Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Flip Week: Kansas State
By Ted Miller
Editor's note: During Week 12, 10 ESPN.com reporters changed conferences to experience college football in unfamiliar territory. Here is what they learned from the experience.
I went to Manhattan -- Kansas, that is -- from Nov. 14-17 to see what Kansas State football had to offer and how it compared to a Pac-12 weekend.
Two things happened: 1) I was impressed; 2) I had a blast.
For one, Manhattan is a cool college town. I suspected it would be after talking to some folks beforehand who know the place well. And everyone was incredibly friendly and accommodating, from fans and boosters to Kansas State administrators. Even media-averse coach Bill Snyder took a moment for a casual chat.
Was it different than the Pac-12? Yes and no.
There is certainly a different feel to K-State compared to say, Stanford, USC, Washington, Arizona State and California. Particularly Cal-Berkeley. K-State most closely resembled Oregon State and Washington State. The game-day experience, from the pregame tailgate to the stadium atmosphere, had its own unique vibe, too, as all places do.
Still, in the end, passionate college football fans express themselves mostly in the same way. The music, chants and colors are different, but a game-winning field goal -- which the Wildcats got to beat TCU -- gets the same reaction everywhere: unbridled joy.
So here are some impressions.
Kansas State prides itself on the family atmosphere at Bill Snyder Stadium in Manhattan.
Best meal: None of my meals was bad -- dinner at Coco Bolos, breakfast at The Chef, lunch at So Long Saloon -- but I'd have to rate my prime rib at Harry’s Restaurant on Saturday night after the game as the highlight. I'd write that the bartender made a nice martini, but then my boss would read this and suspect I had a martini while on assignment, which I would never, ever, ever do.
Must-see sight in Manhattan: If you are young -- or young at heart! -- there is no better place to be on a Friday night in Manhattan than Aggieville. My foray included Rock-a-Belly Deli, Taco Lucha, Keltic Star and Aggie Station, and I saw the Kansas State band circulate around the entertainment district, firing up Wildcats fans for the next day's game with TCU. I've been to a lot of great college towns -- 39, by my quick estimation -- and Manhattan definitely rates among the best.
Biggest surprise: It may have been the celestial ribs from Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ pleasantly digesting in my stomach after a late lunch pit stop in Kansas City after my flight, but I was surprised by how scenic the drive was down I-70 into Kansas' Flint Hills and Manhattan, and how appealing I found the vastness of the tall-grass prairie. Like many from the coasts, I've long viewed Kansas as a fly-over state, flat and tornado-infested. The rolling, treeless hills provided a topography a West Coast person doesn't typically see. For Pac-12 folks, I'd compare it to the drive through the Palouse from Spokane to Pullman in Washington. Another surprise was a sunny, 70-degree day on Nov. 16.
Biggest difference from conference I cover: You mean other than no one barking at me about how I favor such-and-such Pac-12 team over such-and-such Pac-12 team? Well, it was clear that I was pretty removed from any large population center. I don't get that with most Pac-12 stops, where skyscrapers are often within view or just a few miles away. That's also probably a big reason why the town and campus were not as socially diverse as most Pac-12 destinations. Further, the Pac-12 as a whole has a lot more "granola" to it than the Big 12, and that's even more true when you compare Manhattan to, say, Berkeley or Eugene. Without getting too political, it seems reasonable to suspect Manhattan is just a bit more red than the decidedly blue Pac-12.
They said it: "Kansas State University is not the biggest school in the country. It's not the wealthiest school in the country. But it has among the most loyal, dedicated, traditional fans of any school in the country. This school went through many, many years of not much success, but the fans stuck with the program, and it's been a great success since Bill Snyder arrived here." -- Bill Keller, Kansas State booster, at the tailgate before TCU game
If I could go back: Because I had so much advance help from ESPN.com's Jeremy Crabtree, Kansas State sports information director Kenny Lannou and Kansas State fan Alex Judd (a friend of Crabtree's and Pac-12 general counsel/senior VP Woodie Dixon), I'd probably do another trip much as I did my first -- a stop in Kansas City for barbecue before heading to Manhattan and a couple of nights on the town in Aggieville. If I could do one thing, though, I'd take a more thorough tour of the campus. The limestone buildings were pretty cool, and it looked like a pleasant place to wander around, weather permitting.