Jeff Vinton is a sophomore at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. This was previously posted on his blog, "Forgotten Rivalries," which is about lesser known and discontinued rivalries.
*The following story has been corrected to clarify the goals of the Columbia Tigers militia.
The rivalry between the schools that are two-and-a-half hours apart on Interstate 70 in Lawrence, Kan., and Columbia, Mo., began in an unconventional way, far away from the football fields and basketball courts that made it famous.
“It (The Border Showdown) actually has historically significant roots that go all the way back to the Civil War, when militias from the two states fought each other and raided towns in both states,” Will Heckman-Mark, a senior at the University of Missouri, said.
The animosity began in 1854 when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was signed and created the Kansas and Nebraska territories and the concept of popular sovereignty. This angered the people of Missouri, who believed that the decision of whether or not a state would allow slavery was better left to the Missouri Compromise, which was signed into law in 1820, and repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
The animosity between the state of Missouri and the Kansas Territory led to bloodshed during the time known as “Bleeding Kansas,” right before the Civil War when the pro-slavery Missouri residents journeyed into Kansas and killed about 40 people and injured many others.
When the Civil War began, the Jayhawkers struck back, ransacking six towns in Missouri, including Osceola, and plundering and razing large parts of western Missouri.
The animosity between the two states never ceased and 30 years after the Civil War began, the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri met for the first time on the gridiron on Oct. 31, 1891, in what would come to be known as the Border Showdown.
For 16 years, the Tigers and Jayhawks only expressed their contempt for each other when they would meet on the football field. But, in 1907, the schools’ men’s basketball teams met for the first time on the hardwood, where it has shined.
There have been many times when the hate that these two schools have for each other has boiled over.
Former Missouri basketball coach Norm Stewart demanded his players stay in hotels on the Missouri side of Kansas City and refused to let them spend money on the Kansas side. It was said that former Kansas football coach Dom Fambrough said, “I’ll die first!” when talking about a physician from Missouri and so many more.
In terms of the actual play between the two schools, Missouri has a slight edge in football (57-54-9) and Kansas has absolutely dominated in men’s basketball (172-95).
In 2011, the rivalry met its end when Missouri announced it was leaving the Big 12 Conference, the conference that, along with its predecessors, Kansas and Missouri had always both occupied, for the Southeastern Conference starting in the fall of 2012.
That doesn’t mean that the hate for either school has ceased.
“I don’t like Missouri and I never will root for them but rather, cheer against them even when they’re in the SEC now,” Brad Robson, a senior at the University of Kansas said. “We (the Kansas student body) felt like they were doing a disservice to not only the Big 12, but to both states. It was a selfish move that they made because of the money.”
The hate hasn’t relented in Columbia either.
“I don’t really follow KU sports too closely except for their basketball team, who I continue to actively root against,” Heckman-Mark said. “I still hate (Kansas head men’s basketball coach) Bill Self and absolutely love when that team loses. I know a lot of my friends and classmates feel the same way here, and I’m sure the people over in Lawrence don’t like us very much still either.”
The hate from both sides is still palpable, but a return to play between the two universities does not seem to be on the horizon anytime soon.
“I believe that the series may resume someday,” Robson said. “But the game won’t mean anything since we’re in different conferences.”
Fans should hope that one day soon the two schools can come to an agreement and this once intense rivalry that dates back to the Civil War will never be forgotten.
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