LAWRENCE, Kansas. A Kansas student known as the Plunger Boy showed up at David Booth Memorial Stadium at 5:30 a.m. Saturday to make sure he got his front row seat at the Duke football game. He had waited countless times for basketball games at Allen Fieldhouse all night. But getting to the football game early? Well, there’s a first time for everything. So the plunger boy, also known as Noah Ginsberg, arrived with a group of friends, a handful of signs, a signature headband he wears on his head (he says it’s a gift from his father), and waited.

Approximately two hours before the match kicked off, about 100 students gathered waiting for the gates to open, and the air filled with a dizzying buzz as they wondered, “Are we really good at football?”

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“Nothing turns college fans on like a football team,” says Ginsberg.

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Even here?

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“Even here,” he continues. “We begged for football to come back. I’ve been waiting for a long time. My cousins ​​go to Clemson so I need to hear about it. Football brings people together and that’s what we want. to be. I know it starts on the field, but it also starts with the fans. If we bring the fans back here, that’s where it starts.”

Attracting fans to the games was a difficult test for Kansas football. Prior to this season, Kansas had 12 consecutive years of three wins or fewer—tied with Kent State (1989–2000)—the longest streak by an FBS team since the FBS/FCS split in 1978. In 122 seasons, Kansas has reached 12 bowl games and has an all-time record of under .500.

Meanwhile, Kansas men’s basketball has one of the best (the best, if you ask Kansas fans) home atmosphere in America at the 16,300-seat Allen Fieldhouse – with a sold-out streak of 336 games since 2001. Fans come because they know they’re going to see an elite team – Kansas is the reigning national champion, with four overall national championships. Last season, the Jayhawks overtook Kentucky to become the most successful Division I men’s basketball program ever.

But there are avid football fans in Kansas, and they proudly shared their stories on Saturday. Ginsberg has been attending games since the age of 8. He went to the 2008 Orange Bowl when Kansas beat Virginia Tech 24-21 to finish 12-1. He attended every game as a student. Like his friend, Alex Ailey, is also a high school student. On this particular day, Ailee wears a red and blue studded wig and a shirt that simply says “We’re back,” bought three years ago in anticipation of this moment.

“You sit here and say, ‘I’ve seen us lose 45 points every week,'” Ailey said.

“I saw us lose by 60,” Ginsberg chimes in.

“But I fell in love with this team in my freshman year when we lost to Nicholls State,” says Ailey. “It was my first game in KU. Despite the fact that we lost to the FCS team, I realized that this team is worth holding on to. I knew that one day we would achieve this.”

Freshman Bryce Erickson enters next.

“There’s something special about supporting a team that’s trying to get over a hump and that’s why being here is so special,” Erickson said. “You know KU basketball will be good, but you don’t know that KU football will be good every year.”

On the other side of the stadium, Dave Coach and his son Colin take their usual seats to greet the football team upon arrival. They did this for so long that the Coach family became a Kansas family. Coach Lance Leipold, and before him Les Miles, and long before him Charlie Weiss, always stopped and said hello. As well as players, administrators, parents of players and security guards. If you follow Kansas Athletics, you know Sofas.

They got season tickets in 1996 when Colin was born. Colin is in a wheelchair as a result of a traumatic birth. Dave explains that the doctors didn’t know if Colin would survive. But he did, and as he grew up, he got involved with football in a way that became the biggest fan of the team. While Dave is talking, Colin will be sure to call the five players and assistants as they head down to the pitch to warm up before the game. One assistant yells, “Great day for 4-0!”

“Colin has a warrior mentality because he has been fighting since the day he was born just to be here,” says Dave Coach. “So he understands what it means to be cornered, but not backed down from it. In sports in general, it’s there, but in football you fight every game to try and win. Does Colin know about this? or not, that’s who he is, and that’s who he’s always been. I love the fact that it could have something to do with his love of football as well.”

Directly behind them is a large grassy hill that leads to the famous bell tower, as far as the eye can see, dotted with white awnings. Freshman Queen Wittenauer stands with a group of friends and yells, “We’re a football school!”

Wait, is there a football school in Kansas?

“It’s a dream come true,” he says. “I have been waiting for this since I was 5 years old. I watched every KU game. I want to cry. In my childhood photos, I’m wearing a KU uniform.”

His friends AJ McDonald, Drake Dozer, Mason Johnston, Adrian Diamond, and Cadins Marlow start screaming in unison, their voices indistinguishable as they try to outdo each other in their Kansas football predictions.

“We want Bama!” they scream.

“No, no, we want Georgia!”

“No, no, no… Alabama wants us!”

Doser points to a white tent behind them. His parents and their friends decided to purchase a tent for this game around the time the season started, as it was the weekend for parents.

“We were supposed to have 10 people in the tent,” says Shannon Doser. “I think we have 100.”

At the top of the hill, on a bench with a great view of the stadium, Scott Johnson admires the view. A 1970 Kansas graduate, he remembers going to games in the 1960s to watch Gale Sayers, Curtis McClinton, and John Hadle.

“You know, there have been great football teams here throughout history,” says Johnson. “But the last 10 years have been difficult. Very heavy.”

Johnson drove 585 miles from his home in Colorado to come to the game, believing he could just buy a ticket on the day of the game, as always. But when he arrived in town on Thursday, he learned the game was sold out, the first sale since 2019.

“I’m a little overwhelmed,” he said.

So he decided that he would sit on the bench to see everything that was happening, even with a limited view of the field thanks to the scoreboard behind the end zone.

If Johnson had made it to the stadium, he would have been part of the loud, raucous crowd that was on their feet throughout the game. Because Kansas was late, guards stood in front of the Kansas student section holding a rope, a signal that they would not be allowed on the field.

After Kansas made a defensive stop to seal a 35-27 win and go 4-0 for the first time since 2009, the crowd was in full swing, waving white towels in the air to highlight the moment. As the clock counted down the last seconds, a “whether or not they will” dance began between the guards and the students.

After a short delay, one piece of rope was lowered and the students poured onto the field in a fairly orderly manner, without pushing, shoving, or trampling, but rather with pure delight and some disbelief, flowing into the players, chanting “4-0! 4-0!”

“It was crazy,” wide receiver Luke Grimm said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I think we’re doing this. You have an announcer in the background saying, “We’re expecting to win, don’t run across the field,” and the students are just like, “It doesn’t matter, we’re running across the field.” So at this point you are with your family because you are just having fun and experiencing things together.”

About 10 minutes after the students entered the field, they were asked to leave. As they trudged to the exit, filling their cell phone frames with photos, one student turned to her friend and yelled, “I can’t believe we fucking won!”