FanPost

A Look Back on the MU-KU Football Rivalry

The MU-KU rivalry has always been a key component of MU’s football tradition.  This week’s game is looking like it could be the last in the rivalry series (at least for a while).  Hoping it contributes to college football fan appreciation for the rivalry and the up-coming game, in the following essay I have tried to cover a lot of the incidents and anecdotes that, from this MU fan’s perspective, comprise the fabric of the rivalry. 

The football rivalry between MU and KU goes back to 1891, and has been played every year since except in 1918.[1]  The upcoming game will be the 120th game in the series, making MU-KU the oldest college football rivalry west of the Mississippi.  But the MU-KU rivalry is best characterized not by its length, but rather by its intensity, and the bitterness in the opposing fan bases. 

Not many college football rivalries can be traced back to actual warfare, but that is the case with the MU-KU rivalry.  During the Kansas Territorial period (1854-1860), there was armed conflict between residents of Missouri and Kansas Territory over issues of competing land claims and whether or not Kansas would enter the union as a slave state or free.  Peace had generally been restored to the Missouri-Kansas border when the Civil War broke out in 1861, but the animosity from the Kansas Territorial period led to a vicious form of warfare along the Missouri-Kansas border in which civilian non-combatants paid a heavy price.   In the opening year of the war, a variety of outlaws, independent military bands, and rogue federal troops collectively referred to as jayhawkers descended on western Missouri, plundering and burning six towns and extensive areas of the surrounding countryside.  Families were burned out of their home in the middle of the winter, deprived of any of their possessions except the clothes they wore.  Missourians responded by forming guerilla bands to combat the depredations of the jayhawkers.  The most infamous event of the Civil War along the Missouri-Kansas order was William Quantrill’s retaliatory raid on Lawrence, Kansas, which at that time was headquarters of the Kansas redlegs (a particularly nasty subset of the jayhawkers) and an auction house for goods stolen from Missouri.   During Quantrill’s raid, approximately one-quarter of the town was burned, and an estimated 200 male inhabitants of the town were killed, most of them innocent civilians.  Quantrill’s raid led the Union military command to issue Order No, 11, the forced depopulation of several Missouri counties, in which the civilian population of those counties was subjected to another round of plundering, arson, and summary execution at the hands of troops from Kansas.  One observer declared the conflicts along the Missouri-Kansas border to be a “disgrace even to barbarism”.[2]

So when MU and KU met on the gridiron for the first time in 1891, there was a considerable and rather unique animosity between the opposing teams and fan bases.  The fans that gathered almost certainly contained participants of the border war and their children.  The animosity was intensified when KU elected to call their team the Jayhawkers (later shortened to Jayhawks), the same term used to describe the men that had cut a swath of plundering, arson, and murder through western Missouri just 30 years earlier.

The first 12 games played between the schools were in Kansas City.  The reasons for the game being located in Kansas City are shrouded by the passage of time, but current folk-lore says that neither team felt safe in the opposing team’s home town.  There may be some truth in that.  The 1891 game was reportedly marred by fisticuffs, both on the gridiron and in the stands.   The importance of the MU-KU game was established early.  In 1896, a Missouri student wrote in the university’s yearbook that “Missouri and Kansas are rivals in so many things that each would rather defeat the other than gain victories over all the rest of the world.”[3]  KU jumped out to 13-3-2 lead in the rivalry.  The spirit of the rivalry was illustrated by MU fan reaction after they won the highly anticipated 1909 game which matched unbeaten MU and KU teams.  MU won for the first time since 1901 by a score of 12-6.  After the MU victory, “At the Jayhawker headquarters the invaders built a bonfire on the street car tracks in front of hotel and before the very eyes of the heart-sore Kansans plunged them into horrible humiliation by burning a turkey that was labeled “Jayhawk”.[4]

While KU dominated the rivalry in the early years, the rivalry is exceptional in how even it has been.  The current record stands as 56 MU wins, 54 KU wins, and 9 ties (if one accepts the Big 8 Conference’s determination on the 1960 game, more about that later).  The record over the first  half of rivalry (1891-1961) is  28-25-7 in KU’s favor, while MU leads in the second half of the rivalry with a 31-26-2 mark.  And in the last 25 years it has been about as even as it could be, with a 13-12 record in MU’s favor.

In addition to it evenness, there is also a remarkable symmetry in the rivalry.  In 1960, KU upset No. 1 ranked MU in the season finale,  and spoiled MU’s national title hopes.  Well, that game was sandwiched between MU upsets of KU in 1959 and 1961 that in both cases spoiled the Jayhawk’s hopes for a coveted Orange Bowl appearance.   Tony Sands ran for 396 yards on MU  in 1991.  Well, Devin West ran for 319 on KU in 1998.  MU QB great Brad Smith only got only 1 win versus KU.  Well, KU QB great Todd Reesing won only once MU.   Some KU fans still trash talk over outstanding MU QB Corby Jones being in tears after a turnover-plagued loss to KU in 1997.  Well, KU All-American QB John Hadl was sobbing after MU’s upset victory over KU in 1961.   

The propensity for upsets was established early in the MU-KU rivalry.  Following a 7-0 MU upset of KU in 1929, a reporter made the following observation.  “There were plenty of the old timers, football players, too, on the hill last night when the rallies were taking place who had an inkling of what might happen today, They were old enough and had seen frequent enough upsets when the Tiger and Jayhawker clashed, to know that no good would come out of the "sure thing" attitude displayed' on the campus.  It has been a Missouri Valley byword for years and years, ever since Tiger and Jayhawker first clashed, that sureness was the thing to be avoided.”[5]

With the intense animosity between the fan bases, the duration of the rivalry, and its remarkable even-ness, one would think the MU-KU rivalry would be near the top of the list of the nation’s greatest college football rivalries.  But it’s not, and that is largely due to extended periods in which neither MU nor KU have performed at the high level deserving of national attention.  However, there have also been periods when the MU-KU football games have been both extremely exciting and nationally relevant.   Reading this, many MU and KU fans will probably recall the 2007-2009 games.  But the golden era of the rivalry was arguably 1956-1969, in which an unusually high percentage of the games provided first-rate gridiron drama and compelling story-lines.

·         1956, KU at MU (identical records of 3-5-1).  Before the season finale, it was known that the MU-KU game would be the last for legendary MU coach Don Faurot.  Desperately wanting to send Faurot out with a winner, the MU squad was its own worst enemy for much of the game, turning the ball over on two fumbles and two interceptions.  The game was tied and the ball in KU hands with only 39 seconds left on the clock.  Amazingly, KU ran a double reverse deep through their own end zone, and Chuck Mehrer of the MU squad tackled Bobby Robinson, the KU ball carrier, in the end zone for a safety, giving MU an improbable 19-17 win.  Faurot concluded his coaching career with a 13-4-2 record against the Jayhawks.

·         1958, KU (4-5) at MU (5-4).  This game probably had the greatest swing of emotions in the last minute of the game than any other in the rivalry series.  MU was leading by a score of 13-7 and KU wan on their own 20 yard line with only 30 seconds left in the game.  Incredibly the Jayhawks hooked up on an 80-yard TD pass.  Jubilant KU fans celebrated the apparent victory, but that victory was denied when MU blocked the extra point to preserve the 13-13 tie. 

·         1959, MU at KU (identical records of 5-4).  Going into the game, KU was a strong favorite to win the game and get a coveted Orange Bowl bid.  Despite 5 Jayhawk fumbles in the game, they still had a chance to win the game on a fourth quarter drive deep into MU territory.  Down 13-7 with about four minutes left, KU faced 4th and goal-to-go from the Missouri 8 yard line.  KU halfback John Hadl gathered in a screen pass and it looked like he had a clear path to the end zone, but MU defender Dale Pidcock dove and got a hand on Hadl, who stumbled and fell within inches of the goal line.  MU then ran the clock out for the 13-7 win, and went on to play in the Orange Bowl (a 14-0 loss to 5th-ranked Georgia).  MU finished the season ranked 18th in the nation (AP). 

 

·         1960.  KU (6-2-1) at MU (9-0).  MU entered the regular season finale undefeated, ranked No. 1 in the nation, and the favorite to win the national championship.  KU came into the game ranked 10th in the nation.  KU pulled off a 23-7 upset, behind a daring nine-man defensive front wall and the strong offensive performance of Bert Coan (named “national back of the week” for his game against MU).  After the season, the Big 8 conference ruled that Coan had been ineligible for the game, and ordered KU to forfeit their victory (more on this later in the article).  MU went on to a 21-14 win over Navy in the Orange Bowl.

 

·         1961.  MU at KU (identical records of 6-2-1).  KU entered the game nationally ranked (No. 10 by the AP), and was a two-touchdown favorite to win the game and receive an Orange Bowl bid.  After a first quarter score gift-wrapped by MU (a fumble at their own 15 yard line), MU parlayed a strong defense and a fourth quarter score into a big 10-7 upset, stunning the sellout KU crowd of 40,500.  MU declined a bowl bid, paving the way for a Jayhawk invitation to the Bluebonnet Bowl, in which the Jayhawks beat Rice 33-7 for their first bowl game victory.  

 

·         1962.  KU (6-3) at MU (7-1-1).  This was a well-played game by both squads.  Despite the hard-hitting defense displayed by the two squads, the game was turnover-free.  MU broke a scoreless deadlock with a field goal early in the 4th quarter.  Late in the 4th quarter, KU downed a 40-yard punt at the MU 3 yard line, and took over on the MU 39 after a short MU punt.  KU’s Gary Duff hit a 21-yard field goal with 2:36 left, the last score in a 3-3 tie.  MU went on to the Bluebonnet Bowl, where they beat Georgia Tech by a 14-10 score.

 

·         1963.  KU (5-4) at MU (6-3).  Early in the game, an apparent KU TD play ended in a fumble that MU’s Vince Turner returned 101 yards for an MU TD.  Except for that play, KU dominated MU into the fourth quarter, but late in the game the Tigers went on their only sustained drive, marching 77 yards to the KU 5 yard line, where MU’s Bill Leistritz hit the short field goal for a 9-7 win.  The game marked the sixth straight rivalry game in which neither team won on its home field.  MU finished the season ranked 16th (UPI).

 

·         1968.  KU (8-1, No. 7 in the AP)  at MU (7-2, No. 9 in the AP).  It was a familiar story.  KU was again in line for a long-awaited Orange Bowl bid.  Before a record crowd of 62,200 in MU’s Memorial Stadium, KU raced off to a 14-0 first quarter lead by virtue of a 35-yard interception return for a TD, and a 72-yard TD drive with KU’s Bobby Douglas under center and John Riggins at running back.  An MU fumble at their own 19 resulted in KU’s final touchdown and a 21-6 lead early in the fourth quarter.  MU fought back, driving 64 yards for a TD with eight minutes remaining.  MU subsequently went 48 yards in 3 plays to get within two points of KU with 2:05 left.  However, KU was able to run out the clock and preserve the 21-19 lead for the victory.  This time, KU got to play in the Orange Bowl (a 15-14 loss to Penn St.), and MU went to the Gator Bowl (35-10 win over Alabama). 

 

·         1969.  MU (8-1) at KU (1-8).  Again, a familiar story, this time with a theme of payback for the year before.  The payback was easy given the fact that a KU team that finished the previous season in the Top 10 had fallen off a cliff, having only a single win entering the MU game.  Mel Gray and Jon Stagger each scored 3 TD’s for MU.  MU’s Terry McMillan passed for 295 yards and set a MU record of 4 TD passes.  MU walloped KU for a 69-21 win.  This game became of part of the rivalry folklore on the basis of the alleged exchange between the two head coaches near the end of game (discussed later in this article).   MU went on to the Orange Bowl (a 10-3 loss to No. 2 Penn St.), and finished the season 6th-ranked (AP and UPI).           

For a true appreciation of the The MU-KU football rivalry, one cannot look only at what transpired on the field-of-play.   Some of the rivalry’s most controversial and entertaining stories come from events that transpired off the gridiron.     

KU finished the 1899 season with a 10-0 record under the direction of head coach Fielding H. Yost (who later gained fame for his 25 years as head coach at Michigan).  KU’s undefeated mark in 1899 was aided by the appearance of a mammoth tackle named Rollo Krebs for the final games of the season.  In the season finale against Missouri, two Missouri lineman opposing Krebs were carried from the field on stretchers (the game was more brutal in that era), and KU prevailed by the score of 34 – 6.  “Queried about the two Tigers he had laid out, Rollo said the first was “well-acquainted with rough tactics”. Somehow, Rollo said, that man's chin struck Rollo's knee. So he was out. Literally.  Rollo said his next opponent “slugged me in the head.”   Then he added: “Well, for some reason or other, after the next play that substitute had to be taken off the field on a stretcher.”[6]  After the Jayhawker victory, KU students planned a celebration in Krebs’ honor, but he had mysteriously disappeared.  The mystery of the “phantom tackle” was solved several decades later when Krebs returned to Lawrence as a guest of honor the day before the 1934 Missouri game.[7]   Krebs explained his appearance and disappearance.  "You see," he said at that time, "I wasn't the green farm boy that I was supposed to be. I had played five years for the University of West Virginia and a season or two for a professional club at Latrobe, Pa.  One year at West Virginia 1was captain of the team and for two seasons Yost played beside me. He also was my room-mate for a time. Sure, I knew Yost was coaching Kansas. Didn't he send for me?"[8]  The KU staff had essentially imported a mercenary to help beat Missouri. 

The Rollo Krebs incident is illustrative of the “no holds barred” approach to winning that many colleges took in the early ear of college football.  A KU history of the football program states the following.  “These initial successes (a record of 14-1-1 in KU’s first two full seasons of football) fostered the expectation that future teams would fare equally well. When this failed to happen, Kansas boosters sought other ways to help ensure gridiron victories. KU began recruiting paid athletes and the team allowed players who were not passing their classes (or were not enrolled students at all) to participate in the weekly gamesBy 1895, the demise of the team’s amateurism had bred a number of critics within the University, including English professor Edwin M. Hopkins who had served as KU’s football coach for its very successful 1891 and 1892 seasons. Hopkins was not alone in wondering whether football on Mt. Oread had come to “stand for brutality, for trickery; for paid players, for profanity, for betting before games and for drinking after them.”[9]

 

There wasn’t rigid control of the Tigers in the early years, either.  The Tiger’s 1896 season was supposed to conclude with an away game against the Dallas Athletic Club, but the Tigers were persuaded by the University of Texas head coach to play UT and then team up for a barn-storming trip into Mexico.  When the Tigers finally returned to Columbia, they had been gone 25 days and had traveled 6,000 miles.  MU was not very pleased with “the best case of hooky since Mark Twain’s river rascal, Huckleberry Finn, excused himself permanently form the three R’s at Hannibal”, especially when UT charged that MU had played  two ineligible players and a professional in their match-up.  In response, and facing a faculty initiative to eliminate sports, MU’s president hired Clark W. Hetherington for the newly created position of Director of Athletics. [10]  “Organizing and developing higher standards for athletics were his two main objectives. Setting higher standards meant getting rid of the corrupting influences in college athletics, a Herculean task.  Principled and determined, Hetherington believed that clean, fair and honest play of amateurs was the only way for college athletics to thrive.[11]   While Hetherington separated MU from the win-at-any-cost mentality that was endemic across collegiate athletics, he was a bit naive on what it would to create a winning football program at MU.  Below are excerpts from a Hetherington speech in which he encouraged the student body to lend greater support to the football program:

 

Too many men think they can play football by inspiration.  They do not observe training rules and the students of the university do not encourage them.  When a man is taken from the training table for breaking the rules the students do not encourage him to try to win his place back..”Have a cigarette” is the way I have heard many a student address a man on the football team.  The student who will do such a thing is the worst enemy Missouri has for he attacks the team in its weakest place.  He attacks their training rules.  If Missouri defeats Kansas this year it will be because the students of the university help the members on the squad keep their training rules. It is the spirit that will win for Missouri this fall.  Why is it in so many cases that a small man who weighs perhaps 125 pounds can outplay a 250 pound player.  It is spirit.   It is the player who will work and who will drill that will defeat Kansas and the team that will do the same thing if it has the support of the students of the university.”[12]

 

If these were indeed Hetherington’s plans for prevailing against the KU’s and Rollo Krebs of early college football, it no surprise that when Hetherington moved on, he had few supporters among MU football fans.  But through the influence of Hetherington, it appears that MU developed higher standards governing the football program than much of the college football world.   Perhaps the different standards held by MU and KU were the basis for a series of controversies between the schools regarding what constituted fair play.  

 

KU won an upset victory over the Tigers in 1927 aided by Tiger play charts that had been provided to the KU staff.  This was in violation of a league agreement to not scout opposing teams, and led to the resignation of KU’s head coach.

In the early 1900’s there was movement within college football to limit “professionalism” (paying athletes) and “proselytizing” (recruiting).  In 1929, the Big Ten Conference suspended the University of Iowa over a “slush fund scandal” in which it was revealed that Hawkeye players had been paid $15 to $50 per year.[13]  In 1930, issues of professionalism caught up with KU.  KU’s outstanding 1930 team was paced by star halfback "Jarring Jim" Bausch, an exceptional all-around athlete that later won a gold medal in the 1932 Olympic decathlon. Midway through the 1930 season, charges surfaced that Bausch was receiving a monthly check from a booster, thus explaining his earlier transfer to KU from Wichita State (then called Wichita University). Evidence was presented to the Big Six conference (by an MU professor crusading against professionalism in college athletics) that Bausch was receiving $75 per month payments from a Topeka insurance man as “against future commissions” from an insurance job that Bausch would take after graduation. (The amount of money that Bausch was receiving led one newspaper columnist to comment that the “Big Six grid wage scale makes Big Ten look cheap”. [14])   The insurance compnay’s arrangement with Bausch was clearly against conference rules.[15]  After KU refused to declare Bausch ineligible, the other members of the conference notified KU that, “In view of the practices at the University of Kansas in violating the rules of this conference relating to recruiting and subsidizing athletes, the other five members of this conference decline to schedule any athletic games, not now under contract, with the University of Kansas…[16]  In essence, KU was being kicked out of the conference over their alleged failure to address the rules violations surrounding Bausch. In response, KU announced they would conduct an investigation, but as they considered the current evidence inadequate, they would allow Bausch to continue his play. Only after KU had their first Big Six conference title safely tucked away did KU declare Bausch ineligible.

 

KU butted heads with the conference (then the Big Seven) on player eligibility again in 1948. In a rule that doesn’t sound controversial at all today, the conference announced in May of 1948 that previous seasons spent playing freshman or junior college football would count against a player’s eligibility limit. Under this rule, five of the Big Seven member institutions would lose varsity players that otherwise would have remained eligible, but Kansas would lose more than any other school (a total of five football players, including future KU coach and icon Don Fambrough). KU believed MU’s Don Faurot was behind the rule change, and KU basketball icon Phog Allen complained the rule was deliberately designed to weaken the KU football team.[17]   In early July, Kansas announced their intent to defy the new conference rule and play all previously eligible student athletes in the coming football season. On July 10, the Big Seven responded with an announcement of their own, giving KU two weeks to comply with its rules or face having all of its conference games cancelled. KU quickly capitulated.[18]

 

Undoubtedly, the biggest dispute between MU and KU over football ethics occurred in 1960.  In the middle of the 1960 season, the NCAA ruled that Bert Coan had been illegally recruited to MU because of an off-campus requiting event (a trip to Chicago with a KU booster)  By Big 8 conference rules, any player recruited via an off-campus activity was automatically ineligible to play.  Conference members (spear-headed by MU) reminded KU of the rules and warned that if KU did not take appropriate action, the matter would be taken up in the post-season conference meeting.  KU rejected the NCAA ruling on Coan’s recruitment as incorrect (claiming Coan ws not recruited during the trip), and elected to play Coan in the MU game, where he was KU’s offensive star.   In their post-season meeting the Big 8 Conference ruled that Coan had been ineligible to play against MU and that KU must forfeit the victory.  Years later, Coan admitted he had indeed been illegally recruited as the NCAA and Big 8 had ruled.  Despite that admission, KU continues to claim the 1960 game as a victory. (For more information on this game, refer to the article at  http://www.rockmnation.com/2010/11/21/1828767/the-1960-mu-ku-controversey.)

 

There were other KU football rule infraction scandals, such as the NCAA placing KU on probation in 1983.  The probation cam amidst allegations that KU assistant coach John Hadl had offered select recruits as much as $30,000 to commit to KU. [19]  However, unlike the previously described controversies, MU was not involved in this case, as by this time the NCAA had taken the lead from individual conferences on matters such as rules and compliance enforcement.

 

Some of the rivalry’s best stories are based more on fiction than fact.  No KU head coach had a bigger hatred for MU than the late Don Fambrough. “Don Fambrough admits, right up front and with no apologies attached, that not everything he says about Missouri is true.  But "those people" -- perhaps the former Kansas coach's warmest name for the Tigers and their fans -- deserve whatever slander comes their way, he says, and too snifflin' bad if they don't like it.”[20]

Fambrough’s most famous fib came in one of the annual pep talks he would give the Jayhawks before the  MU game, in which he related his version of the Quantrill Raid and the roots of the rivalry.  "I got all excited talking to my team one time," he recalls. "I don't think I even knew who Quantrill was at the time. I just read about him in a history book. I was just thinking of something to say and I went on and on and I mentioned the fact that it was a war and anyone who had ever played in that game knew it was a war and not a showdown.  “They started the war when Quantrill came over here, killed all the men, raped all the women, and turned around burned the damn town down”   I don't know why I said this, but I added a little to it and I said we found out Quantrill was a Missouri alum.  Well, I had a wild-ass freshman that year, we had him trained, and he believed everything I said. You mention Missouri to him and he'd jump out that window. And I went on about how Quantrill was a Missouri alum. The following Monday, and this is the truth, he had a history test and one of the questions was ‘Who was Quantrill?'  I'll be damned if he didn't put down there that he was a Missouri alum. Thank goodness this professor was a good friend of mine. He called me and said “Don, I'm gonna make a deal with you. I'm gonna let you coach football and I'll teach history.”   I said, “By golly, that's a deal.'"[21]

That's probably the most famous Fambrough rivalry story, but not his only one. Here's one that starts with KU getting caught in a freak blizzard without cold-weather gear at MU during the early 1950s: "We went to their equipment room and begged them for clothes, torn-up jerseys or anything," Fambrough said. "They said, 'Hell, you go freeze. We don't give a damn.' It was 8 degrees, and they wouldn't give us anything. So (former coach J.V.) Sikes told the bus driver to get the bus into the stadium, behind the sideline. The driver told him the gate was locked, and Sikes said, 'You run through it.' So he cranked that thing up and busted through the fence and parked right next to the bench. The whole game, players would run off the field and into that bus." [22]  Did it really happen?  This author has found no corroborating documentation, but it is a heck of a story.

 

Fambrough wasn’t the only KU coach with a penchant for a fib.  There is a story about MU coach Dan Devine giving KU coach Pepper Rodgers a one-fingered salute during MU’s pummeling of KU in the 1969 game.  Max Falkenstien, who  called Kansas games on radio and TV for 60 years, remembered it this way: “The game was getting out of hand and Pepper ostensibly flashes the peace sign to Dan Devine over on the other side. Let up a little bit, you know. And Devine returns only half of it over to Pepper. Devine gave him one finger back.”[23]  Falkenstein’s version is consistent with the legend.  There is only one problem with the legend.  The incident never occurred.  Devine always denied it happened, and Rodgers eventually admitted he made up the story.  "If you can't exaggerate, what fun is it?" Rodgers quipped.[24]

 The recent game that best epitomizes the MU-KU rivalry is the 2007 game.  This game, promoted as “Armageddon at Arrowhead”, pitted an undefeated KU team ranked 2nd in the AP versus a 10-1 MU team ranked 3rd in the AP.  Prior to the game, a local sports columnist characterized the enormity and significance of the games as follows: “What we have this Saturday night inside Arrowhead Stadium is a one-time event, a brawl to settle it all….There will be no rematch. We’re about to witness history... It’s highly unlikely that Kansas and Missouri will ever meet again in a football game this big, this significant… The winner of Armageddon at Arrowhead gets lifetime bragging rights.”[25]

The game was made even more important when, on the night before the big match-up, No. 1 ranked LSU lost in three over-times to Arkansas.  Thus, at kick-off, both the Big 12 North championship and the No. 1 ranking in the country were at stake.  80,000 fans filled the stadium, the second largest crowd ever at Arrowhead.  At half-time, MU was up by two touchdowns and never relinquished the lead.  KU made it interesting when they got within 6 of MU late in the fourth quarter, but Missouri recovered the ensuing on-side kick attempt and ran out most of the clock.  KU had one more chance with less than a minute left, but when KU quarterback Todd Reesing was sacked and came up with a chunk of KU end zone turf in his face mask, it was over.  Based on its victory, MU was ranked No. 1 in the nation the following week. 

Lifetime bragging rights forever for MU, right?  Nope, there is almost nothing in this rivalry that is this simple.  MU’s victory over KU gave them the right to face OU in the Big 12 Conference Championship game to be played in San Antonio.  After MU played OU to a tie at half-time of game (and being one half from playing in the BCS national championship game), OU dominated second-half play and won the game.  Consistent with precedent, the Orange Bowl (a BCS bowl) selected a one-loss KU team over a two-loss MU team, and MU was selected to play in the Cotton Bowl. KU upset 5th-ranked (AP) Virginia Tech in their BCS bowl by a score of 24-21, while MU thoroughly dominated 25th-ranked (AP) Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl by a score of 38-7.  So, about one month after their loss to MU at Arrowhead (or about 0.1 percent of a 65-year lifetime), KU fans started to claim bragging rights over MU by virtue of its BCS bowl victory.   KU’s claim of bragging rights on the 2007 season is questionable at best given MU’s head-to-head victory in what was arguably the most important game ever played in rivalry history, KU finishing behind MU in the conference standings (it was the Tigers that advanced to the conference championship game), and KU finishing behind MU in both of the final major polls.  But that is the way it is; there is little about the rivalry that MU and KU fans can confidently predict or agree on. 

In October of 2011, in the face of Big 12 conference instability, MU decided it was in its best interests to join the SEC, but offered to continue its rivalry games with KU.  KU, acting in its perceived best interests, has indicated they will decline MU’s offer, thus apparently ending the MU-KU rivalry, at least for the upcoming years.

That makes the 2011 Border War game that much more meaningful.  If one honors the Big 8 conference ruling on the 1960 game, MU has a two-game lead in the rivalry, and even with a 2011 loss, MU would still lead KU in the all-time rivalry record. However, defying the Big 8 conference edict on the 1960 game, KU claims the series is tied at 55-55-9.  Thus, MU needs to win the 2011 game to lay claim to undisputed bragging rights in the rivalry, perhaps for all time (if KU continues to pass on MU’s offer to continue the rivalry). 

But if there is one thing that characterizes the Border War, it is unpredictability.  It is the author’s hope that KU reconsiders MU’s offer, and that this historic rivalry continues. It would be a shame if this much history and meaning is lost to the MU and KU fan bases.  Here’s to the continuation of the rivalry!

Go Tigers!

Keith Piontek
November, 2011

[1] The MU-KU game was cancelled due to a influenza epidemic, “as medical authorities cautiously quarantined against unnecessary gatherings of large crowds.”   Bob Broeg.  Ol’ Mizzou, A Story of Missouri Football.  The Strode Publishers, 1974.  Page54.

[2] Robinson, Charles. The Kansas Conflict. 1892. Reprint. Lawrence, Kans.: Journal Publishing Co., 1898. Page 455.

[3] A Rivalry Born in Bloodshed Becomes Pivotal to the B.C.S.”  New York Times; November 23, 2007.

[4] Rivals!  MU vs. KU, A Classic Sports Match-up, Since 1891.”   Kansas City Star Books.  2005.  Page 25.

[5] Neosho Daily Democrat; Neosho, Missouri; November 25, 1929; Columns A and B.

[6] The Kansas City Star; 1996-09-20; Page C1.  “Jayhawk wasn't bird of a feather”, by James J. Fisher. 

[7] Evans, Harold C.  College Football in Kansas.  Kansas Historical Quarterly, August 1940 (Volume 9, No. 3), pages 285-311

[8] The Manitowoc, Wisconsin Herald-Times; November 24, 1939; Page 12: columns D and E.  Article entitled “Missouri-Kansas Rivalry Revives Story of Ringer”. 

[9] Mark Hershey.  “January 28, 1910 - The Day They Almost Abolished Football.”  http://www.kuhistory.com/proto/story-printable.asp?id=40.

[10] Bob Broeg.  Ol’ Mizzou, A Story of Missouri Football.  The Strode Publishers, 1974.  pages 25-26.

[11]  Sengsavanh, Phou.  “An Unpopular Crusader’s Resounding Legacy.”  T he Missourian; Columbia, Missouri.  http://www.columbiamissourian.com/media/multimedia/2008/pages/centennial/pages/rec_hether.html.  Accessed October 2, 2010. 

[12] University Missourian; Columbia, Missouri; October 7, 1909; Page 1, Column F. 

[13] Schmidt, Raymond.  The 1929 Iowa Football Scandal: Paying Tribute to the Carnegie Report? College Football Historical Society; Fall 2007;  Volume 34, Number 3; pp. 343-351.

[14]  Ward, Arch.  “Big Six Grid Wage Scale Makes Big Ten Look Cheap.”  Chicago Daily Tribune; Oct 28, 1930. 

[15] Schmidt, Ray. Some 1920’s Disputes. College Football Historical Society Newsletter, Volume XIV, Number II, February 2001. Pages 9 -12

[16] Bob Broeg. Ol’ Mizzou, A Story of Missouri Football. The Strode Publishers, 1974. Page 102. This reference is provided not as a definitive source on the nature of the dispute, but on the text of the conference’s letter.

[17] Allen Renews Plea for Czar, Pittsburg Post-Gazette. June 2, 1948.

[18] Kansas U. Accepts Big Seven Ruling, The New York Times. July 15, 1948

[19] “KU Assistant Coach Barred from Program.”  Iola Register; Iola, Kansas.  December  1, 1983.  Page 8.

[20] Anderson, Rio.  “Keeper of the Flame.”  The Capital-Journal; Topeka, Kansas; September 27, 2003.

[21] Keegan, Tom.  Where should he begin? KU legend Fambrough shares his hatred of Missouri.  Lawrence Journal World; Lawrence , Kansas; October 29, 2005.

[22] IBID. 

[23] Davis, Ken.  “The Border War, Heated Kansas-Missouri rivalry dates back to 1800s.”  Special to SI.com.  November 23, 2007.  http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/the_bonus/11/20/kansas.mizzou/

[24] Anderson, Ric.  Keeper of the Flame.  The Capital-Journal; Topeka, Kansas.  Sept. 27, 2003.  http://www.cjonline.com/stories/092703/haw_fambrough.shtml.  Accessed 4/24/08. 

[25] Whitlock, Jason.  “Border War Is As Big As It Will Ever Be.”  Kansas City Star; Kansas City, Missouri.  Mon, Nov. 19, 2007.

 

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