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November 28, 2011
Rivalry Week will once again deliver must-see matchups, but this year's Kansas-Missouri showdown is like no other: It may very well be the last
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November 28, 2011

Bordering On Hatred

Rivalry Week will once again deliver must-see matchups, but this year's Kansas-Missouri showdown is like no other: It may very well be the last

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Hey, SEC fans, here's a primer on some of the football traditions at Missouri. That way you'll be better able to welcome the newcomers from the Show-Me State next season, when the conference begins play with its third team named Tigers: Mizzou students celebrate huge wins by hauling the goalposts the 17 blocks from Faurot Field to a tavern called Harpo's. Seniors playing their last home game—as 26 were last Saturday in a 31--27 win over Texas Tech—help themselves to one of the white stones making up the vast Rock M above the north end zone. At the end of the third quarter Tigers partisans sway in time as the Marching Mizzou band plays the Missouri Waltz. It's more Lawrence Welk than House of Pain, but that's true of the state in general.

As they look ahead to life in a new conference, most Missouri fans will have to make peace with the idea of altering and discarding other time-honored traditions. Indeed, that process has already begun: They'll spend this week preparing to say goodbye to the oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi.

Saturday's game against Kansas is more than a contest between a so-so team (Mizzou is 6--5) and a dreadful one (the Jayhawks are 2--9). It is the 120th—and possibly final—edition of the so-called Border War (recently renamed the Border Showdown, though virtually no one calls it that).

This week the nation celebrates that late-November tradition that brings families together. We speak of course of Rivalry Week, stuffed with long-simmering grudges such as the Iron Bowl (Alabama-Auburn) and The Game (Michigan--Ohio State).

The Border War lacks the luster of those marquee matchups but still is uniquely hostile. In 1863 a band of 450 irregulars led by the Confederate guerilla William Quantrill attacked Lawrence, Kans., slaughtering scores of unarmed citizens and torching parts of the city. Defensive Missourians reliably point out that Quantrill was retaliating for Jayhawkers' repeated incursions across the border to terrorize people from their state.

The point is that, as interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas notes, "in 1863 they were shooting at each other, and 30 years later, in just about the same place, they played the first game."

In the Coen brothers' movie True Grit, Jeff Bridges's character, Rooster Cogburn, is a former member of Quantrill's Raiders. Had Neinas seen the movie? "Yeah," he says. "I was disappointed by it."

He preferred the original—"the John Wayne version."

Somehow that's not surprising.

No conference has been more dysfunctional in recent years than the Big 12, which has gone from healthy to intensive care to death's door to stable condition, all in the last 17 months. In late September, Neinas replaced ex-commish Dan Beebe, under whose watch the conference's demise began and who was forced out in a power play by Oklahoma, which said, basically, He goes or we go.

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