Despite the amount of intensity with which most of consume sports, there are only a handful of experiences that each fan can viscerally remember.
Of course, we all remember certain things. You remember your team winning a championship or a playoff game. You remember tough losses that nearly broke you and paradigm-shifting coaching hires and off-the-field blunders.
What you remember best of all though, are the moments packed with emotions. I’m not talking your run-of-the-mill happiness or anxiety — I’m talking elation and hatred.
These moments are subjective to each individual fan, though it’s safe to say we all share at least a few. While I attended nearly every home game in the 2017-2018 season, the moment I best remember is when Michael Porter Jr. announced he was coming to play at Missouri. I was working at ABC 17 News at the time, and a fellow producer and I ran to each other across the newsroom (it was quite romantic) and bear hugged. While that commitment wouldn’t end up producing much fruit, the outsized talent of this one player was like a lightning bolt of hope into our thoroughly diminished psyches. Missouri basketball might be good again, yes, but at the very least it would be fun again.
Even that, though, in all its recency, doesn’t compare with the sense memories I get when thinking about the Border War — in football and basketball, but mostly the latter. I have family in Lawrence, including cousins in both the athletic department and on teams at KU, so the Missouri-Kansas rivalry has always had a sort of family vibe to it. Not only did winning the Border War give me the sweet satisfaction of knowing we beat Kansas, it gave me temporary bragging rights... and, yes, they were often quite temporary.
As we approach Cuonzo Martin’s third year as Missouri’s head coach, we’re still looking for these types of moments. They’re the ones that define generations of Missouri fans, times for us to collectively reminisce, asking, “where were you when?” Martin’s Tigers have had their share of fun memories — the Iowa State home opener, making the tournament one year removed from Kim Anderson, finally beating Kentucky. But there’s hardly been a moment that would qualify as as anything more than “cool.”
That is, until Monday evening.
For Missouri, the Border War is much more than just a game. At this point especially, the Border War reminds Tiger fans of countless visceral memories, both good and bad. Norm Stewart’s fiery tirades; Zaire Taylor’s bouncing ball; Marcus Denmon’s scorching hand; yes, even Thomas Robinson’s first-degree assault on Phil Pressey. These are all intricately woven into the fabric of our Missouri DNA. You may not want to admit it, but playing Kansas is more important to Missouri fans than they may care to realize.
More importantly than all of these things however, is what the Border War immediately offers — interest. Part of the struggle in Cuonzo Martin’s two years has been building back a steady fanbase to support his program. Decimated by years of rotating transfers and poor coaching, the Missouri fan base hasn’t had much to hold onto, even as Cuonzo has slowly built the floor closer to where it should be.
Hatred for Kansas, though? That’s something strong to hold onto. You may have trouble getting fans out to a weekday December matchup against Nowhere State University, but you could stick Missouri and Kansas in a gym at midnight on any given Tuesday, flip on the lights, and you’d sell the place out. Even if they’re just showing up to heckle the Jayhawks, they’re showing up. In the process, they’re getting to know the players, coaches and personalities that will hopefully lead them to the promised land. You see that? Hating Kansas is good for the spirit, and it’s efficient!
So while Cuonzo Martin has yet to notch any non-season-specific signature wins as the head coach at Missouri, he can hang his hat on this. Reviving the Border War is his biggest victory yet, and we’ll all know why when black-and-gold meets red-and-blue in the Sprint Center on Dec. 12, 2020.
So dust off your best FBI jokes and work on your anti-Jayhawk chants. We’ve got a year to get back in game shape before we see those putrid birds on the hardwood once more.