Allen Fieldhouse is the location, Beware of the Phog. It is where the Kansas Jayhawks play basketball, where they have won 2,217 college basketball games, and where the original rules of basketball are on display. It is a place with a great legacy and a place of great intimidation for visiting teams. It is named after Dr. Forrest “Phog” Allen who coached at Kansas for 39 years.
More than 50 years ago I watched a few basketball games there as a kid, admittedly when I wasn’t a big basketball fan, but the Jayhawks were a very good team in those days and fielded a future Hall of Famer (Jo Jo White) who would later enjoy a tremendous career with the Boston Celtics.
In those days, we sat in very good seats, a perk of the company my dad worked for. Those were also the days before the shot clock, which required teams to run plays and shoot before time expired, or turn the ball over to the other team. With no shot clock, teams would endlessly dribble the ball without shooting. To this kid it was boring watching teams run the stall offense. It might have been effective to run out the clock but it made for an unexciting game. In later years,o the times I was at Allen Fieldhouse was to watch indoor track and field, concerts or political rallies. It also used to be the location of college enrollment.
I attended a few basketball games in college, those were lean years in the team’s history. Once, a friend and I decided to see a game one night, walked up the ticket window and got seats in the upper area, but there were a lot of empty seats around. I think the ticket price was a few bucks, hardly a great expense. Forty years later tickets are hard to get and very expensive. Let me clarify, through ticket resellers tickets are always available, but for a hefty price.
Since the mid 1990s, I’ve to Allen Fieldhouse many times for various events, usually basketball related. In the years since my college days, the basketball program has enjoyed tremendous success winning two national championships and a record number of conference titles. The fieldhouse is sold out every game and the place rocks with thunderous fan support. The video board explodes with a pregame video history that serves to intimidate visitors. The entire game experience is carefully planned and orchestrated with music, video and activities during every minute before, at halftime and during commercial breaks. As a kid watching a more stately crowd display, I would never had imagined this kind of exciting entertainment. Kids, as well as adults, stare with wide eyes at the experience.
So I traveled to Allen Fieldhouse to attend a game between the Jayhawks and the cross-state Wildcats. The rivalry is a big deal and the Wildcats are always up for the game. Teams come to Allen Fieldhouse knowing the intimidation factor and still try for a win – sometimes they succeed. There have been two home losses this year, which is a very unusual occurrence.
Trips back to my hometown are always interesting experiences. I only live 23 miles away but it could be the other side of the moon. I live in the most prosperous county in the state, but I bring down the average income. Many vehicles from my county are parked around the fieldhouse on gameday. It takes big money to buy those seats and luckily many alumni live in my part of the state.
I looked around my section, specifically to see if I recognized any faces from earlier decades. I did as a matter of fact in the sea of gray that hold a good many of the season tickets. Some of those folks have held tickets since the days before the shot clock. I’m not great on names but I know faces.
I watched as folks arrived and went to their seats, greeting familiar seat holders, and climbing the many steps. For older folks, steps are unkind, as my own knees are telling me. Frequently, I saw hands extended to help some of those older folks navigate the steps and help follow fans climb higher in the phog. Jayhawk fans are a community and they help each other.
As tip off arrived, the empty seats vanished as a sea of fans, ‘waived the wheat”, the sign fans use to celebrate. The place was packed and standing, as the pregame video was about to play. The game was only one part of the experience; the other was just being there again. I won’t even comment on the results of the game or the play of the team. That’s all recorded and replayed on television, the newspaper will write about it, and talk radio will, talk about it. The game wasn’t really the point of this blog.
The fieldhouse has served as a concert venue and large community meeting place for political speeches, graduations and location of movie filming. “The Day After”, a television film about life after nuclear war, used it as a make shift hospital. Sonny and Cher, fresh off their network television variety show, appeared at homecoming in 1973. Stepping inside the fieldhouse today is a much different experience. Now essentially a basketball arena, decades ago it had an inside track and a somewhat utilitarian appearance. Today, it had a modern interior and is managed like a corporate asset.
For me, Allen Fieldhouse will certainly have basketball memories, but it is also where I saw Robert Kennedy and Nelson Rockefeller in 1968, Chicago and the Beach Boys play in the 1970s, picked out computer cards for the classes I enrolled in during my college years, and I watched pole vaulting and indoor high hurdles there. I also played tennis on the courts behind the fieldhouse, memorable for suffering the worst sprained ankle that dogged me for a year. I met Wilt Chamberlain on his last trip back to Lawrence, finding him in the hallway for a brief chat after he met with the news media. Memories are what we have when the grains of sand pass through the hourglass. We can’t make more grains of sand but we can make a lot of memories.