Yesterday was my anniversary.  No, I’m not married, but it’s been 14 years since November 14, 1998:  The greatest day of my life.

But this story begins the night before.  A Friday night with a typical early season K-State basketball game that no one really expected anything from.  My friends and I were there in our usual front row seats along with the loyal few that bothered to show up to Bramlage in the late 90s1.  In the midst of somehow surviving to pull out a victory over the Little Sisters of the Poor2 a security guard came to me and asked me to be sure to stay after the game.  Being a cocky college student who doesn’t always like to just bow to authority3 I told her I wasn’t staying past the end of the game unless I was given a good reason.  She simply said, “Willie wants to talk to you.”  I immediately told her I’d be right there waiting.

After the game was over I was led onto the court and back to Willie’s dressing room.  He and I walked inside and he took off his head.  I was so blown away I felt like I needed something smooth to say, but the best I could do was, “You mean that thing’s not real?!?!”  That earned me a solid, “uh, heh…” and I was terrified that I’d blown my moment.

My moment?  What made it my moment?  I can’t explain it, but I had a feeling something special was going to happen the next day.  K-State was ranked #1 in the nation in the Coach’s Poll, and we were once again looking to take our shot at Nebraska.  We hadn’t beaten them in 29 years, but every year we thought this would be the one… and this year we knew it would be. But on top of that I just had this feeling that in some small way I’d get to take part.

My friends and I had gone to every game that year.  Not just home games. All of them.  We’d surived a trip to Boulder, almost drowned in the pouring rain in Lawrence, watched David Allen return yet another punt for a touchdown in Waco, and work purple togas to every home game. We’d become the most minor of minor celebrities on campus, often stopped with a, “hey, aren’t you one of the toga guys?!?!”  But we’d never really taken part.

Willie’s head wasn’t real.  The student who played him introduced himself to me and began a friendship between two guys passionate about K-State4. He told me about how he’d seen me at every game, and that they’d never just asked a random student to participate in the pre-game skit before, but that he felt like I should get to do it before the Nebraska game.  I’d have to dress in red, and reenact a scene from The Waterboy5… and yes, I could choose some friends to join me.

I got my friends together, and that night we practiced the skit… without even really knowing what parts we would play.  I didn’t sleep a minute that night. The adrenaline was too hard… not only was it the biggest game in the history of K-State football up to that point, but now I had a role in front of 50,000 people. I’ll never forget watching the Wabash from Willie’s staging area.  Just before he put his head on I thanked him and told him this would make my year.  He smiled and said, “I knew it would, baby.  Just too bad you have to wear that red.”

I was playing the role of wide receiver.  The ball would hit Willie in the head (which amazingly it did), and then I was to tackle him.  Following that he would hit the guy playing quarterback (who was the backup Willie), and the rest of us would run off the field.  Willie couldn’t hit us for insurance reasons.  But sometimes, when the moment is right, Willie’s gotta do what Willie’s gotta do.  And this was the result6:

I tackled Willie, but he got his revenge.  He always does.  And that night K-State got their revenge too.  40-30, on their way toward an undefeated regular season.

November 14, 1998.  The greatest day of my life.

  1. Eerily similar to what we’ve seen so far this year… only instead of it being due to a poor team it’s largely due to the negatively heaped on by a large contingent of fans.  Suck it up, get there, and Go State! []
  2. Not the actual opponent that night, but I can’t remember who was []
  3. Ok, I’m still like that []
  4. A friendship that ended far too soon.  Rest in peace, Jamie []
  5. So unbelievably popular then, but a largely forgotten movie now []
  6. I’ve been telling this story for years, but I’d never actually seen the skit until just a couple months ago. Thanks, Courtney! []

About The Author

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Mike is a '00 graduate of Kansas State University and holds season tickets for Football and Men's & Women's Basketball. He lives in Kansas City, but stays loyal to his Chicago sports (Bulls & Bears & Hawks & Sox). He's a social media marketer by day and dreams in purple at night.

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