those who don’t remember, we had been down 2-1 in the first period, and with a few seconds to go before the buzzer, our guy dumps it into their goal, it comes out, Mark Johnson rebounds, splits two defensemen and scores at the buzzer. So we went into the locker room with a 2-2 tie. At that point, not that we knew we were going to beat them, but we knew we’d be in the game. We felt good about ourselves, having gone through that first game at Madison Square Garden, to come out of the first period tied 2-2 was huge for us.

MF: I’m guessing you guys were a handful for Herb after you beat the Russians, and were getting set to play for the gold medal two days later. You guys, mathematically, still could’ve ended without a medal after the game with Finland. What was the feeling like the next day?

KM: You’re right; I won’t go into the mathematics of it, but there was a chance that if we’d lost to Finland, we could’ve finished outside the medals. So, Herb Brooks did his greatest coaching job on Saturday morning (after beating the Soviet Union). Here’s this young group of kids who’d pulled off this monumental upset, so we came into practice feeling pretty good about ourselves, and he has to get our attention on the next game. He put the hammer down real quick and real hard. We needed that. We had to get ourselves ready for the next game, which was Sunday morning. Sure enough, as we’d done all Olympics, we were trailing going into the third period against a very good Finland team. We had come from behind all Olympics long, and we put together another one against Finland.

MF: As we talk about Herb Brooks, one of my favorite things about him are all of his quotes, some of which, as you’ve told me before, you guys didn’t really understand.

KM: He had a bunch of them. [Laughs.] He was a great psychologist. He knew exactly which buttons to push on the players. Everything he did worked. We didn’t realize this at the time, but we found out years later. Throughout the year, he was constantly digging at the Soviet team, saying things like “these guys aren’t that good.” Well, their captain was a dead ringer for Stan Laurel (of “Laurel and Hardy” fame). He was one of the all-time best hockey players, but he looked like Stan Laurel. Herb would make comments like, “You guys are playing Stan Laurel out there. You can’t beat Stan Laurel?” There was always a motive behind everything that Herb Brooks did and said, and it all worked.

I do believe that for anyone thinking about going into coaching in any sport, it should be mandatory to study Herb Brooks. This guy was ahead of his time. He was innovative, and, as I said, he’s the sole reason we won a gold medal at Lake Placid.

MF: At that moment, during the entire Olympic experience from tryouts to the end, what were your feelings toward Herb?

KM: I never had a problem with him. Again, he knew what made every player tic. We actually did a psychological test, which was unheard of at the time. Now, being a part of the New York Islanders, we do a psychological test with all of the kids we’re considering drafting. I think Herb’s was a 300-question psychological test. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. There’s no doubt in my mind that he took those, looked at them, and figured out how he could get the best out of each one of those players, whether it was riding a guy hard, backing off, when to kick them in the pants and when not to. He did that throughout the year, and it always seemed to work. When you’re talking about 20 players, you’re talking about 20 different ways to motivate. He was a master of that.

MF: As we look at hockey in the Olympics now, what are your thoughts on NHL guys playing?

KM: I’m really torn. As a hockey fan, I like seeing the best players in the world out there, but I also understand there won’t be another “miracle on ice” with that. I doubt that you can have the stuff going on around the world that made our “miracle on ice” bigger than it was, but I also understand that I was given a chance to play in the Olympics because NHL players weren’t playing in the Olympics at that time — not that there were a lot of great American NHL players at that time. It gave us our chance. Eventually I’d like to see it go back, but I’m going to enjoy watching these best players of the world out there.

MF: I’ve asked a few guys this over the years, and since you won four Stanley Cups and a gold medal, which would you rather win: a Stanley Cup or a gold medal, although, of course, your gold medal experience was different than most people’s because of everything surrounding it?

KM: If I had to choose, I’d take the gold medal simply because it’s playing for your country. It’s a unique experience, a unique moment. Not many people get to do that. A lot of people have won professional championships, but to think the Olympics come around once every four years, and then to be fortunate enough to say you’re a gold medal winner, that’s tops.

MF: As I say to you every time we talk, it’s been a thrill reliving 1980 with you. Thanks for your time.

KM: Great talking with you and I appreciate you letting me tell my story.

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CwM: Ken Morrow and the “Miracle on Ice,” Part 1

I’ve long thought that I’d like to post a Q&A with some type of sports or entertainment “personality” every Friday. With my love of the Olympics (especially the winter Olympics) and the fact that the U.S. will face Russia tomorrow in hockey, I’ve been motivated to start today.

After all, there aren’t many sporting events that have stuck with Americans as a whole as the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s win over the Soviet Union in 1980, and then subsequent gold medal win over Finland two days later. I’ve held a fascination with those games and that time period. (Perhaps I’ll re-release an article I wrote about that time.) As it turned out, I was 9 years old for the game against the Soviets and 10 for the gold-medal game. So maybe I was at an age when it stuck to me. Either way, whenever I get a chance or have an excuse, I’ll spend time with Kansas City’s own Ken Morrow, who was a defenseman on that team. Ken Morrow

In this particular conversation, we talked about the events around the Soviet game and how a seemingly simple hockey game between a bunch of kids, true amateurs, from the United States, beat an invincible team from the Soviet Union — amateurs, but only because they were technically in the Soviet Army. The Soviet Union had won every Olympic gold in hockey since 1960. They embarrassed teams of NHL all-stars.

By the way, do yourself a favor: if you can’t find the actual game to watch, watch the movie “Miracle,” which brought coach Herb Brooks and this Olympic moment to light more a few years ago. Brooks isn’t considered one of the greatest coaches of all-time. But he should be.

Matt Fulks: It’s amazing how that moment, more than 30 years ago, seems like yesterday.

Ken Morrow: Hearing Al Michaels’ call still gives me chills. It never gets old hearing that. I still get people writing me on almost a daily basis, telling me how they were watching that game as a kid, sitting there with their dad. Now I’m getting kids who are writing to me telling me how they learned about it from the movie, so it’s being passed down to another generation.

MF: Are you ever amazed at how there was this perfect combination of coach in Herb Brooks, and Brooks putting together a team of, let’s face it, many kids not really seen as Olympic prospects?

KM: Yes, because he took this group of North American kids, and he wanted to play a European style of hockey, which was almost 180 degrees from what we’d been playing our whole lives. We used those six months that we were together as a team as our training camp, preparing us to eventually beat the Soviets at their own game. I say to this day that that was the best skating team that I ever played on. That was his plan all along. He wanted a team that could skate with the European teams and one that could hold onto the puck. Those are the types of players that he chose.

MF: Was his entire focus, even going into the tryouts, to beat the Soviets?

KM: We couldn’t put all of our focus there, but certainly they were the team that everybody knew you had to go through to win a gold medal. So, I think in some regards yes, his focus was on finding a way to beat that team.

MF: An odd thing Brooks did, at least on the surface, was scheduling an exhibition match with the Soviets a week before the Olympics. The Soviets crushed you guys, 10-3, at Madison Square Garden. That’s like the Oklahoma City Thunder taking on UMKC. Was that in back of your minds when you did play them in the Olympics?

KM: The loss wasn’t in the back of our minds but it was a very important part of what we were able to do when we faced them at Lake Placid. For many of the players, it was the first time they’d been on the ice with this Soviet team. You have to remember, this Soviet team was considered the best in the world, and many of us had watched them on TV beating NHL All-Star teams and winning Olympic games. To be stepping on the ice with them, a lot of us were in awe. So playing them at Madison Square Garden helped our nervousness out. When we stepped on the ice at Lake Placid, we didn’t have to worry about that. We could just step on the ice and play hockey.

MF: With all that was going on between the U.S. and the Soviet Union at the time, did Herb Brooks have to say much to you guys to motivate you?

KM: He didn’t have to say much, but he did give what I’d consider the best motivational speech I’ve ever heard. They did a pretty good job of recreating that in the movie. He basically said, “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here at this time. This moment is yours, so go out and take it.” It certainly wasn’t a rah-rah speech, but it was the right words at the right time.

Part 2 of this “Chat with Matt” with Ken Morrow will run on Friday, February 21.

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Behind the Stats: Hancock’s “Blue Moth” lessons resonate around holidays

There are certain books that leave an indelible impression. Their words grab you, page by page, and make you part of the story. Once finished, you never forget.

I think about one of those books this time of the year. I first read the book around Thanksgiving in 2005. As odd as it seems, the book is about a blue moth.

A blue moth, really? Sure, it sounds innocent enough. Harmless. Not tough enough to be a hero such as one of the Avengers, but certainly a loveable underdog in a Saturday morning cartoon. Except in Bill Hancock’s life.

The blue moth is unsafe. Malicious. Tainted. The blue moth is the best way for Hancock to describe and deal with the grief of losing a son.

Dave Matthews sang about it in one of his solo songs: “You should never have to bury your own babies.”

Bill and Nicki Hancock did just that more than a decade ago. Their son, Will, was the media relations contact for the Oklahoma State University men’s basketball team. He was on the plane on January 27, 2001, that crashed in Colorado, claiming his life as well as nine others from the OSU basketball family. Will was 31 years old.

“(The grief) doesn’t get easier, but you learn to live with it,” Bill Hancock told me when I originally wrote this column in 2005. “That’s an important distinction for me. You think this overwhelming grief and helplessness will be with you constantly but I now know that the blue moth will come two or three times a day, whenever it wants to, and then go away.”

If you didn’t know about the accident when talking with Bill Hancock, you’d likely have no idea a tragedy has befallen such a wonderful person. Think of your favorite teacher or coach or uncle and you have Bill Hancock.

Hancock, who is executive director of the NCAA’s new football playoff after serving as the first Bowl Championship Series administrator … after serving as the organization’s long-time director of the Men’s Basketball Tournament, is one of the most respected men in media circles. He’s proof that life isn’t fair sometimes.

Especially this time of the year; a time of family and giving thanks. For anyone who’s suffered a loss, the holidays in particular are tough. Always. But Will Hancock loved this time of year so much. He was a big kid inside. He genuinely enjoyed sitting with the family on Thanksgiving Day. And then participating in their annual touch football game on Friday.

“The holidays are really difficult because of the memories and because I know Will ought to be with us at the Thanksgiving table,” Bill says. “We have (three) terrific grandchildren, so the thrust for me now is making sure the holidays are memorable for them for the good times and not that their granddad’s curled up in tears in the chair.”

The blue moth and one of those grandchildren, Andie, Will’s daughter who was 72 days old on that wretched January night, are the focus of Bill’s first book, “Riding with the Blue Moth.” Understandably, Hancock says his number one wish in life is that he wouldn’t have had a reason to write this book. But anyone who reads it can’t help but be better for it.

The book chronicles a 36-day cross-country bike ride that Hancock took several months after the crash.

Early in the book, Bill writes about how he had planned on taking the bike ride before the crash. In fact, Bill and Nicki Hancock spent much of that unseasonably warm January 27th day near their Kansas City home shopping for a vehicle, a SAG vehicle, if you will. Bill had a dream of riding his bike across America.

In July of that year, with Nicki as his “support and guidance,” Bill set off on the adventure. At the time it wasn’t for therapy or release. It was to ride. And to be with his wife.

We were going on an adventure,” he writes in the book. “Nothing more.

The ride helped his soul, though.

“In hindsight, it became much more than an adventure,” he says, “but I didn’t understand that at the time. From my vantage point, it was a healing time for me but even more importantly I have learned things that have helped other people.”

The biggest outlet for that help has come in the form of “Riding with the Blue Moth.” The book is Charles Kuralt, Jimmy Stewart and John Denver rolled into one, with a little Levi Leipheimer sprinkled on top. It’s a poignant look at dealing with grief, a father’s love for his oldest son, and an intriguing look at America passing by at 12 miles per hour on two wheels.

The book is a constant roller coaster. One page will bring tears to your eyes as Hancock describes witnessing a father yelling at his young son at a service station in New Mexico.

I wanted to grab him by the chest hairs and tell him, ‘You idiot! Do you realize that child is your greatest treasure? You have the luxury of hugging your son, telling him that you love him and buying a hot fudge sundae for him. That is your privilege, not your right. Do not take it for granted!

A few pages later, you’ll be laughing when Hancock writes about the next morning’s ride, which came on the heels of an overnight rain shower.

An army of frogs had trained in the flooded ditches and several made the mistake of conducting maneuvers on the highway.

“Riding with the Blue Moth” oozes with life lessons. That might be Hancock’s disputing that he’s an athlete for riding his 2,746 miles, stating: “I was just putting one foot in front of the other.

Or his encounter with Steve, who ran a roadside peach stand in Georgia. Steve, whom Hancock nicknamed the “Peach Angel,” gave Hancock a free peach and then they chatted for awhile.

“His message was what you’ve got is what you’ve got,” Hancock says. “I still get chills thinking about the 15 minutes that I spent with him that morning. It was the singular most important moment of the trip, and one of the most important in my life.

“Another lesson from that is when Steve went out there that day, he didn’t know he was going to meet a biker. He was just going out to do his daily chores. That could happen to us. We might be going out for our daily chores and run in to somebody and change his or her life.”

After each day’s ride, Hancock offers words of wisdom to Will’s daughter, Andie. They’re words that apply to all of us.

And what lesson did Hancock discover about people from those 36 days?

“I learned that people are compassionate and warm and interested,” he said. “Every time I started a conversation with someone, they wanted to know where I was going and what I thought I would experience. They gave me water and food. They cared.

“It confirmed that people, especially Americans, are wonderful. I told only one person that I worked at the NCAA, and I didn’t tell anyone about the accident. To them, I was just a guy on a bike.”

During the ride in the summer of 2001, Hancock also learned about the blue moth of grief. How to understand it. How to live with it. And how he has wonderful SAG assistance all around. That’s especially helpful to know during the holidays.

“Oh, gosh, we still have so much to be thankful for,” he said. “Primarily that we can live on this planet with these wonderful people. You can’t imagine the tsunami of warmth that we’ve received. Three things that have carried us through: faith, family, friends. … I’m thankful that I have the three F’s.”

A few times during “Riding with the Blue Moth,” you’ll read about how many lives Will Hancock touched during his short time on this earth. Now, his spirit, through Bill Hancock, is touching even more.

As soon as you’re done reading this article, do something for me: thank your family. Tell them how much you love them. And hug them. Not one of those half-hearted, nice-to-see-you-again-today kind of hugs. Rather, give them a George Bailey “It’s a Wonderful Life” mugging-the-kids-after-getting-a-second-chance kind of hug.

And then say a prayer of thanks for Bill Hancock and his family. For raising a wonderful son. For loving him the way he does. And for giving us a life-changing book.

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Behind the Stats: Monday’s act of courage a lesson for all

*The following is an updated reprint. It appeared originally on Kansas City’s Metro Sports’ website in 2006.

It takes courage to do what’s right.

On Tuesday night, my wife and I tried explaining that to one of our kids. Avoiding peer pressure. Standing up for what you believe in. And so on. He seemed to understand. But, who could blame him if he didn’t?

That lesson’s tough for most of us. Sure, we know what we believe to be right or wrong, but we don’t always have the guts to act upon it.

That lesson gets reinforced for me whenever I think of former major-league outfielder Rick Monday because I can’t help but think of something he did on the field.

Really, we all owe Monday a hand-over-the-heart-salute of thanks for something he did more than 35 years ago today.

As any long-time baseball player will say, each ballpark has a unique feeling. Its own personality. One pitch into the bottom of the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium onApril 25, 1976, Monday, playing centerfield then for the Chicago Cubs, realized the stadium’s “breathing pattern got out of sync.” He heard a commotion from the left-field corner.

When Monday looked over, he saw two guys running toward left-center. One of them had something under his arm. They stopped and spread the item on the ground as if they were preparing a picnic. One of the two guys then took out a shiny can of a liquid and started squirting it onto the piece of cloth.

Monday immediately realized that the item on the ground was the American flag. The liquid doused onto the flag turned out to be lighter fluid.

“At that moment I was mad,” Monday told me by phone. He then did what he thought was the right thing to do. The only thing to do. He started running toward the two men to stop them. One of the guys lit a match, but the wind blew it out. Then, he lit a second one.

“I don’t know what I was thinking, if I was thinking about trying to bowl them over, or what,” Monday says. “I was close enough, though, that I remember thinking, ‘They can’t burn it if they don’t have it.’ So, I reached down and grabbed the flag.”

When you look at the photograph or the video that’s circulating on the Internet, you’ll notice that Monday’s timing was so perfect that the person with the second match proceeded to put the match to the ground, thinking the flag was still there.

Monday ran toward the Dodgers’ dugout, passing then-Dodger third-base coach Tommy Lasorda, who was shouting every obscenity known to man.

“I told Tommy, ‘What you were yelling would make a longshoreman blush,’” Monday, who eventually played for Lasorda inLos   Angeles, told me in 2006.

After the crowd of nearly 40,000 that Sunday afternoon began to boo the two guys for their despicable act and then cheer as security escorted the two off the field, the stadium grew quiet for a moment. Then, Monday’s proof that what he did was the right thing.

“Without any prompting at all, without the organ starting, without anything being put on the diamond vision,” remembers Monday, “one section of the stadium and then another and then another, began to sing ‘God Bless America.’ When those people reacted that way, it brought goose bumps, and it still does when I reflect upon it.”

Monday, whom the Kansas City A’s drafted with the first-ever selection in the Major League draft in 1965, the same year he started a six-year stint in the Marine Corps Reserves, had a solid 19-year big-league career. He played in nearly 2,000 games, compiling 1,619 hits and 775 RBIs.

After posting what turned out be career highs in home runs (32) and RBIs (77) with Chicago in 1976, the Cubs traded Monday to the Dodgers, where he played the next eight seasons as an outfielder for Lasorda, who took over as manager in ’77. In 1981, his solo homer with two outs in the top of the ninth againstMontreal, sent the Dodgers to the World Series.

Despite the numbers, Monday says that if fans mainly remember him for saving the flag, instead of a game-winning hit or a great catch or a long career, that’s just fine.

“It wouldn’t bother me if that’s what they remember,” said Monday, who receives letters every month from fans about that one moment, which the Baseball Hall of Fame voted as one of the 100 Classic Moments in the History of the Game. “It would bother me more if people asked, ‘Why didn’t you stop them?’”

Monday added that not only has he not had any communications with the two guys who tried to ignite the flag, but he’s never even wondered why they were attempting to do it. He says it’s not important. It was wrong, “regardless of the message.”

When it comes to that April day, Monday quickly points out that, even though he’s not a fan of the recognition he’s received, he’d do the same thing again.

“(The act) hasn’t changed me, but I have been embarrassed by the attention placed on me, because I didn’t do anything,” he says. “There isn’t anyone I know, fortunately, who wouldn’t have done the same thing. I am just honored to be able to maybe tell the story to someone who might stop for a moment and think about what’s right or wrong.

“And for someone to think that the reason we all have our rights and freedoms is that – to obviously greater extents than what I did in stopping two guys from burning a flag – somewhere along the line, someone has stopped to do the right thing.”

To contact Matt Fulks or for more information about his books, please visit MattFulks.com. Feel free to comment on Rick Monday’s act from April 25, 1976, below. We will make sure that Mr. Monday receives messages directed for him.

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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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Behind the Stats: Today I’m thankful for…

Read nearly every newspaper around the country today — most of which you can find online, which is a slight reason newspapers are in their current dire state, but I digress — and you’ll read a column such as this. Our list of things for which we’re thankful.

In many ways, as some writers have said, this is a crutch column. Lists seem to be like that to some old-school writers. At the same time, though, writing of list of things for which I’m thankful almost seems that it’s not done nearly enough. Kind of like honoring veterans one day a year.

Of course, most of these are sports related and specific to the Kansas City area, except for the number of things in the list. As I wrote a few weeks ago, several of us celebrated recently the life of friend and former Lipscomb University pitcher Scott Shannon, who lost a battle with cancer 20 years ago this month. His number at Lipscomb was 23.

That said, in no particular order, this year I’m especially thankful for….

1. Christ. It seems so blasé these days to list religion first, especially with the firestorm under which Tim Tebow is planted. But, when you read through Tony Dungy’s book, “Quiet Strength,” or you spend a few minutes with someone like Dayton Moore, Kevin Seitzer or ex-Kansas State tight end Paul Coffman, you’re reminded that leading off with this should never seem trite.

2. Family, especially my wife and our three kids. Of course my parents and my in-laws fall in that category, too.

3. Friends. When you’re an extreme introvert, it’s nice to have a few people around you who can put up with your quirkiness.

4. Our service men and women, along with police officers and firefighters. I’m a big chicken. So I’m in complete awe when I think about these people who choose to defend our freedoms or keep us safe on a daily basis.

5. Frank White. My blood always boils this time of year with all of the discussions about the Baseball Hall of Fame and which of the current candidates deserve or don’t deserve to get in. The pointless debates don’t include Royals Hall of Famer Frank White. And, by this time they shouldn’t because he should be in already. But he’s not, which is a travesty. During his era, he was one of the game’s best all-around defensive players. He remains one of the best second basemen of all-time. Besides his play on the field, I do value Frank’s friendship.

6. The Royals and the Chiefs and the optimism that we have at the beginning of each season, and the fact that when one season hits the tank we can start looking forward to the other. By the way, pitchers and catchers report in 70-some-odd days, depending on when you’re reading this. Although, if we were going to look forward to pitchers and catchers reporting when the Chiefs season tanked, we could’ve said, “pitchers and catchers report in six months.”

7. Denny Matthews and Fred White. No offense to Ryan Lefebvre or Bob Davis whatsoever, but for me it’s always been natural to say the names Denny and Fred together. In various combinations, they’ve been great together for the past 38 years. They’re also great individuals and friends.

8. Max Falkenstien. In a way I could put Max with Denny and Fred. Like Denny and Fred, Falkenstien was one of my heroes growing up. He certainly is missed during the KU broadcasts.

9. The T-Bones. The baseball team, not the steak. (Although I’m thankful for the steak, too.) I’ve written about the T-Bones and General Manager Chris Browne in previous columns and articles, so it shouldn’t be a big shock that I think they’re a wonderful and important part of the Kansas City sports landscape. However, in a moment of weakness this past season, they did something so unthinkable that I had to add them to this year’s list. Desperate during the season, they asked me to fill in as their public address announcer when the legendary Dan Roberts had to miss a game. My start in this media business actually can be traced to doing PA work, so it’s not a complete stretch to think that I could do it. To think, though, that a professional baseball team would ask me does seem far-fetched. But, it went well enough, evidently, that they asked me in August to work PA for the Willie Wilson Baseball Classic. Who knows, maybe they’ll be in a bind again next season.

10. Jim Chappell and Chappell’s Restaurant and Sports Museum. Jim likely will argue that he should be higher on the list, and he may be right. But, you’ll be able to read more about Chappell’s in this space in a full-length column tomorrow. Suffice to say for now that Chappell’s is the best sports museum in the Midwest. Hands down. And the food is excellent, too. They must be doing something right since they’re celebrating their 25th anniversary this week.

11. The Border War. The rivalry between KU and MU (listed alphabetically, by the way) is one of the best, most heated, most hated and most overlooked in all of college sports. And, at least for the time being, is likely about to come to an end, because of both schools. Although Saturday’s football game promises to be exciting for about two possessions, it looks like both men’s basketball games this season could be classics.

12. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.  As a long-time Kansas Citian, I sometimes take for granted this city’s role in black baseball. We have a chance to be reminded of that with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

13. Steve Renko. I have so many reasons to be thankful for Renk, the Kansas City area native, who spent only one season, 1983, with the Royals. Besides the fact that he was one of my “Behind the Stats” radio sidekicks for nearly two years, he’s also a constant source of encouragement, information and opinions. Not to mention, he’s taken time to work with one of my sons who wants to be a pitcher. Most of those times, though, I think he’s working as much with me as a father of a kid who wants to pitch.

14. The Jazz Museum. As a huge fan of jazz, particularly the likes of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Count Basie, it’s awesome to have the Jazz Museum next to the NLBM. It’s pretty easy to do both in the morning and still have time to grab lunch down the road at Arthur Bryant’s before driving past 22nd and Brooklyn, the site of where the Blues, Monarchs, Athletics, Chiefs and Royals all played.

15. Kansas Citybarbecue. Too many to have a favorite.

16. Pineapple and Canadian bacon. The person who first decided to try that odd combination on a pizza is a genius. Plain and simple.

17. Ken Morrow. Whether you’re a hockey fan or not, we’re lucky to have Morrow in the Kansas City area. The current Director of Pro Scouting for the New York Islanders and a winner of multiple Stanley Cups, Morrow is a great ambassador for amateur hockey in the Kansas City area. Besides — and as important as the rest — he was an important part of the 1980 U.S. hockey team that beat the Soviet Union during the Olympics.

18. The running/biking trails around the area. Yes, there are other cities with better or more extensive trails, but if you’ve lived in or visited cities without trails as nice as here you know how lucky we are. Now if we only had leaders who understood the importance of light rail.

19. Cedric Tallis, the Royals’ first general manager in 1969. Although he orchestrated one of the worst trades in baseball history, Lindy McDaniel from the Yankees in exchange for Rookie of the Year Lou Piniella, he’s also responsible for building the Royals into winners relatively soon into their existence with trades that brought Piniella, Buck Martinez, Amos Otis, Cookie Rojas and Fred Patek to Kansas City. Tallis deserves to be in the Royals Hall of Fame.

20. Taco Via. OK, this one might seem a little odd, unless you grew up on the Kansas side of the state line. If you grew up on the Missouri side, you might not know about the Via’s nachos, sanchos, taco burgers, enchiladas and sauce so good that you could drink it faster than a QT Quart. What you may not realize is that the restaurant moved about 500 yards from its location at 95th and Antioch in Overland Park – and the new location opened this week.

21. Municipal Auditorium. What a great, historic place to watch a basketball game. To think, more NCAA men’s championship basketball games have been played there than any other venue in the country.

22. LIVESTRONG Park. I’m not a big soccer fan. Those who know me might even take the word “big” out of that first sentence. But, what an incredible stadium in Kansas City,Kan.! Even if you’re not a soccer fan, you need to see the stadium at least once. It’s also cool to think about that stadium being within an Alex Gordon throw from the Kansas Speedway and CommunityAmerica Ballpark.

23. The NAIA. This isn’t a knock on the NCAA, but the NAIA “gets it.” They understand the importance of pushing the idea of character, not only to their institutions but also to local high schools, grade schools and amateur sports leagues. President/CEO Jim Carr and his staff should be commended for the work they do. Not to mention, the sports teams at NAIA schools are extremely competitive and fun to watch.

For more information on Matt Fulks’ books, or to suggest a “Behind the Stats” topic, visit Matt at www.mattfulks.com.

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