A pall comes over Collin Klein's voice when he talks about the night of Nov. 17 and the days that followed. They'll forever be remembered as some of the darkest days in Kansas State history.
"Terrible," Klein said with a sigh. "It was hard. It was just very hard."
What else is there to say? Kansas State went to Waco, Texas, to face Baylor as a double-digit favorite with double-digit wins and zero losses, two games from the program's first national title game appearance. The Wildcats were dominated from start to finish against the 4-5 Bears, falling from the first BCS No. 1 standing in school history to outside the top five and out of the national title race.
"That’s something that we’ll all carry with us the rest of our lives," Klein said, "and we’ll remember it the rest of our lives."
Still, it's because of how the Wildcats reacted after one of the most painful moments in their lives that they'll be carrying something else with them for the rest of their lives: a Big 12 championship ring.
"Not being able to get back out there on the field and set it straight made it a little harder," Klein said of the loss.
Yet the Wildcats rebounded to soundly beat Texas two weeks later and clinch the Big 12 title and the league's automatic bid to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Klein still may be carrying the pain of that loss in some ways, but his performance against the Longhorns booked him a ticket to New York City for Saturday's Heisman Trophy presentation, and the win certainly will make the trip easier to enjoy.
"I was just honored and overwhelmingly grateful that I have an opportunity to represent our team and the K-State family," Klein said of his Heisman Trophy nomination.
He was anything but glued to the finalist announcement that was broadcast live Monday on "SportsCenter." Instead, he was out shopping with his wife, Shalin, for their trip to Orlando for Thursday's "Home Depot College Football Awards" show, only learning of his selection via an avalanche of text messages from friends.
"I’m looking forward to the whole thing. I just can’t wait to meet a ton of new people and just kind of absorb and enjoy the experience," he said. "It’s a tremendous honor and I can’t wait to enjoy it."
That ugly night in Waco was easy to forget after the win over Texas, when 50,000 of Klein's admirers flooded the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
"It was amazing. It was so great to be able to do that at home and have everybody in the stands stayed or was on the field, just to spend some time with them and the game with our team," Klein said. "It was pretty surreal. There’s an amazing community here."
Consider that field-storming the first step in realizing that the Baylor loss hardly sullied what may go down as the greatest team in school history. There won't be any question if the Wildcats beat Oregon Jan. 3.
The 1997 team won the Fiesta Bowl but didn't earn any Big 12 hardware. The 1998 team got within a game of the national title, but lost the Big 12 title game to Texas A&M and further marred the season with an upset loss to Purdue after being relegated to the Alamo Bowl.
The 2003 team won the Big 12 title but lost three games in the middle of the season, including one to Marshall, and suffered a loss in the Fiesta Bowl.
K-State might not be able to win the national title, and Klein may be a long shot to take home the Heisman, but it's already been an unforgettable season in the Little Apple for both Klein and the rest of Snyder's Wildcats.
"Stuff’s going to happen in life, you have to be able to move on and pick yourself up and go," Klein said. "You can’t let Baylor beat you twice. You’ve just got to keep moving on and try to keep getting better and own up to the mistakes we made."