Politics in the form of TV money has apparently done away with one of America’s great gridiron rivalries, but for the 121 years and 120 games that it lasted, the Kansas-Missouri “showdown” was perhaps the fiercest one of them all.
The formal competition began in 1891 in Kansas City (Missouri, that is), but in reality the rivalry dated back to the bloody pre-Civil War raids within the Kansas Territory, when guerrilla bands from both states crossed over the border and burned villages in one conflagration after another. The bitter dispute carried onto the football field when the two schools adopted their nicknames from the military forces from that era, and though both of those nicknames – “Jayhawkers” and “Tigers” – ostensibly represented the Union side of the larger battle, the memories of those earlier days still stung.
Within the football rivalry, it hasn’t come to burning towns and killing of civilians, but that’s not to say that the passions don’t run equally high. When for political reasons the name of the game was changed from “Border War” to “Border Showdown”, the former Jayhawk coach Don Fambrough reacted succinctly: “It’s a goddamn war. And they started it!”
In the 2007 “showdown” between the two nationally-ranked teams, a Mizzou alum created a T-shirt that depicted the 1863 burning of Lawrence, with the back of the shirt bearing the words, “Our cause is just, our enemies many.”
And while no burning stadiums or slaughtered football teams are depicted on this striking 1931 program cover, that Jayhawk and that Tiger don’t exactly look like they’re campaigning for the Nobel Peace Prize. How the suits and the beancounters ever let this game go by the wayside is something that perhaps only a politician can explain.
Click here to buy a poster of this program cover.