Kansas State

1951-56 Wildcats
(Authentic Reproduction)





The Kansas State Wildcat football history was already mired in mediocrity long before the well publicized losing streak and dreadful records of the 1980's. Earning only sixteen victories between 1940 and 1952 very much established Manhattan, Kansas as a tough place to win. Heading into 1948, six different head coaches and twenty-eight consecutive losses almost served as a template for the future of K-State football. If one marks the beginning of the modern football era at the end of World War II, being held scoreless in twenty-two games between 1945 and 1952 firmly established Kansas State as everyone's favorite homecoming team. As Ralph Graham was completing a very undistinguished three year coaching stint in 1950, most of the Big Seven teams were changing to the Riddell suspension helmet but few K-State players had made that switch. A more important precedent set by Head Coach Ralph Graham was made in 1949 when he allowed center Harold Robinson to join the team and then offered him an athletic scholarship. Mr. Robinson, who passed away May 9, 2006 was the first African-American athlete in the Big Seven conference, the first to be granted an athletic scholarship, and the first to be named All Conference. Despite the poor record of the team, the Wildcat players excelled in another way as they stood by Robinson and as he later stated, "they protected me." When Bill Meek took the reins in '51, he introduced the Riddell RT plastic helmet, a white shell with one-inch purple center stripe that was maintained until the conclusion of the 1956 season. One-inch gold with black trim "vintage Riddell Catalog" numbers, often referred to as "Eagle numbers" as the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles were among the first to wear these, were placed on the rear of the helmets so that the players could identify their helmets quickly and easily. Meek's first two seasons were reflections of typical K-State years, posting 1-7-1 and 1-9 records but in 1953 forward progress was noted with a 6-3-1 second-place conference finish behind the heroics of Wildcat great Veryl Switzer. Switzer, a do-it-all back, led the country in punt returns and as the second African-American scholarship player at K-State, led the way in demonstrating tolerance and patience in a climate of racial bias. A class act and two-year All American in 1952 and '53, Switzer later played in the NFL and CFL. Meek's teams peaked in 1954 at 7-3 with what would remain a Wildcat high water mark for over thirty-five years and had a chance at an Orange Bowl berth until losing to Colorado in the season finale. Guard Ron Marciniak was the plowhorse and squeezed in a one-year pro career with the Redskins before excelling with Toronto in the CFL and later having a distinguished coaching career. A ten-year scout for Tom Landry and the Cowboys, Marciniak is still a top evaluator of talent for the Baltimore Ravens.  Meek left in '55 to take the head job at Houston and Bernard "Bus" Mertes took the winning record and twenty lettermen left to him and promptly and systematically ran the record down from 4-6 in his first season (although the huge 46-0 bombing of KU led to an all-out fan assault on the goal posts) to a 2-8 mark in his final season of 1959. Because Kansas was suffering through a  time of crisis under head coach Chuck Mather who was having difficulty translating the success he enjoyed at Massillon (Ohio) H.S. to the college level, K-State was in the catbird's seat in-state but did not take advantage of it. As the 4-6 mark of '55 went to 3-7 in '56, there was little to cheer about. Larned, KS back Gene Keady was an effective runner, making his mark in 1954's second game with 132 yards against Wyoming and continuing that high level of play behind scrappy but largely ineffective lines. By '56 Keady was the Wildcats' top scorer with forty-three points but he chose a path in basketball and became one of the nation's most highly respected collegiate coaches, leading Purdue to over five hundred victories in twenty-five years as their head coach. 


If interested in any of these KSU helmets please click on the photos below.