For almost 150 years, Missouri and Kansas have played a part in one of the most intense, long-running rivalries in the history of college sports. They each plant a large base of their alumni in one metropolitan area -- Kansas City -- and exchange dirty looks at not only athletic events, but also grocery stores, coffee shops and Home Depots. It is a daily rivalry, unlike almost any in the country, and it stretches far beyond the sporting realm. And as of early Saturday evening, the sporting realm will be finished with it, at least as far as football and basketball go.
The Border War is incredibly contradictory. Both claim athletic superiority. Kansas points to its vast domination -- and it is indeed vast -- of the basketball rivalry; Missouri points to two facts: that it officially "won" the football series last fall no matter who's counting (Kansas has long claimed a win in the 1960 game that the Big 8 forced them to forfeit due to the use of an ineligible player), and that the Tigers are actually good at sports besides basketball -- since the implementation of the Border Showdown Series in 2002, Missouri has won the all-sports competition seven of nine times and are well on their way to its sixth straight victory. Who wins this argument? Depends on your favorite sport.
Both claim moral superiority. Kansas fans like to call Missouri "slavers" because of the pro-slavery forces from the east that attacked Lawrence during the Civil War. They lay claim to abolitionist John Brown. Missouri fans, meanwhile, point out that a) Missouri's "Tigers" unit protected Columbia from the same pro-slavery forces long ago (and were also, therefore, on the right side of history), and b) John Brown killed as many innocents as any Missourians did. (The case starts to fray, however, when Missouri fans also try to lay claim to William Quantrill as a "true son" because of that whole "he burned down Lawrence" thing.) Who wins this argument? Nobody. Everybody's hands got really, really dirty 150 years ago.
Both claim high ground on the issue of conference realignment. With the series facing at least a temporary end, Kansas points out that Missouri is the one leaving, and they have to face the consequences. Basketball coach Bill Self has undergone a series of beautifully patronizing rants on the topic ("They knew when they made the decision that this was going to be something that could affect the future of the relationship." "I don’t feel bad. Missouri wanted this, so why should I feel bad? […] The fans to me don’t drive the bus at all. Missouri wanted this. It’s their prerogative."). Meanwhile, Missouri responds by pointing out that there are plenty of good non-conference rivalries in the world, and that they want to play Kansas, every year, in every sport. Who wins this argument? Nobody. The series is apparently ending regardless, despite ESPN's two-hour guilt trip of Kansas on Gameday a few weeks ago.
Hell, both even claim ownership of Kansas City. It's in Missouri! It's got "Kansas" right there in the title!
Hurt feelings will eventually subside -- and no matter whose side you're on, it is pretty clear that this is the major impeding factor right now, for better or worse, and the rivalry will almost certainly start up again at some point, in some sports. But for the near future, for all intents and purposes, it ends tomorrow evening.
So what does the Border War mean to ME, a Missouri fan?
It means a brawl at Brewer Fieldhouse.
It means Missouri coach Norm Stewart refusing to spend a single penny in the state of Kansas.
It means a lot of recent whippings in Allen Fieldhouse. A lot of whippings. 103-86 in 2011. 84-65 in 2010. 90-65 in 2009. 90-71 in 2008. 79-46 in 2006. 105-73 in 2002. The 2002 loss featured, creatively, the Missouri center getting rejected by the bottom of the rim on a dunk attempt. There's a reason Missouri fans still complain about this awful charge call in a one-point loss in 2000 -- it's almost the last time the Tigers had a legitimate chance of winning in Lawrence.
It means No. 1 versus No. 2.
It means Don Farnbrough.
It means Corey Tate.
It means Kerry F***ing Meier.
It means my dorm neighbor telling me, before my first MU-KU game at the Hearnes Center, that Mizzou could go 1-26 in a given season, but that, as long as that one win was against Kansas at home, it would be a successful season. (As I'm not from Kansas City, and I don't have to live with this rivalry every day, I was befuddled by this. Geography very much has an impact on your perceptions of this rivalry. Mizzou fans in the Kansas City area have been known to buy T-shirts of the schools who upset Kansas in the tourney -- Bucknell, Bradley, etc. -- in a move that is both as satisfying and as self-defeating as the "overrated" chant.)
It means two sacks of "Sod Reesing" in the same Arrowhead end zone.
It means Bert Coan and Kansas ruining Missouri's best shot at a football national title. The Jayhawks beat No. 1 Missouri, 24-7, in 1960, then were forced to forfeit because Coan was deemed ineligible. Mizzou ended up "undefeated" … and without a title.
It means Clarence Gilbert making the quintessential "Eff You" three-pointer with Jeff Boschee in his shirt.
Some rivalries form because of a history of important matchups. With Missouri-Kansas, that really isn't the case. Sure, there have been moments -- MU-KU basketball was incredible in the late-1980s, Mizzou pulled a series of home upsets of superior Kansas basketball teams in the 1990s, and the teams played a trio of incredible football games at Arrowhead Stadium from 2007-09. But rarely have the teams both been great in a single sport at the same time. This rivalry is based on neighbor hating neighbor. On some story of a long-ago ancestor done wrong by those damn Jayhawkers/Missourians. On beautiful, beautiful pettiness.
After a few months of Kansas fans trying to convince Missouri fans (and themselves) that they don't REALLY care about Mizzou, Bill Self told Kansas City radio yesterday that he expected the atmosphere at Allen Fieldhouse to be the best it has ever been for tomorrow afternoon's (4:00 p.m. ET) battle between the No. 3 Missouri Tigers and No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks.
A Kansas win would clinch at least a split of another conference title for the Jayhawks. A Missouri win would give the Tigers inroads to a split title of their own and a No. 1 seed in the Big 12 tournament (and, for that matter, the NCAA Tournament) despite an upset loss to Kansas State on Tuesday. It is probably the biggest Border War basketball game in Lawrence since 1990. Perhaps the game will follow the recent script and result in a Kansas blowout. Perhaps Missouri will spring an enormous road win like they did 22 years ago.
Regardless of the outcome, it will be more notable simply because of the finality of the situation. Cooler heads may eventually prevail, but while Missouri has plenty of reasons for changing conferences (and yes, it goes beyond simply "money," Dick Vitale), there is no doubting that the move will have come with some serious collateral damage.
The first time Kentucky comes to town, or the first time former Missouri coach Mike Anderson leads his Arkansas Razorbacks back to Mizzou Arena, Missouri fans will find plenty of outlets for hatred and satisfy their need for rivalry in the SEC. But there is no substitute for old hate, and there is no hate older than Missouri-Kansas.