Thursday, August 5, 2010
Kansas fight song needs new words
For almost a century, the Kansas fight song has boasted about husking corn and listening to the Cornhuskers' "wail."
Come October, the classic standard "I'm A Jayhawk" will be revised to account for Nebraska's move to the Big Ten next year and Colorado's move to the Pac-10 next year or in 2012.
It's common for college fight-song lyrics to call out a hated opponent. Harvard and Yale hammer each other in their battle cries. Navy leaves no doubt it wants to sink Army. California's Golden Bear "growls" when he "hears the tread of lowly Stanford red."
Kansas, on the other hand, mentions six foes from the old Big Eight -- all but Iowa State -- and is the only school with cause to tweak its fight song after this summer's conference realignment.
Nebraska and Colorado's songs don't reference other schools. The same holds true for Utah, which is going to the Pac-10, and Mountain West-bound Boise State.
Kansas is sending in "I'm A Jayhawk" for a second revision of the original written by 1912 graduate George "Dumpy" Bowles. The song caught on in 1920 and was first altered in 1958 to remove the "braves" of Haskell Indian Nations College and the "aggies" of Oklahoma A&M, the precursor to Oklahoma State.
"I'm A Jayhawk" wasn't changed when the Big Eight became the Big 12 in 1996.
"Now we have a different evolution with the Big 12," KU Alumni Association president Kevin Corbett said, "so it's time to revise and have a lot of fun with it. It's not meant to be belligerent to Nebraska or Colorado for leaving the conference. It's just keeping up with the times."
Corbett's office is holding a contest for students to come up with new lyrics to replace those mentioning Nebraska and Colorado. The winner will be announced on homecoming Oct. 23, and the new lyrics will be implemented in 2011-12.
Former KU yell leader Bob Hartman, who graduated in 1970, said the Big 12 South schools give the Jayhawks ample fodder to weave into the new version. Not to be sacrificed, he said, are references to in-state rival Kansas State and the opponent that causes Jayhawks the most angst, Missouri.
"You certainly want to poke the Wildcats and pull a Tiger's tail," Hartman said.
He cautioned against meddling with the chorus: "'Cause I'm a Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay, Jayhawk."
"That's sacrosanct," Hartman said.
David Lawrence, a Jayhawk radio analyst and offensive lineman from 1977-81, said he's been struggling to think of a fitting replacement for "Cornhuskers."
"I'm looking for a three-syllable mascot. Who would that be?" he said.
How about Red Raiders?
"Somehow," Lawrence said after a long pause, "the geographical relationship and the history with Texas Tech is nowhere close."
The words to "I'm A Jayhawk" are rarely sung at games. Instead, fans clap along with "I'm A Jayhawk" and belt out the signature "Rock Chalk Jayhawk" chant.
Still, the words of the fight song are near and dear to the hearts of Jayhawks. A number of alumni stung in June by the news of Nebraska's looming departure raised the issue with Corbett.
The Jayhawks and Huskers have played 104 straight years in football, the nation's longest continuous series, and 116 times since 1892.
"If they're not in our conference, they're not in our fight song," Corbett said, summarizing the e-mails and letters he received.
Not every school tinkers with tradition when things change, said Brandon German, whose website 1122productions.com/fightsongs features the lyrics of 428 college fight songs.
The computer programmer from Birmingham, Ala., pointed out that his alma mater, Alabama, still refers to Georgia and Georgia Tech in its fight song. That's the case even though Auburn, which gets nary a mention, is the Crimson Tide's chief rival and meetings with the Yellow Jackets are rare nowadays.
"The only time we might play Georgia Tech is in a bowl game," German said, "but the song was written that way and it still is tradition. People are careful about playing around with traditions that go back 100 years in a lot of cases."
It's a good thing Texas A&M and Texas didn't part ways when conferences realigned. The "Aggie War Hymn" is not subtle about A&M's obsession with beating the Longhorns.
Such in-state rivalries hold a special place, even when the schools aren't in the same conference, German said. Consider Georgia Tech's "White & Gold," which cries, "We'll drop our battle axe on Georgia's head, CHOP."
"Kind of macabre, isn't it?" German said.