Meet the Couple that Drives 1,600 Miles to KU Football Games — Regularly

by Matt Galloway

Kansas football’s long road to restoration hasn’t been a dispiriting journey, at least not in the eyes of two of the team’s most diehard supporters.

And if anyone knows a thing or two about traveling long roads, it’s Terry and Mary Beth Miller.

Season ticket holders for 29 consecutive years, the Millers’ streak dates back to the 1993 campaign. Terry and Mary Beth have for the last seven years lived in Long Beach, California, meaning they’ve retained their spots inside David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium — Section 22, Row 16, Seats 1-4 — despite living two time zones away from the Sunflower State.

Neither of those facts, though, represent the most incredible aspect of the couples’ KU football fandom, which is this: Whether their route runs into the teeth of the Rocky Mountains or through the heart of downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Millers frequently hit the highway for the 1,600-mile, two-day trek from their current home to the home of the Jayhawks.

It’s a path the pair took for this year’s season opener — a last-minute, come-from-behind 17-14 victory over South Dakota on Friday night in Lawrence — and one that has even been traveled for contests that aren’t entered into the program’s official record books.

“To me, at spring KU football games, hope springs eternal,” said Terry, 62. “It’s always going to be better.”

Spend any amount of time with Terry and Mary Beth and one thing becomes clear: That mindset isn’t exclusive to the offseason.

‘It’s just part of our identity’

Just how deep are Terry’s ties to his alma mater? Consider this: His cell phone number still has a 785 area code, and his email address starts with “OldJayhawk.”

Asked the origins of his fanaticism, Terry responds bluntly: “I wish I knew.”

While he isn’t exactly sure when the switch flipped, he can point to a few defining moments. He shares a hometown — St. Francis, Kansas — with former Jayhawk running back J.C. Hixon, who as a coach for the high school’s freshman and junior varsity teams recounted stories of his playing days. By the time Terry was enrolled at KU in the late-’70s, crimson and blue crews featuring the likes of Nolan Cromwell, Laverne Smith and Billy Campbell had sealed his lifelong commitment to the program.

“It was fun to watch them,” recalled Terry, who graduated in 1980. “We were so good.”

Terry was hooked. And while his fandom had to persevere through some lean years, his patience paid off during the Mark Mangino era, which saw the Jayhawks win three bowl games. One particular outcome, a 76-39 drubbing of Nebraska during the KU’s Orange Bowl-winning season in 2007, stands out to Terry: It represented a full-circle moment for a program that two decades prior had dropped a 70-0 decision to the Cornhuskers.

“This place was packed. So fun,” Terry said. “I mean, this place can rock. Once we get goin’, there’s nothing better. I remember opposing teams saying they couldn’t hear the ball snap out here. And that’s strange for us, but again, we’ve got great fans.”

Oh, and one more thing: Mary Beth just happens to be a Nebraska native, which made that victory all the more sweeter. Mary Beth never followed Husker football, but like her husband, she’s all in on KU — if one were to look around the offices of her family medical practice in Long Beach, they’d be hard pressed to find a view that doesn’t include at least one Jayhawk trinket.

“It’s just part of our identity,” said Mary Beth, 64.

Without hesitation, Mary Beth classifies her husband as “a true football fan,” though she stopped short of putting herself into that orbit — “I’ll be honest: I’ll never know as much of the sports part. I just come for the fun,” she added. For his part, Terry contends his wife is every bit as hardcore as he is, even surpassing him when it comes to game day emotions — “She’s crazy, man. She is,” he said.

Mary Beth’s retort? A hearty laugh.

“And that is true, because he’s had to teach me that a game and a loss, that’s not your life,” said Mary Beth, who graduated from the KU School of Medicine before attending the university’s residency program in Salina. “You have to be able to let it go and know that there’s going to be another day.”

‘It won’t be long, either’

“Another day” for the Jayhawks finally arrived Friday. Trailing 14-10 with just 1:10 left to play, quarterback Jason Bean found wideout Lawrence Arnold for a 16-yard touchdown strike, capping a drive that also included a must-have 20-yard completion to tight end Mason Fairchild on a fourth-and-10 attempt near midfield.

The victory started the Lance Leipold era off on the right foot. Watching the first few months of the head coach’s tenure from 1,600 miles away, Mary Beth remarked she’s nevertheless observed from the new head coach a strong work ethic, which she believes will pay dividends in his rebuilding effort. Terry, meanwhile, was sold on Leipold from Day 1 — or perhaps even earlier.

“I was happy when he was announced as the guy. I was so happy,” Terry said. “Before I even read much about him I liked what he had done already. We just need somebody like him, I think, that’s going to be disciplined, that has done it before, has turned around a program. He seems kind of even-keeled. He’s got a plan. He’s done this before. Kind of like Mangino, I’m expecting to see our team out there with less mistakes and with aggressiveness. To me, that’s how I believe he’s going to be. He’s detail-oriented.”

Regardless of how the rest of this season unfolds, Terry and Mary Beth have no intentions of snapping their own streak. In addition to their familial ties — all three of the Millers’ kids attended KU, too — some of the pair’s closest friendships have formed from bonds made with other Jayhawk football regulars.

“I think being a season ticket holder is the only way to go. You just have comradery,” Mary Beth said. “There’s so much more to each game than just the game itself.”

And Terry? He’s already making plans for another future road trip: to the Jayhawks’ next bowl game.

“Oh, we’ll go. We’re going,” Terry said. “I love it. There’s nothing better. Can’t wait to go back. It won’t be long, either.”