GameDay, GameDay, GameDay. ESPN’s college football program seemed to be the only thing MU fans talked about last year, including the Columbia Missourian, which mentioned “GameDay” on the front page for three consecutive days leading up to the game and once more on Sunday. Newspapers have always covered the pulse of the people, and the Columbia Missourian’s Homecoming coverage in the past 100 years says as much about the reunion and game as it does about the community’s mindset at large.
Nov. 25, 1911: 100 years ago
1911 marked the KU football team’s first visit to MU. All week, articles in the Columbia Missourian, then called the University Missourian, carried a cautious tone, which urged hospitality over hostility. It wasn’t a game; it was a “conflict,” a “battle,” a “war.” Noteworthy figures whose names now adorn official university buildings were voices of reason. Dean J.C. Jones and Professor Defoe vowed to take down signs on campus that read “Beat Kansas” because the game was not taking place in neutral territory. Two days before the game, a notice went out, which perhaps put “rooters,” or spectators, at ease: more on-duty police officers. The city would have an additional 14 on hand, a sharp increase, no doubt, from the usual four on duty. Local business owner E.W. Stephens agreed with taking down visible signs but kept his MU spirit when he told the paper that fans should carry the sign, “Welcome Kansas with bloody hands to hospitable graves.”
Nov. 26, 1936: 75 years ago
The 1936 Homecoming game was played on Thanksgiving. The U.S., still amidst the economic doldrums of the Great Depression, had difficulty regulating farming. For the holiday, the nation experienced a surplus of turkeys with nearly one for every six Americans. Prices were slashed in half, and notices in the papers urged people to buy more of the birds. Ads carried a festive spirit, such as one that said, “You’re lucky, Turkey, the Tigers are having Jayhawk meat and Central Ice Cream tomorrow.” Head coach Don Faurot told the paper he feared his team would fall into a trap of cockiness when they faced a last-place Jayhawk team. Those fears were confirmed when the Tigers fell behind in the first half 3-0. The offense caught flight in the second half, and MU won 19-3.
Oct. 10, 1961: 50 years ago
Earlier that year, President Kennedy pledged to race Russia to the moon. Fear permeated. The news fueled worried civilians, and headlines in an August issue of the Columbia Missourian said, “Meteor Might Start War, Space Experts Warn.” But when Homecoming came, the only threat or conflict in the paper was that of an upset. Nebraska had unseated three elite teams in each of three previous years. Ads carried a light-hearted tone of solidarity. Dorms and Greek houses offered words of encouragement in ads — “Shucks, T’wernt Nothin,” Gentry Hall wrote. Nothing, though, quite beats a barbershop running an ad for its specialty cut — flat tops. The Monday after beating Nebraska, the paper’s attention refocused on the Space Race as the University Hospital made plans to open up a 2,000 to 5,000 person bomb shelter in case of a nuclear attack.
Oct. 10, 1987: 24 years ago
Two massacres appeared multiple times on the front pages of the Columbia Missourian in the months leading up to the game. The first attack killed five in St. Louis. The second, in Elkland, killed five as well. Homicide rates were astronomically high during the 1970s and into the early parts of the ’90s, far greater than any other time in the century. It affected the MU team personally; the father of MU running back Darrell Wallace was murdered that March. When he was a child, Wallace’s brother and mother were also murdered. Heading into the weekend, the Columbia Missourian ran a feature on Wallace, who was 66 yards away from breaking MU’s all-time rushing record. Minutes into the second half, Wallace surpassed the record on a 31-yard touchdown run. In the back of the end zone, Wallace dropped to his knees, lowered his head and said a prayer.
The Columbia Missourian’s gaze has been cast anew. It is neither looking West toward impending battles with Kansas, nor upward to the great beyond. The focus is to the South, but more specifically, the Southeastern Conference as Missouri considers realignment. What began as the Big 6 Conference in 1928, became the Big 7, then 8, then 10, then 12 and then, perhaps, the big conference became no more.