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The Border War

Heated Kansas-Missouri rivalry dates back to 1800s

Posted: Friday November 23, 2007 8:12AM; Updated: Saturday November 24, 2007 12:37PM
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Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing has been a model of efficiency this season, throwing for 2,910 yards and 30 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing has been a model of efficiency this season, throwing for 2,910 yards and 30 touchdowns with just four interceptions.
Greg Nelson/SI

By Ken Davis, Special to SI.com

Former Kansas coach Don Fambrough has been around far too long to worry about being politically correct, especially when the topic is the athletic rivalry between Kansas and Missouri. Coach Fam has been playing, coaching and talking Kansas football since the 1940s. He walks like a coach, talks like a coach, swears like a coach, and he bleeds crimson and blue for his beloved Jayhawks.

When officials at Kansas and Missouri announced three years ago that the Border War moniker applied to this feud was being dropped and replaced by the Border Showdown, it came as no surprise Fambrough resisted. And with the stakes higher than ever for Saturday's game between the No. 2 Jayhawks and the No. 3 Tigers, he isn't about to compromise his standards now.

"I promise you one thing, it's not any damn showdown," says Fambrough, 85. "The people who call it a showdown are people who have never played in the Missouri-Kansas football game, because it is total war. Their people get up high for it and we get up high for it.

"The first thing I was told when I went into the coaching business was to be yourself. Well, it just so happens that I never have cared too much for the University of Missouri. And they don't care a hell of a lot about me."

Welcome to the oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi. When Kansas (11-0, 7-0 Big 12) and Missouri (10-1, 6-1) play Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, the football issue at hand will be the Big 12 North title, a spot in the conference championship game one week later and a shot at playing in the national championship game.

But, the hostilities pouring into Arrowhead will involve more than a football and 100 yards of turf. The hatred each side feels for the other extends back to pre-Civil War days and is rooted in actual acts of violence waged by one state against the other. Slavery created the battleground; American history was shaped by brutal violence along the Kansas and Missouri borders.

The rivalry dates back to William Clarke Quantrill, a Confederate guerrilla leader based in Missouri who, on the morning of Aug. 21, 1863, led his force of pro-slavery raiders into Lawrence, Kan. The Bushwackers killed 183 men and boys, dragging many from their homes and executing them before their families. After the massacre, Quantrill's Raiders rode out of town, leaving most of Lawrence's buildings burning.

The scars run deep and, one way or another, they still get passed from generation to generation. More than anything else, that is what sets KU-MU apart from all other college rivalries.

It's even reflected in the T-shirts -- worn mostly by students -- that show up at games. While Kansas officials have been discouraging the proliferation of "Muck Fizzou" shirts (a popular item around Lawrence in recent years), some Missouri fans have been preparing a response for the Arrowhead game. Yellow and black T-shirts showed up on the Internet almost two weeks ago. The front bears an illustration of Lawrence burning with the word "Scoreboard" and a Missouri athletic log below. The back is emblazoned with Quantrill's famous slogan -- "Raise the Black Flag and Ride Hard Boys. Our Cause is Just and Our Enemies Many."

Kansas fans responded with a T-shirt featuring Kansas abolitionist John Brown, another violent figure from America's barbaric era, and the slogan "Keeping America Safe From Missouri Since 1854."

"There's a lot of bad blood, dating back to the Civil War, and I guess that's what starts it," says former Missouri quarterback Corby Jones, whose father, Curtis, played and coached for the Tigers. "Honestly, it's just one of those things nobody's forgotten. "I was born in Columbia (Mo.) but we moved around a lot when I was young. We had an unspoken rule in our house that you don't talk about Kansas. We didn't follow Missouri that much, but I knew I wasn't supposed to like Kansas."

For years, Kansas coaches have been calling on Fambrough to deliver a pep talk during Missouri week. The old coach gets pretty emotional. He refuses to let Quantrill rest in peace. And part of the tradition is that he doesn't let the truth get in the way of a good story.

"The first time I talked about Quantrill, I didn't know who the hell he was," Fambrough says. "But somebody had slipped me the book and I read it the night before. I read about him coming over here, killing all the men, raping all the women, and burning the town down. I just thought that would be a good way to end it up. For some strange reason, I'll never know why, I ended up -- and I get pretty excited when I do this -- by saying, 'And we found out two weeks later that Quantrill was a Missouri alumni.'

"Well, Quantrill hasn't ever seen the University of Missouri or probably any other school. I had a wide-eyed freshman and he believed every damned thing I said. The following Monday, he had a history test on the Civil War. And lo and behold, one of the questions was, 'Who was Quantrill?' I'll be damned if that freshman didn't put down that he was a Missouri alumni."

Fambrough says he knew the professor and everything worked out fine. "He called up and said he wanted to make a deal. He said, 'I'll let you coach football and you let me teach history.'"

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