When Lynn Larson, a junior college offensive tackle from Phoenix, transferred to K-State before the 1968 season, the football program was in rebuilding mode under the second-year head coach Vince Gibson.
"I don’t know that they had won a game in years," said Larson, now an officer with the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, who has volunteered as a media coordinate with the Fiesta Bowl since 2007.
Larson was one of a class of 17 junior college transfers brought in by Gibson, who went 1-9 in his first season at the helm.
"In ’67, he [Gibson] kind of ran everybody off that wasn’t really serious about paying the price and staying with the program," Larson said.
During Larson’s junior season in 1968, the Wildcats began to show significant improvement under Gibson. K-State finished with a 4-6 record; no small feat for a team that amassed losing streaks of 17 and 18 games throughout the 1960′s.
"Our biggest win of that season was when we went to Nebraska and beat them 12-0 on their homecoming game," said Larson, who added that the victory was the first for K-State over Nebraska in 10 years.
K-State finished with a 5-5 record when Larson was a senior, including a 59-21 blowout of No. 11 Oklahoma, which was at the time the most lopsided loss in the Sooners’ history. The win, K-State’s first over Oklahoma since 1934, propelled the Wildcats to a 5-1 record and a #12 AP ranking.
"People started a bonfire in the middle of the street," Larson said, recalling a scene of ecstatic bedlam in Manhattan. "The buildings across from Kite’s were two-story buildings, and people were throwing furniture out the windows onto the bonfire. It was the biggest event in Manhattan, Kansas, in forever."
Larson was drafted in the fourth round of the 1970 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears, and was traded a number of times over the first few months of his career, eventually winding up as a member of the Baltimore Colts’ practice squad.
That year, Larson became the first member of the K-State program to win a Super Bowl title when the Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys, 16-13. Larson recently made the decision to donate his championship ring to the university when he passes away.
The former K-State offensive tackle went on to spend another season in the Colts organization before leaving for the Cleveland Browns in a contract dispute. When the Browns assigned him to the practice squad, Larson gave the team an ultimatum.
"I told them to put me on the roster, or send me home," he said. "They sent me home. [The NFL] was a different experience, because at K-State when I was there, the coaches, the town, everybody made you feel like they wanted you there, like you were a big, special part of what was going on there. In the NFL, it wasn’t like that."
Larson also played professionally in Canada before permanently hanging up his cleats. He said he has followed the K-State program avidly since he left, and is ecstatic about the possibility of the Wildcats’ first ever 12-win season and BCS Bowl victory.
Currently, Larson is living in Phoenix, Ariz. and has volunteered with the Fiesta Bowl, where he works in media cooperation for the past five years.
"It was purely coincidental" that Larson’s former program wound up in the bowl he works for, but for the lifetime member of K-State’s Alumni Association, the week has been one to remember.
"I’ve always watched them and been an ardent supporter," he said. "It’s gotta be frustrating for the program to get that close to a perfect season, but they’ve gotta be very proud of what they’ve accomplished. It’s just amazing to watch it week after week, and I’ll tell you, if they’re on TV or satellite radio, I’m tuning in, no matter where I’m at or what I’m doing. My two years in Manhattan were pretty special to me."