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October 4, 2010

Gordon returns home with purple passion

The trouble with Joe Gordon is there are simply too many places to start. Does the story start when the redshirt freshmen entered the meeting room prior to the 1993 season? Does it start with his visits to Manhattan 15 years later? Or, does the story start with his hiring to the Kansas State program that he loves more than almost anything in the world? No, let's keep it simple. Let's start with Central Florida.

There Joe Gordon stood on the K-State sideline, bouncing up and down, his towel whipping wildly above his head like a helicopter propeller. The crowd of 50,586 was on its feet. Cheerleaders shook their pom-poms. Players on both sidelines crowded each other, trying to sneak a peek at the far end of the field, waiting for the moment.

And Joe Gordon kept waving his towel.

Everybody watched Carson Coffman's 7-yard run into the end zone for the winning score with 24 ticks left in the Wildcats' 17-13 victory over Central Florida. But here's what they didn't see: They didn't see Joe Gordon darting down the sideline, towel still whipping, then turn around and run down the sideline again like a fenced-in thoroughbred, waiting to run. Then when Gordon finally stopped at the end of the sideline, they didn't see him stop to hug players, then strike a pose with his young son, arms extended and fingers shaking in exaggeration like a magician when he conjures a rabbit in his hat.

And afterward, after the team jogged in a pack into the locker room, where they bounced up and down and shouted, "PURPLE, GET READY TO ROLL! PURPLE-GET-READY-TO-ROLL! (Say what?)" over and over again, the crowd at Bill Snyder Family Stadium that saw the Wildcats improve to 4-0 for the first time since 2003 didn't see this:

They didn't see Joe Gordon greet a visitor in the Vanier Football Complex with a handshake that Joe Gordon turned into a hug, and they certainly didn't hear what Joe Gordon whispered next.

"I didn't come back home to lose."


* * *


True story: Nobody really knows when the "Purple, Get Ready to Roll!" chant started. And that's the tough thing about these forlorn tales that get handed down from generation to generation. In most cases, nobody fully knows when these traditions were born.

One person remembers Eric Hickson and Travis Ochs on stage leading the team as they taught the chant to fans at the annual Purple Play on Poyntz event prior to the start of the 1997 Fiesta Bowl season. Sean Snyder remembers the team doing it at the Cotton Bowl pep-rally the previous year. Somebody else believes the chant started even before that.

"It goes back a lot of years," K-State coach Bill Snyder said. "I can't tell you how many, but a lot of years."

Here's what we do know: K-State did the chant before each game during its 1998 undefeated regular season, including the streak-busting win against Nebraska. K-State also did the chant prior to its 29-28 win over the Huskers in 2000, before it beat Southern California in 2001 and 2002, and even before the Wildcats shocked the world and top-ranked and undefeated Oklahoma that December night in 2003. Yes, they did the chant then, too.

Nobody really knows when the "Purple, Get Ready to Roll!" chant started.

But K-State players know when the chant ended.

Things were different under Ron Prince.

"We never did anything to get us hyped," senior wide receiver Aubrey Quarles said. "We'd just go out there, take the field and let the atmosphere get us ready to play."

Snyder preached enthusiasm and spirit when he returned to K-State prior to last season. Players simply weren't having fun and there was, well, no enthusiasm and no spirit. That became evident prior to the annual spring game.

"In the locker room, when you'd expect them to be jumping up and down and getting excited about going onto the field, there was just dead silence."

- Bill Snyder

"In the locker room, when you'd expect them to be jumping up and down and getting excited about going onto the field, there was just dead silence," Snyder said. "I was like, 'Wait a minute. I'm not accustomed to this. There's an issue here.'"

The rebirth arrived in the locker room prior to the season-opener against Massachusetts. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound K-State director of recruiting operations, who players call, "Joe G" issued the unforgettable introduction.

"We were all called to the middle of the locker room and Joe G comes running down and does this back-handspring back flip in the middle of all of us," senior left guard Zach Kendall said. "We'd talked about it. He'd told us, 'This is what we're going to do,' but when he did that it was just a feeling you get when you run out of the tunnel and see everybody in the stands.

"We were all juiced, ready to go."

"PURPLE, GET READY TO ROLL! PURPLE-GET-READY-TO-ROLL! (Say what?)"

"PURPLE, GET READY TO ROLL! PURPLE-GET-READY-TO-ROLL! (Say what?)"

"PURPLE, GET READY TO ROLL! PURPLE-GET-READY-TO-ROLL! (Say what?)"


* * *


He approached the doors nervous that the day of the summer meeting. He did not know what would be said. He did not know what they would do. All redshirt freshman Joe Gordon knew was that his head coach, Bill Snyder, called a meeting for that day prior to the 1993 season. The Wildcats were coming off a 5-6 record. They were not good enough for a bowl. Not yet. Then Snyder stood in front of his team.

He said, "You are going to be a part of this turnaround."

Something happened that day in the meeting room. "It" happened. Joe Gordon, a native of Arlington, Texas, and backup to Thomas Randolph and Steve Hanks at cornerback, caught the purple fever.

"We bought into it immediately," Gordon said. "He sat us down, spoke about this opportunity and the players began to try and seize that opportunity."

K-State started the season with its first 5-0 mark since 1931. It earned its first national ranking since 1969. It beat Oklahoma for the first time since 1970. It capped its 9-2-1 record with a 52-17 win over Wyoming in the Copper Bowl.

That, of course, was the Wildcats' first bowl win in school history.

Gordon was an All-Big Eight selection in 1994.

In 1995, Gordon was named an honorable mention All-American selection.

He graduated in 1996 as a member of four K-State bowl teams.


* * *


Ever seen a 6-foot-4, 349-pound man cry? Kenneth Mayfield seemingly came close. The eyes of the fifth-year senior grew noticeably glossy in the Vanier Football Complex last Tuesday.

It was a bye-week. K-State, 4-0, would face No. 6 Nebraska, 4-0, in front of a national ESPN audience and a sold-out crowd at Bill Snyder Family Stadium next Thursday.

Somebody asked Mayfield about the Nebraska offense. Somebody else asked him about the magnitude of facing the Huskers one last time.

Then somebody asked him about Joe Gordon.

"He's a special guy," Mayfield began.

He paused. And there was more to the story, of course. The stories are everywhere about Joe G.

"He's become my mentor, somebody I can talk to when I need somebody to talk to."

- Kenneth Mayfield

"He's become my mentor, somebody I can talk to when I need somebody to talk to," Mayfield continued. "He's one of those guys that'll lift you up when you're down and praise you when you're up. I just really, really appreciate him and thank him for everything he's done for me and the team."

Gordon suffered a season-ending leg injury early in his senior year in 1996, but he spent the 1997 season with the St. Louis Rams before heading to NFL Europe in 1998, where he played for the Rhein Fire. Then he spent 11 years in the private sector, most recently has a partner at MWA Employee Benefits, LLC, and the owner of Joe Gordon Sports Training in Fort Worth, Texas.

A single call from Bill Snyder in early 2009 brought Joe Gordon back to Manhattan.

"When we talk about this program, you look out there at the stadium and it says the name, 'Family,'" Gordon said last July. "Every family will go through ups and downs. Every family will go through struggles. But the most unique thing about a family is that a family stays together and fights through the storms understanding the sun soon will shine.

"We understand that the storm has hit us and we're willing to look that tunnel in the eye and go get it and make it happen."

He paused.

"We're a family," Gordon said. "That's what this is."

Gordon serves as the consummate big brother. He serves as the go-to man on the recruiting front. Before home games, the Wildcats' version of Superman charms families and 17-year-olds while dressed in a suit and purple tie. By game time, he has transformed into a white Powercat polo and khakis.

Forget the cape. Joe Gordon wields the meanest towel in the Midwest.

Senior defensive end Antonio Felder says that Gordon "runs off of batteries."

"He's just pumped all the time and never goes dead. He's the same way 24-7," Felder said. "He'll be running around the complex -- 'Eeeeeeeowwwww!!!' -- making noises. He's always making noise. I love him."

There's Joe Gordon in his high-speed stroll through the Vanier Football Complex lobby, shouting, "It's a great day to be a Wildcat!" or "It's a great day to get better!" to nobody in particular. There he is, doing another back-flip during practice to keep the spirit flowing, keep the juices going -- anything to keep the players jazzed about the task at hand.

What would K-State football be without Joe Gordon?

Perhaps senior center Wade Weibert puts it best.

"It'd be a puzzle with a missing piece right in the middle," he said. "He's a big-time staple in what K-State football is trying to become again. Coach Snyder would be hoarse if Joe Gordon wasn't here because he'd constantly be saying, 'We need to pick up the enthusiasm! We need to pick up the spirit!' He'd be saying it so often that he'd talk himself mute.

"The fact that Joe G. is here, that's helping us all understand the spirit and enthusiasm the game is supposed to be played with."

He paused.

"Not only that," Weibert reiterated, "but in recruiting I guarantee he's picking up players that we need and players that are going to be big-time for us in the future."


* * *


Fifty-one -- that's how many points K-State allowed opponents at home in 1995. Joe Gordon was on that team. So it was easy to sense the heartbreak on the other end of the phone five home games into the 2008 season. K-State had allowed 169 points at home, including a pair of 58-point outbursts by both No. 7 Texas Tech and No. 4 Oklahoma. Gordon drove from Fort Worth to sit through every one.

And Nebraska was still to come.

"It has been painful to the eyes and upsetting to the stomach to no end for guys like myself and other of the Lynchmob players of the Snyder era," Gordon said, his voice trembling, maybe out of sadness, maybe out of anger, likely a mixture of both.

"It's unacceptable. It has to be corrected," he continued. "Prince was brought there with his goal to win a championship. Guys like myself understand the simple math. When we see the scoreboard light up like it has been of late, it has placed great concern and there seems to be some sort of disconnect that has taken place. That also served as a major concern for guys like myself, concern for my current players because these should be their memorable times and they're playing in the best stadium and in front of the best fans in the country.

"Our fans and players alike share the common goal to come out victorious and any time you're far from the goal and are far off from the benchmark target that has been set, it calls for a review."

K-State announced that Prince wouldn't return as the school's head football coach on Nov. 5. Ten days later, K-State suffered a 56-28 loss to Nebraska in Manhattan.

It marked the first time in school history that the Wildcats allowed 50 points four times in a season.

Eight months later, Gordon stood in the Legend's Room at Bramlage Coliseum carrying his title as director of recruiting operations. He peered through the wall-sized windows, the ones that overlook the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

He said: "I have seen the eyes, ones that have hope and ones that are determined to turn the tide."


* * *


Yes, we know Joe Gordon didn't come back "home" to lose. That part is clear. But aside from a chance encounter after the Wildcats' narrow escape of Central Florida, we are left to wonder about all of the many things that must be racing through Gordon's head at 100 miles-per-hour, as K-State assistant coaches and staff do not speak to reporters during the season.

But Gordon does speak to the Wildcat Nation.

A Twitter entry from Gordon's account (@CoachJoeGordon) on Sept. 17 reads: Hey Hey it's a Great Day To Be A Wildcat!!

Other notable 140-character Twitter entries include:

- People who are highly successful program their minds w/ affirmations, images, & visualizations then back these up w/ action & persistence.

- A New Year calls for a New Outlook. Hows your point of view looking?

- Hey Hey it's a great day to get better!! How can you become a better Wildcat family member? Go KSU Wildcats!!!

- Purple is getting Ready To Roll!! Go Cats!!

K-State is 4-0 for the first time since the 2003 Big 12 Championship season and Gordon's message likely remains the same as what he announced that July afternoon in the Legend's Room upon his return to the program. In fact, his words now seem somewhat prophetic.

"Everybody understands this is a program that has greatness in its history and a program that, with the return of Coach Snyder, is on its way back."

- Joe Gordon

"Everybody understands this is a program that has greatness in its history and a program that with the return of Coach Snyder is on its way back," he said. "I choose to look at it like any business, like the stock market, for instance. It'll go up and down. If you look around, I don't know many programs across the country that are at a continuous spike. We feel good about where we've been in the past and we understand where we're going."

He's Joe G. He's the big brother. He's the head of recruiting.

He's so much more.

"He's way more than a guy that's waving a towel," Mayfield said. "He's the voice behind Coach Snyder. He's just an inspiration to us all."

Weibert, a Hillsboro native, heard some of the stories before. His cousin, Monty Beisel, was a 2000 first-team All-Big 12 selection at defensive end. So, yes, Weibert has had the purple fever for as long as he can remember.

"Joe Gordon was here when it was just turning the corner. He was a part of the team that put them into the bowl picture," Weibert said. "He can relates to us where K-State has been in the last couple years, where we haven't been to a bowl game and where we haven't been the team in the Big 12 that anybody's been afraid of, or dominant, or anything.

"We can relate to that now because we're working to bringing the program back. He talks to us about things that team did that can help us right now."

One of those things, no matter seemingly how small, involves joining the players in the middle of locker room after Snyder has said his last words and immediately before the Wildcats race onto the field.

Yes, even then, in those final moments, Joe Gordon, who gave renewed life to this piece of K-State tradition, touches the program in a big-time way.

"PURPLE, GET READY TO ROLL! PURPLE-GET-READY-TO-ROLL! (Say what?)"

"PURPLE, GET READY TO ROLL! PURPLE-GET-READY-TO-ROLL! (Say what?)"

"PURPLE, GET READY TO ROLL! PURPLE-GET-READY-TO-ROLL! (Say what?)"

The Wildcats will do the chant behind closed doors on Thursday night. Then they will race onto the field in front of the nation.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, Joe. G. will be waving his towel.

Or doing back-flips.






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