Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Border War

On Saturday, Kansas and Missouri will do battle in college football for the 119th time. And, as they say about English futbol, this game isn't about life or death--it's much bigger than that.

Hyperbole aside, this game is important. A win can attone for a season of disappointment (see Kansas.) And, a loss can take the glow off of a successful season (see Missouri.) It's a rivalry which is as bitter as any in the country.

The history for this one goes back to 1891. And, save for no game in 1918, due to an influenza outbreak, the game has been played every year since--118 games in total. Even the overall record is a source of conflict in this oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi--KU boasts of a 55-54-9 record while MU claims the 55-54-9 history.

So, while this rivalry is disected every year in which the two teams play, here are some interesting, and obscure, factoids:

- Kansas coach John Outland only played Missouri once...and lost. This is the same John Outland whose name adorns the Outland Trophy, given to the best college lineman in the U.S. each year.

- Another famous Kansas coach went 0-1 against Mizzou. Phog Allen coached the football team for one season in 1920 and lost in his single contest against MU. He would fare much better against the Tigers on the basketball floor with an overall record of 65-33 in the series.

- In the early years of the rivalry, Kansas owned a 27-21-7 record. Then, during the golden age of Missouri football, the Tigers went 15-6-2 from 1951-1970. Kansas coach Jack Mitchell, who recruited stars like John Hadl, Curtis McClinton and Gale Sayers to KU, only went 1-6-2 against Mizzou.

- After his consistent success against Kansas, head coach Dan Devine of the Tigers lost in 1967 and 1968 to Pepper Rodgers, with the '68 victory giving KU a share of the Big Eight title instead of the Tigers. That may be why, in the following year, that Devine didn't call off the dogs with a 69-21 shellacking of the Jayhawks in Lawrence. The loss prompted Rodgers' quip, "I gave Dan the peace sign from across the field and he gave me half of it back."

- Famed anti-Mizzou personality Don Fambrough coached the Jayhawks twice. His first stint was 1971-1974, then he was re-hired to guide the team in 1979. Coach Fam went 3-1 during his first tenure; he went 1-3 the second time around.

- Is it any wonder that Don Faurot and Devine are so loved by the Missouri faithful? Faurot owned a 12-5-2 record against Kansas; Devine was 8-3-2 against KU.

- A.R. Kennedy coached for seven seasons (1904-1910) at Kansas and was the school's most consistent winner. He also owns the best overall record against MU at 4-1-2. In the modern era, Mike Gottfried went 3-0 against Mizzou, Glen Mason was 5-4, Terry Allen was 3-2 and Mark Mangino, 4-4.

So, what's this all mean for Saturday? Who knows. Kansas has fared well against MU when the Tigers have been ranked--KU is 8-7. And, in games played in Kansas City, KU is 13-8-3 although they are 1-2 at Arrowhead.

By my count, I've been to 19 of these contests, some of which have resulted in great memories and some which still stick with me in a far different way.

- In 1962, my parents took me to my first "away" game--KU versus MU in Columbia. We stayed at The Tiger Hotel in downtown Columbia, and spent the day prior to the game shopping for warm winter clothing given the incredibly frigid conditions on game day. Both teams played conservatively, Kansas coach Jack Mitchell used All-American Gale Sayers as a "decoy," and the teams played to a 3-3 tie. The following year, the game was played in Lawrence a mere week after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

- In 1968, Kansas won in Columbia 21-19, a victory which propelled the Jayhawks to the Orange Bowl. I can remember listening to this game on radio with my father and marveling at the performance of Dave Morgan, who had an interception and key fumble recovery.

- In 1969, I witnessed the 69-21 rout by Missouri. The game marked the ninth loss in a season which bore great promise given KU's Big Eight title the year prior.

- The 1973 game featured a late David Jaynes to Emmett Edwards touchdown pass to give the Jayhawks a 14-13 victory. That game, in Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, was the final win in a season of close contests for KU--one point losses at Tennessee and Nebraska and close or come-from-behind wins versus Kansas State, Iowa State, Colorado and MU. KU would go on to the Liberty Bowl, losing to North Carolina State, 31-18.

Perhaps the game from which I'm drawing confidence is the 1976 contest in Columbia. Kansas' season went south when stud QB Nolan Cromwell was lost for the season with a knee injury in game six against Oklahoma. KU, playing with a third-string quarterback, whipped 19th ranked Missouri 41-14.

What's my prediction for Saturday? You'll have to wait until my weekly college football outlook, which will be posted tomorrow. Selfishly, I'm hopeful for a 1976-like performance by the Jayhawks but know that the outcome could easily be a repeat of the 1969 rout. That game ended up as the worst loss ever by Kansas in this long and storied rivalry.

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