The Kansas State Wildcats football program started on either Thanksgiving Day, 1893 or November 3, 1894 depending on who you talk to. “It was Thanksgiving. Our football ran out of air, so we substituted a Thanksgiving Butterball turkey with the best mother-in-law stuffing you ever did taste,” a former player told a newspaper.
Either way, the Wildcats won both games. Their first lost was in 1896 to a squad from Fort Riley. In those days, coaches usually lasted one year, performing the duties as player/coaches or as recent grads. “We tried to fire ourselves before the school could do it,” a player/coach told the student newspaper.
This pattern changed in 1905 When Mike Ahearn coached the team until 1910 with a winning record of 39-12. He also coached the basketball team, the baseball team, was athletic director and helped build the Memorial Stadium. A player from those days explained in the yearbook: “Guy was clever. During practice, instead of lifting weights, he made us carry bricks and lay them in place. In two years, we had a new stadium.”
Charlie Backman, who coached the team much of the 1920s, and made his way into the College Football Hall of fame, is credited with nicknaming the team “Wildcats.” “Up to then, we didn’t have a name. Other teams just called us ‘Kookoo KSU,’ ‘those dandies from Manhattan,’ or the ‘Farm Boys We Can’t Get the Smell Off Of,'” explained a former player.
Form the mid-30s until the 90s, KSU football went into a steep decline. They neglected to spend money on football and their poor winning record showed it. “Listen, you want Orange Bowl bids, or kids that can change the world with a solid education?” asked an alumni. “What’s that? Orange Bowl bids? I should have known.”