COLUMBIA — After 115 games, Missouri and Kansas don’t agree on which team leads the football series.
The disagreement stems from the final game of the 1960 season. Then-No. 1 Missouri hosted unranked Kansas and the Tigers had an opportunity to claim their first national championship. But Kansas shocked Missouri with a 23-7 victory. Later, though, it was discovered that the Jayhawks had used at least one ineligible player during the game, leading the NCAA to recognize Missouri as winners — something Kansas has yet to get on board with.
KU claims a Border War record of 54 wins, 52 losses and nine ties. MU says the mark should be 53 wins, 53 losses and nine ties.
But dispute has always fueled this rivalry and will continue to do so long past Saturday’s collision in Kansas City.
During Civil War times, many residents of the two states disagreed on the issue of slavery, and violence erupted between the “Jayhawkers” from Kansas and William Quantrill’s notorious raiders, most notably resulting in the burning of Lawrence.
Now, the strife long quelled, it’s a football game, but many still harken back to those more dire times.
“I thought, the fact that K-State being the in-state rival, that I would hear more of that,” Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. “And then as I educated myself more about the circumstances of the rivalry and it dating back to the Civil War, I soon realized that the Missouri game was very important to the Kansas fan base.”
This season, with BCS bowl bids and a possible national title at stake, the ante has been raised. Still the core of the rivalry remains unchanged.
“I don’t care if you have all the other things that are with it out there now, the rivalry itself has always been great,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “I inherited it as a great rivalry. You play this game for a lot of people, and there’s a lot of passion in this rivalry, and it didn’t take me long to figure that out when I got here.”
It is appropriate that this year’s higher-stakes game is taking place in Arrowhead Stadium, minutes from the state line separating Missouri and Kansas.
Starting on Halloween night of 1891, Kansas City was the sight of the game for 19 out of the first 20 meetings. St. Joseph, Mo., hosted the 1907 game that saw an undefeated Missouri team take the field against an undefeated Kansas team with the Missouri Valley Conference championship on the line. KU eeked out a 4-0 victory with a pair of safeties.
That was a century ago. Today’s circumstances are unexpected for most Tigers faithful and even some of the players.
“Both of these teams doing really well at the same time is something I don’t know has ever happened,” tight end Martin Rucker said. “Five years ago, I don’t think I could have ever saw this happening.”
The records really don’t mean too much in this, and how either team has done earlier in the season goes out the window when the players get between the hash marks. As is the case in any rivalry, a horrific season can be salvaged if you beat the school that you love to hate. Mangino found that out when he arrived at Kansas in 2001.
“When I first arrived at Kansas as the head coach, and they were taking me around to meet various people, a lot of the fans would say, ‘I don’t care what you do all year as long as you beat Missouri,’” he said.
Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel received a similar message during an unofficial visit to Missouri while he was still in high school.
“I had never been to Columbia before, and me and the quarterbacks coach David Yost were out at Cold Stone Creamery getting some ice cream,” Daniel recalled. “Right when we were leaving, someone just said, ‘Hey, beat KU all four years you’re here, and we’ll still love you no matter the outcome.’ So I think from that place on I was like, ‘It’s pretty big to them.’”
As much as this series has thrived and produced numerous memorable outcomes, Saturday’s game may trump them all. Some players are trying to pass it off as just another game, but it’s difficult.
“If we weren’t ranked two and four, I don’t think it would be pumped up like this,” MU linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “But the fact that both teams have been doing so good and what is at stake, it definitely makes it a bigger game.”