Todd Gilmore stands in a back room at Tanner’s Bar & Grill, holding a green notebook from college that led to this reunion.
He flips open the pages to the spot. Under the “2-10” entry, fifth and sixth lines from the bottom, there’s an outlined rectangle with small words that had never been written before.
Pay Heed All Who Enter
Beware of “The Phog”
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“I was bored,” Gilmore says with a laugh. “Sorry, Tom McCoy. I was bored in your class.”
Nearly 30 years later — on the night before KU’s home game against Kansas State — Gilmore is here because his mind wandered on that February day. He’s part of a group of 15 men who have traveled from South Carolina and Missouri, Kentucky and Kansas to commemorate the cloth that binds them.
Or in this case, the banner.
Three decades ago, these men gathered around shower curtains at Marvin Hall. They ate pizza, drank beer and painted furiously into the night.
The result is as much a part of KU’s history as the Rock Chalk Chant or Allen Fieldhouse.
The “Beware of the Phog” banner that looms on the north end of KU’s home court? Gilmore and his buddies are ready to tell you the story behind it.
Michael Gentemann received a tap on his shoulder during “Professional Practice” class, with Gilmore leaning over to show him the phrase in his notebook he’d just thought up.
Gentemann was intrigued. Gilmore had liked the sound of “Beware of the Phog” when he heard a similar phrase from a commerical promoting John Carpenter’s “The Fog” movie, while the “Pay heed all who enter” part was all his own.
“It’s ominous,” Gentemann says.
The two talked more about it after class. Gilmore wanted to create a basketball banner — a huge one — that could be displayed for KU’s home game against Duke on Feb. 20, 1988.
They needed a canvas, though. Previously, the men had used bedsheets for big signs, though those often could be flimsy and difficult to manage.
When they started to talk to others about the idea, friend Tom Kippenberger dreamed the biggest of anyone.
“I just said, ‘We’re going to go on a heist,’” Kippenberger says.
Earlier in his college career, Kippenberger lived in McCollum Hall, and he remembered the shower curtains there had been both oversized and sturdy.
The mission was on. With a friend, he scaled five floors of the dorm, unhooking shower curtains from O-rings while trying to avoid the all-women’s hallways in the process.
When he’d gotten enough curtains — holding them in a pile in front of his body — Kippenberger had his friend distract the front desk worker by saying he’d lost his room key.
Kippenberger walked out of the building with his stash a few seconds later.
“You have no idea the (stuff) we got away with back in the ’80s,” he says with a laugh.
That was just the beginning, though. The group spread out the curtains — nine total — in an open hallway at KU’s architecture building Marvin Hall. Friend Donna Griffin volunteered to sew the pieces together, while Gilmore leaned on Gentemann to complete the vision.
Three years earlier, Gentemann had won a sign contest sponsored by the KU Athletic department, using Biblical-looking text to write, “On the sixth day, God created Manning.” The reward for his efforts? Gentemann said the athletic department gave him a keg of beer.
“That all of a sudden made us banner experts,” Gentemann says.
He now had his blueprint for his latest project. The tone of Gilmore’s “Pay Heed” message had a similar feel, so Gentemann believed the top line needed Gothic-type lettering to reflect that.
“If I had been the one to lay it out, it would have been boring. It would have been Arial font,” Gilmore says. “The saying’s still there, but it’s because of (Michael) that it’s iconic.”
The execution was impressive as well.
When the architecture students set a date for the creation of the banner — a Thursday at Marvin Hall — Brad Oliver brought cheap beer. Erik Miller, an employee at Pizza Shoppe, brought a snack after his late-night shift ended.
And Gentemann started on some of his most memorable work. With a charcoal pen, he outlined the now-famous letters without any models, keeping the proportions correct as he went across the curtains on the floor. He also decided on more block-style letters for “The Phog,” believing it would give the end a more serious tone.
Everyone else — about 10 people in all — followed him to paint, with Gentemann cautioning them to keep everything between the lines.
It only took one night. When finished — Gentemann added black spray paint around the letters as a final touch — they took the curtains into the studio and set them on desks to dry.
One major challenge remained. The men needed some help to get their 35-foot banner off the ground.
Mark Hershman, now an architectural lighting designer in Kansas City, says none of this would have come together without help from Floyd Temple.
“He was the assistant athletic director in charge of facilities,” Hershman says, “so pretty much, whatever he said went.”
The day before the Duke game, Gilmore took the banner into Allen Fieldhouse to see what Temple thought about it. He not only approved, but he also would play an important role the next day.
Though the paint wasn’t completely dry yet, Gilmore and crew threaded a long rope through the top of the sewed-together shower curtains. The plan was to connect the rope to a shoe and throw it over the catwalks at the top of Allen Fieldhouse.
Oliver volunteered his white Nike. Known as “The Foot” to his friends — his left-heeled stomps on the bleachers were loudest of anyone during KU games — he decided to give up his right sneaker to the cause.
And wouldn’t you know it, on one of the first tosses, Oliver’s shoe landed (and remained) on the catwalk above.
“We pull on the rope, and it doesn’t come back. We’re laughing. I’m being laughed at. That’s all right. That’s part of the story,” Oliver says. “But we’ve got to get it over. So I used my left shoe. Now that’s pretty dangerous of me, because that’s my cheering weapon.”
They wouldn’t lose this one. The ensuing throws cleared the catwalks, but the banner was too heavy, with the weight causing it to droop in the middle.
“We’re all just standing around going, ‘We don’t know what to do. It’s not workable,’” Gilmore says. “I don’t even want to leave it up like this, because you can’t read it.”
Temple, though, believed he had a solution. He pointed out a rope and clip that was already hanging down from the rafters and told Gilmore to attach the middle of the banner to that.
When they raised it again, the words could be seen perfectly. The sign also was situated in front of a pair of air vents, which added to the effect.
“It billowed,” Gilmore says. “It was awesome.”
The banner only stayed up for one game. The group re-raised it for Danny Manning’s Senior Night later that year before Temple reached out after the season.
Phog Allen’s granddaughter, Judy Morris, contacted KU to say that she would like the banner to remain permanent at Allen Fieldhouse. And Temple thought that was a good idea too.
An hour before KU’s game against K-State on Saturday, Gilmore and Gentemann look to their banner in the distance, now displayed prominently in KU’s Booth Hall of Athletics in the front of Allen Fieldhouse.
Gilmore wonders if their names — written in orange highlighter — have faded from the back. Gentemann shakes his head at the collaboration needed to pull off such a project.
“You know, Michelangelo looked at that block of marble and said, ‘There’s a David in there,’” Gentemann says with a laugh.
There’s a replacement “Beware of the Phog” banner now on the north end of Allen Fieldhouse, put in place more than a decade ago when it didn’t appear the curtains would hold up much longer.
The legacy of the original, though, still lives on.
Before Gilmore, no one called KU’s home building “The Phog.” Now that’s commonplace, with ESPN’s Jay Bilas and Scott Van Pelt using those two words as often they do “Allen Fieldhouse.”
Gilmore and Gentemann get no royalties from their phrase or banner — they never trademarked them — yet they know what was created isn’t about that.
“Beware of the Phog” is now a part of KU lore. It’s as Jayhawk as the Campanile or Wilt Chamberlain or the Fieldhouse itself.
In that way, the 15 men that gathered in section 12 on Saturday were proud of what they’d done, creating a new identity for KU basketball.
And also a banner that binds them all.