Skip to main content
Original Issue

They Got Game

The first 115 meetings between bitter rivals Kansas and Missouri were mostly forgettable, but this Saturday's victor will be one win from playing for the national title

THE CALL comesearly in the week of the Missouri game. Some years Kansas coach Mark Manginoinvites Don Fambrough to say a few words to the Jayhawks players to help getthem in the proper frame of mind to face the Tigers. To stoke their outrage, inother words.

Advancing age has not smoothed the rough edges on Fambrough, 85, who put in twostints as the Kansas coach from 1971 through '82. When a visitor remarkedrecently on the unseasonably mild weather in Lawrence, the old coach agreed,then warned, "You never know around here. In two days there could be snowup to your ass."

If Coach Fam's previous Missouri-week speeches are a guide, he will urgeoffensive linemen to stay on their blocks for an extra two seconds. He willimplore running backs to pump their legs for an extra two yards. He will advisethe Jayhawks to spend a little extra time looking at film. Then he'll get tothe point. After reminding his audience that the name of the Kansas-Missourigame was changed a few years ago from Border War to Border Showdown, he willraise his voice and pass judgment on that exercise in politicalcorrectness:

"Showdown, myass! When you're playin' other teams, it might be a 'showdown.' When you'replayin' Missouri, it's a war! And they started the damn war."

This Saturday,for the 116th time, the Jayhawks will take the field against the Tigers. Foronce and at long last, the rest of the republic cares about the outcome. In afitting climax to a surreal regular season Kansas enters the game ranked No. 2in the BCS, Missouri No. 4. The victor will need only a win in the Big 12championship game to play for the national title.

The rivalry hasstood out down through the decades less for the quality of the football thanfor the two states' shared history, and the depth and provenance of the illwill. As The Kansas City Star recently pointed out, the Border War nickname was"not a product of the schools' publicity departments." It exists,instead, "because Missourians and Kansans who mostly lived close to theborder once waged real war against each other."

In the early1860s the infamous William Quantrill staged raids along the Missouri-Kansasborder and eventually became a captain in the Confederacy. (Kansas was part ofthe Union.) In 1863 the then Missouri-based Quantrill and 450 of his Raidersattacked Lawrence, slaughtering scores of unarmed citizens and torching partsof the city. Recounting the atrocity, Coach Fam prefers to garnish it with thissmall fiction: He tells the players, after the massacre "they found out ...[Quantrill] was a Missouri alum!" (When an overly credulous football playerincluded that falsehood on a history exam, the professor phoned Fambrough."I'll let you coach football," he said, "if you'll let me teachhistory.")

Despite thegenuine enmity underlying it, KU-Mizzou barely makes the B-list of collegefootball's best-known rivalries. There is the Game (Ohio State--Michigan) andthe game formerly known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party(Florida-Georgia). There is the Red River Rivalry (Texas-Oklahoma) and theCivil War (Oregon--Oregon State)—all of them rather civil, it turns out,compared with the sport's oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi.

By crisplydispatching Iowa State 45--7 last Saturday, the Jayhawks improved to 11--0. Theteam that won 12 games, total, from 1986 to '90 could win its 12th game of theseason at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., this Saturday.

By thumpingKansas State 49--32, Mizzou improved to 10--1. The team that had three winningseasons from 1984 through 2004 rose in the rankings thanks to Oregon's loss atArizona and Oklahoma's defeat at Texas Tech. In this year's Border War, themalice has meaning. Not for the first time. But for the first time in a longtime.

IT'S NOT as ifMizzou hasn't won 10 games in a season before. It happened as recently as 1960.The Tigers were 9--0 and No. 1 in the nation when Kansas came to town. Theirbackfield stacked with future pros John Hadl, Curtis McClinton, Bert Coan andDoyle Schick, the Jayhawks upset the Tigers 23--7. But Coan, it turned out, hadaccepted a plane ride from a KU booster the summer after his freshman year.Missouri athletic director Don Faurot pressured the Big Eight, and the Jayhawkswere told to forfeit the game. (Kansas acknowledges the forfeit in its mediaguide but counts the game as a win in the series, which, when you award the '60game to Missouri, stands at 53-53-9.) Faurot's treachery—to this day,Jayhawkers see it as such—carried over to basketball season. So vociferouslywere the Tigers booed at Allen Fieldhouse the following January, "theycouldn't introduce the teams or play the national anthem," recalls NormStewart, an assistant coach on that squad. "Kansas won handily."

Mizzou fansreturned the favor later in the season, several hundred of them storming thecourt in the aftermath of a bench-clearing brawl triggered by "one of theirplayers overreacting," says Stewart, who was named the Tigers' head coachin 1967. "We lost the fight but won the game." Stewart, who retiredafter the 1998--99 season, vowed to "never spend a dime in Kansas,"which meant that his team stayed in hotels across the border, in KansasCity.

HOW APT that a KUprogram that for many years plumbed the depths was once coached by a man namedJules Verne (J.V.) Sikes. The 1950 Border War was played on Thanksgiving. Theday before, the Jayhawks checked into a hotel outside Columbia. Overnight, asnowstorm moved in. "The temperature got down to nine degrees," recallsFambrough. "All the stores were closed, we couldn't buy long johns,couldn't buy any gloves."

Sikes directedhis young assistant to ask the Tigers if they might spare any extraclothing—"any tore up old jerseys or anything to keep us warm."Fambrough posed the question to Missouri's equipment manager. "Hell,no," came the reply. "We hope you freeze your asses off."

The visitorsdidn't win, but neither did they freeze. Sikes instructed the driver of theteam bus to park the vehicle behind the bench, where it idled throughout thegame, providing shelter for players between series. (To park there, Fambroughsays, the driver had to ram a padlocked gate. No word on whether the Jayhawkswere invoiced for the damage.)

IT'S THEJayhawks' turn to host the Border War, but Memorial Stadium will be empty thisSaturday. Last January the schools announced a two-year deal to move the gameto Arrowhead. At the time, understandably, no sober person suspected thathanding away home field advantage—Arrowhead is expected to be nearly half fullof Mizzou fans—might cost Kansas the chance to play for the national title.

The Border Warwill showcase highly similar attacks: no-huddle, shotgun offenses using four-and five-receiver sets, both run by native Texans who have emerged as Heismancandidates but to whom the Longhorns could not be bothered to give the time ofday. The Jayhawks are averaging 45.8 points per game, 3.5 more than Mizzou.Kansas sophomore Todd Reesing has thrown 30 touchdown passes, as has Tigersjunior Chase Daniel. Reesing's efficiency rating is 156.5—1.4 points higherthan that of Daniel, who has completed 69.3% of his passes, compared withReesing's 63.3%, and thrown for almost 700 more yards. The biggest difference:Daniel has tossed nine interceptions, five more than Reesing. That focus anddiscipline are qualities shared by the entire Jayhawks squad, which is tiedwith Army for the fewest penalties in the nation. (Missouri has been almost assharp, drawing the fourth-fewest penalties.)

Mizzou, the onlyteam in Division I-A to have scored at least 30 points in every game thisseason, has more playmakers, including the country's most dangerous tandem oftight ends in Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker. Though Rucker caught a pair oftouchdown passes against K-State, he was overshadowed by wideout Jeremy Maclin,the redshirt freshman with world-class wheels. Maclin's three touchdownsincluded a 99-yard kickoff return, Missouri's first kickoff return for a TDsince 1982, ending the nation's longest such drought. He finished with aschool-record 360 all-purpose yards, breaking the NCAA's freshman record formost all-purpose yards in a season. (He has 2,309.)

Both programs arenow in terra incognita. "I've never seen anything like this," sayslongtime Jayhawks radio broadcaster Max Falkenstien, who retired last year."People are so wrapped up in football, they almost forgot basketball seasonwas starting."

Even Bill Self,the Kansas hoops coach, is thrilled for the football team."Illinois-Missouri was a huge rivalry," says Self, who came to Lawrencefrom Champaign. "This is different. There's some real, pent-up bitterness.I think it's healthy." He pauses. "Well, maybe the bitterness isn't sohealthy."

It's somewhere onthe border.

The HIGHLY SIMILAR ATTACKS are run by native Texans towhom the Longhorns could not be bothered to give the time of day.


Border War

Read more about the deep history of theKansas-Missouri rivalry.



Photograph by Damian Strohmeyer

ROLLING Jake Sharp (1) had 83 rushing yards against Iowa State, while Daniel burned K-State with four touchdowns.



[See caption above]



ELECTRIC Maclin scored Mizzou's first kickoff-return TD since 1982 and set a freshman record for all-purpose yards.


Photograph by Damian Strohmeyer

ERROR-FREE In addition to throwing for 30 touchdowns, Reesing has limited his mistakes, with only four interceptions.


Photograph by Damian Strohmeyer