1963 Wildcat football team celebrates 50 years at opening game

Mark Janssen, K-State Sports Extra
Twenty-six members of the 1963 K-State football team, including two coaches, attended the team's 50-year reunion at the K-State Grain Science Industry building, across the street from Bill Snyder Family Stadium. For more photos, click here. (Photo: K-State Alumni Association)
On Aug. 30, seemingly a ka-zillion Wildcats faithfully gathered for what has become an annual K-State Family Reunion as the 2013 football season opened against North Dakota State at the snazzy Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Within the purple and white masses was a group of 25 to 30 members of the 1963 K-State football team that was having its 50-year reunion. 

"I wasn't coming back, but then I thought there's only one 50th year reunion. There won't be another one," said Willis Crenshaw, who went on to enjoy a seven-year career in the National Football league. "It deserves the special effort to be there."

Ralph McFillen, who organized the 50-years-later get-together said, "We didn't win championships, or even a lot of games, but we were a band of brothers who were able to beat the odds on a few occasions."

The class of '63 went 2-8 as sophomores in 1961 with wins over Indiana and Air Force; 0-10 as juniors; and, 2-7 as seniors, which included a 21-10 victory over Iowa State to break a 26-game Big 8 game losing streak.

A likely third victory was denied when the final game of the year against 1-8 Oklahoma State was canceled because of the assassination of President John Kennedy the day before the scheduled game. 

"We didn't win a lot of games, but I wouldn't trade my K-State experience for anything in the world," said Larry Corrigan, who also was a 13-foot pole vaulter in track and a second baseman in baseball for the Wildcats. "Kansas State is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me."

While head coach Doug Weaver left K-State with a seven-year record of 8-60-1, to the players there remains a high degree of respect for their head coach 50 years later. 

"He was like my dad away from home. He offered good guidance as to what type of person you should be," said former wide receiver Spencer Puls. "He was an enthusiastic guy. After he talked, you'd try to run through a wall for him. He was a good coach, but didn't have the budget to compete."

McFillen, another receiver, added, "Coach Weaver's teams didn't win, but they worked hard. They never quit and they always gave their best effort. He convinced us every week that we could win. We just didn't have the athletes because there wasn't the funding to recruit."

"Our win-loss record had nothing to do with coaching," Crenshaw said. "No matter how good of a coach you are, if you don't have the money to recruit the horses, you're not going to win."

It wasn't that the 1963 Wildcats didn't have talent, because they did. Crenshaw, a running back, played in the All-American game, while McFillen, a wide receiver, and Joe Provenzano, the biggest player on the team at 6-foot-2, 238 pounds, played in the Senior Bowl. 

Crenshaw was a ninth-round NFL draft choice, while Provenzano went in the seventeenth round. The next year, Ron Barlow, Doug Dusenbury and Don Barlow were taken in the NFL Draft. 

But especially with Bud Wilkinson's Oklahoma team and Bob Devaney's Nebraska team, "We understood that we were playing with a short stick," said Puls, who was a 5-foot-7, 152-pound wide receiver. 

On the other side of the field was McFillin as a 5-foot-9, 161-pound pass catcher. 

"At the time we didn't realize how out-manned we were. We just knew that week-in and week-out we were playing the best teams in the country."

"Our linemen were like midgets compared to Oklahoma and Nebraska," said the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Crenshaw, who played defensive end and running back in his senior year as a two-way performer. 
The 1963 K-State football team (Photo: 1964 Royal Purple)

It was a time that Crenshaw said, "As players, we’d go out and try to give tickets away for games, and if I saw a corn-fed big boy on campus, I’d encourage him to come out for the football team." 

If one thinks coach Bill Snyder has his players confined to a small place with the Vanier Football Complex, Weaver went a step further in that not only was Memorial Stadium the Wildcats’ playing home on Saturday, but it really was the home of the players the other six days as they lived in a makeshift dormitory below the stands.  

Of the facilities, Puls said, "There was no nutrition table like today, and our weight training consisted of a pair of five-gallon buckets filled with cement on each end of a galvanized bar."

And Crenshaw reflected, "If we wanted to do extra training on our own, all we had to do was step out of our tiny dorm room and run the stadium steps."

Friday night, the Wildcats of now 71 and 72 years of age, took to the field in a pregame ceremony to help welcome the 2013 K-State team onto the field. It was a time when they felt… well, almost 22 years old again.  

"To be down on the field was exhilarating and I know my adrenalin was pumping," McFillin said. 

This team of 1963 marvels at today’s K-State team that has somewhat extravagant facilities and the backing for all of the necessities to be competitive in the Big 12 Conference. 

"I think Coach Snyder is the greatest coach in the history of the game," Corriga said. “He takes players who are not four and five stars yet makes them into a great team. He's created a miracle."

"Coach Snyder has been unbelievable. Like coach Weaver, he’s such a man of character and principles," McFillen said. "I'm sure that a lot of fathers and mothers are totally comfortable to have their son play for Coach Snyder and his staff."

1963 Kansas State football roster: Martin Aubuchon, Charles Ballard, Ronald Barlow, Robert Becker, Denby Blackwell, LeRoy Borre, Richard Branson, Carl Brown, John Cairl, John Christensen, Gerald Condit, Lawrence Condit, Jerry Cook, James Cooper, Larry Corrigan, Charles Cottle, Willis Crenshaw, Edward Danieley, Doug Dusenbury, James Grechus, Willie Jones, Phillip King, Warren Klawiter, Don Krebs, Max Martin, William Matan, Ralph McFillen, Robert Mitts, Robert Nicols, Rodney Nicholson, Gary Pankratz, Michael Penrod, Joseph Provenzano, Spencer Puls, Richard Riggs, Robert Sjogren, Dennis Winfrey, Daniel Woodward 

1963 head coach: Doug Weaver, 1960-66 – 8-60-1 

1963 assistant coaches: John Kadlec, Ed Dissinger, Bob Haley, Ken LaRue, Corky Taylor; Porky Morgan, athletic trainer 

1963 Big 8 standings: Nebraska 7-0, 10-1; Oklahoma 6-1, 8-2; Missouri 5-2, 7-3; Kansas 3-4, 5-5; Iowa State 3-4, 4-5; Colorado 2-5, 2-8; Kansas State 1-5, 2-7; Oklahoma State 0-6, 1-8

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