And in the end, the hate you take is equal to the hate you make

COLUMBIA, MO - FEBRUARY 09: The Missouri Tigers bench celebrates as the winning basket falls through the hoop in a win over the Kansas Jayhawks 62-60 on February 9, 2009 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Sometimes the fates write poetry. Sometimes you get the game that you deserve. Three months ago, no one foresaw that Missouri and Kansas would each enter Saturday night’s contest with single-digit rankings. But it feels right, doesn’t it? After 106 uninterrupted years of conflict, the ancient rivals will meet in Columbia for the last time and for first place. And it will conjure echoes of what has made the Border War so meaningful and why it will be so hard to let go.

This game will be the other bookend in a set that goes back to the beginning of basketball time. In Missouri’s first season, the Tigers hosted Kansas for two games and won them both. They were the last games coached by James Naismith, leaving Missouri 2-0 all-time against the man who invented the sport. That’s a good way to start.

And this is a good way to end. On national television, hosting ESPN’s Gameday, in the most meaningful meeting since the last time Missouri held a number four ranking when hosting Kansas. That was in 1990, when Kansas entered with the nation’s number one ranking and the Tigers left with it. The rivalry has been terrific when played for pride. It has been transcendent when played for more.

Not long after Naismith made his lone appearance, two original members of the Basketball Hall of Fame put their stamp on the feud. In 1920, Missouri’s Walter Meanwell and KU’s Phog Allen coached against each other in a pair of games in Rothwell Gymnasium, the Tigers’ original home. In the first game, when Meanwell stood to complain about the violent play of Jayhawk Howard "Scrubby" Laslett, Allen leapt up and shouted "Sit down, you big boob!"

Meanwell didn’t respond, but his team did. Missouri won by fifteen that day and by eighteen the next.

Those games marked the introduction of the thing that has given this series its distinctive color: an immensely fulfilling hatred.

Lest you be confused, we’re talking about sports hate. If you truly hate someone because of their alma mater or favorite team, you are deeply unwell. But sports hate is cathartic and cleansing, a way exorcise the cancerous spots on our souls. Living in Kansas City, I’ve developed many lasting friendships with members of the opposition through a deep, nuanced, richly textured mutual antipathy.

As the book says, to hate like this is to be happy forever.

So if you’re headed to the game, be loud but don’t be loathsome. The Jayhawks may deserve your hate, but they also deserve your grudging respect, because they’re one-half of a great story. And this story is coming to an end.

Sure, there was that one time, in 1961, when sports hate gave way to something much more sinister


But for the most part, the blows landed have been metaphorical, big shots made on the big stage, moments that have made myths out of men.

And though Kansas holds the all-time edge in games played in Columbia, when there has been magic, it has almost always been made by Mizzou (exception to the rule: David Padgett’s buzzer-beater to close the HearnesCenter in 2004).

For me, the hate affair began on February 11, 1987, when Larry Brown, Danny Manning and the Jayhawks came to town, and my fellow freshman Lee Coward sank a three that beat Kansas and helped propel the Tigers to an unexpected Big Eight title:


Three years later, Coward was a senior and one of four Tigers to score at least 20 points in a 95-87 win over top-ranked Kansas that pushed Missouri to number one in the polls. A fine gift for Norm Stewart’s fifty-fifth birthday (you have to wait for this one a bit):


Maybe you prefer the biggest upset of them all, when undefeated and undefeatable Kansas visited on February 4, 1997, fifteen years to the day before this Saturday’s game. The Jayhawks, at 22-0, had three All Americans. But the Tigers, just 11-10, had Corey Tate:


After all those nail-biters, sometimes it’s nice to win in a rout. If Jeff Boschee is reading (hi, Jeff!), he might want to cover his eyes at this Clarence Gilbert montage of sharpshooting insanity, which buried Kansas in 2000:


Thomas Gardner was the star on the floor in 2006, scoring 40 points. But the Tiger fans were the stars of the game, as they effectively fractured Christian Moody’s psyche when he needed to make just one of two free throws to win it for Kansas:


And then there was 2009, the night that Missouri basketball was reborn courtesy of Mr. Big Shot:


We can only hope that Saturday gives us the same kind of memory. If the fates have their way, it will.

There’s much to like about Missouri’s move to the SEC, but you won’t see the likes of this sordid, hateful, glorious rivalry again any time soon. It takes a long time, many battles and a multitude of scars to sustain a blood feud. Tiger fans can try to project their feelings toward Kansas onto Kentucky or Arkansas, but there’s no guarantee that those schools will hate them back, at least not for a long time. And unrequited hate is as sad as unrequited love.

Maybe one day, if we’re lucky, we’ll find hate again.

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