The Border War (cont.)
Posted: Friday November 23, 2007 8:12AM; Updated: Saturday November 24, 2007 12:37PM
Missouri and Kansas have met every year since 1891 and the first 115 meetings have supplied Missourians and Kansans with plenty more reasons to dislike each other. The competition is so nasty and so intense, the two schools can't even agree on the series record. (Officially the series is tied 53-53-9 but Kansas still credits itself with a win from 1960 that was later nullified due to a player who had violated NCAA rules.)
The rivalry is accepted, anticipated, cultivated and treasured in America's Heartland but largely remains a secret to the rest of the nation. That's due, in large part, to the rather unsuccessful nature of both programs. Unlike Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, or Florida State-Miami, national rankings and major bowl implications rarely come into play.
"The nation doesn't realize what a big thing it is," says John Kadlec, who played at Missouri, was an assistant coach for the Tigers, and now works as an analyst on the Missouri radio network. "To me, the only difference between this and Ohio State-Michigan is the population they've got in Ohio and Michigan. That and the Rose Bowl, of course."
The Jayhawks, No. 2 in this week's Bowl Championship Series standings, had never been ranked higher than No. 3 in the Associated Press poll until this week. Kansas was No. 3 for three consecutive weeks in 1968, the last time the Jayhawks won a conference (then the Big 8) title. This is only the third time both teams have been ranked coming into the Border War -- and the first since 1973. It's also the first time the Tigers and Jayhawks are both in the top 10.
Missouri's highest ranking was No. 1 in 1960. But, wouldn't you know, the Jayhawks ruined that. The Tigers won their first nine games that season but KU, led by John Hadl and Bert Coan, won the game 23-7. Coan later was ruled ineligible because he had accepted a plane ticket to attend a college all-star game.
"I think in the week or two weeks leading up to the game maybe we got caught up in the pre-game talk about possibly [finishing] No. 1 if we beat KU," Kadlec said. "Sometimes teams get caught up in that publicity stuff and they forget to play the football game."
Kansas coach Mark Mangino and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel are trying to guard against that this week. The game has already moved to a bigger stage after Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins proposed moving the game off campus and worked out the details at Arrowhead with Missouri and the Kansas City Chiefs at a time when any BCS ramifications would have been pure fantasy for these long-struggling programs.
Now the game will be played before a sellout crowd of more than 79,000, with a national TV audience and ESPN's GameDay on hand. Mangino stresses focus and Pinkel talks about doing "the same we've been doing." But that's hard to do with the backdrop of the rivalry.
"Right after my press conference [after being hired at MU in 2000], I went to a reception at one of the hotels here," Pinkel says. "I think the first 10 people came up to me and said, 'Coach Pinkel, great to have you here, uh, but we better beat Kansas.' I found out real, real quick that it's a great rivalry."
Mangino tells a similar story. "There's no question this is an intense rivalry," he said. "During my tenure here, it has been a clean rivalry. The players display sportsmanship. But with the fan base, it's a heated competition."
Over the years, coaches from both sides of the Border War have never been shy about expressing their disdain for their foes. The rivalry is just as intense in basketball, and former Missouri coach Norm Stewart made it clear he would never spend a cent in Kansas, even if it meant staying overnight and fueling the bus in Kansas City -- on the Missouri side. And that's what many Missouri coaches have done.
"When I was in school," says former Missouri quarterback Terry McMillan, "[Coach] Dan Devine used to tell us about how it was the oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi. It was all about the recruiting wars, he would say, and if we're going to do this, or we're going to do that, we've got to beat Kansas."
McMillan threw for four touchdowns and ran for two more in 1969 as the Tigers beat Kansas 69-21 on the way to their last Orange Bowl. Thanks to Devine and Kansas coach Pepper Rodgers, that contest is remembered as The Peace-Sign Game.
"There's a lot of different takes on that story," says former KU All-America quarterback Bobby Douglass, who led the Jayhawks to 21-19 victory over Mizzou and into the Orange Bowl a year earlier.