If you follow Hoops HD with any frequency, you know that I’m a puppet who loves whiskey, Playboy Magazine, college basketball, and frequently bemoans the fact that Kansas and Missouri no longer play. This drives my colleagues at Hoops HD crazy, which I see as being a huge bonus.
A few years ago, I was involved in a roundtable discussion about rivalries in American sports, and I was the only person who listed the Kansas v Missouri as the nation’s biggest rivalry. People thought I was crazy. I’m not saying they’re wrong about me being crazy (in fact, they’re probably right), but after I explained why I felt it was the biggest rivalry, some of them began to agree with me, and even the ones that didn’t said they had a new perspective on the rivalry known as “The Border War.”
Is (or was) Kansas v Missouri the biggest rivalry in American sports?? I don’t know. In order to even make that determination we’d have to agree on exactly how we would go about measuring the size of a rivalry. One has a significant edge in football, and the other has the edge in basketball, and although they’ve had their share of classic games, they haven’t always been classics either. They’ve also never met in the postseason in football or men’s basketball the way the Yankees and Red Sox have, and some other notable rivals have. It doesn’t get the national notoriety that Duke v North Carolina gets in basketball, and a first place finish in a major conference and/or national title implications don’t always seem to be on the line the way it was for so many years with Michigan v Ohio State in football.
So, maybe it’s not the biggest on the court or on the field, but I do think it is (or was) the most special and most unique rivalry in American Sports.
Why do I feel this way?? Well, maybe it’s because in addition to loving whiskey, porn mags, and college hoops, I’m also a history buff. To understand and fully appreciate the Border War rivalry between the Jayhawks and Tigers, you have to realize that there was an actual Border War that took place during the American Civil War, and two of the key players in that war were the Jayhawks, who were a militia based in Kansas, particularly in Lawrence, and the Tigers, who were another militia based in Columbia, Missouri.
The Jayhawks were less specific. It was a name used to categorize anyone from Kansas who went into Missouri and wreaked havoc on the civilians by raping, burning and stealing from everyone. In the time leading up to the Civil War, Kansas exploded as people who were for slavery clashed with those who were against slavery. There were many militias organized to combat those who favored slavery. The problem was that the Jayhawks didn’t seem to differentiate who was pro slavery, and who was abolitionist. They just went into Missouri and attacked and stole from anyone who they came across. There are allegations that they were so abusive to the people of Missouri, that General George McClellan received daily complaints about their behavior, but since he was located back in the east, he was in no position to stop them…and didn’t. Several historians believe that the Jayhawks drove more people to sympathize with the Rebel Confederacy not because they supported slavery, but because they wanted to side with an army that would protect them from the Jayhawks.
The Tigers were a militia that was specifically stationed at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and their main job was to protect the students and faculty from the craziness that was the Civil War, particularly from the Rebel Confederacy. Even though the Jayhawks and Tigers both sided with the Union, they were still adversaries, and there were attacks and clashes in the time before the Civil War, and even during the Civil War.
Think about this. The Civil War ended in 1865. The Jayhawks, who were heavily based in Lawrence, consisted of several young men who were either enrolled in the University, or chose to enroll in the University after the war ended. The same is true with the Tigers, who were based in Columbia and whose members likely enrolled at the University of Missouri.
The first football game between Kansas and Missouri was in 1891. That’s not even a generation later. It’s not a stretch to think (in fact, it is even likely) that there were former Jayhawks and former Tigers, who fought with each other and perhaps even killed people on the other side, who were in attendance at that first football game.
The fact that Kansas still calls themselves the Jayhawks, and Missouri still calls themselves the Tigers, is pretty cool and pretty special. Kids who grow up in Kansas and Missouri learn all about Bleeding Kansas, and the Border War, and the Jayhawks, and the Tigers, in their history classes. The Kansas v Missouri rivalry is far more deeply rooted than any other rivalry in any other sport in America. The fact that you can trace the lineage back to a time when Jayhawks and Tigers were enrolled at both universities, and that the rivalry began when members of the Jayhawks and Tigers were still alive is something that makes this rivalry more unique than any other rivalry.
So, why do I like this rivalry so much?? It allows me to do the following things. I get to watch television. I get to drink whiskey, and I get to watch an ongoing tradition that is deeply rooted to a significant time in our history. Duke v North Carolina is incredible. Ohio State v Michigan has reached some pretty high boiling points. Louisville v Kentucky is full of venom. The Yankees v Red Sox has created some of Baseball’s greatest moments. None of them have what Kansas vs Missouri had. They never will. They can’t. No one can.
The last two meetings in basketball were two of the best basketball games ever played throughout the entire series. Both teams were ranked in the top five. Both games saw the home team down double digits in the final two minutes of regulation. Both games went to overtime, and both games were won by the home teams who staged incredible comebacks. When something is that good, it shouldn’t end. When something is that good with the kind of history this game has, it’s almost criminal to end it. Saying that Congress should declare the series a national landmark (or…something) and order that the series be continued would, of course, be over the top. But…I wouldn’t argue against it if they did.
Of course, both schools blame each other. Kansas blames Missouri for leaving and says that an out of conference match-up would be indignant because the rivalry deserves more. Missouri says they want the series, and blames Kansas for not playing them if it’s going to be out of conference. I know why Missouri left the Big Twelve, and it wasn’t to get away from Kansas. It was to get away from Texas, but that’s another story.
Who do I side with?? Both of them. And neither of them. What’s strange is that I really don’t like either team. I just love the rivalry they had. I agree with Kansas when they say it’s not the same if it’s not a conference game, but I also agree with Missouri in saying that it’s worth keeping it going even if it’s not a conference game. Selfishly, I wish Missouri would have never left the Big Twelve. Selfishly, I’d love to see West Virginia and Missouri swap conferences since neither of them seem to be in a conference that’s a natural fit. Seflishly, I wish the Big Ten would have taken Kansas and Missouri instead of Rutgers and Maryland.
There are other rivalries, but none like this one. Kansas v Kansas State is a good rivalry, but that’s all it is. A good rivalry. Kansas v Missouri was more than good. It was special. It had a rooted history that nothing else could ever have….and it’s gone now. As Mercutio said to the Capulets and Montegues, “A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES!!”