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Friday, November 24, 2006

Mayer: KU-MU worthy rivalry

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The annual Kansas-Missouri collision is billed as the oldest college football rivalry west of the Mississippi River, but in late 1905 and early 1906, it was in danger of never achieving such status.

KU's 1905 athletic masterminds looked at the 11-3-1 dominance by the Jayhawks since the series began in 1891. They declared that since Missouri had not proved itself a worthy-enough opponent, they might replace MU. There also remained great local resentment that each year survivors of the vicious Quantrill Raid on Lawrence, and their relatives, held well publicized, and attended, reunion picnics - to celebrate openly and proudly the Free State carnage by the Slave State marauders. Like homecoming tailgating?

Surprise, surprise. KU was looking to make more money from football, even 101 years ago, and figured it could do better with "Big Nine" opponents such as Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The 1906 KU-MU clash in Kansas City on Thanksgiving Day saw heavily favored KU settle for a humbling 0-0 deadlock. Talk about discontinuation began to fade.

Thus the rivalry endured. By 2003, there was a 51-51-9 deadlock, then Kansas ran off three victories for its current 54-51-9 edge. The Free Staters venture into Slave State territory Saturday with a great chance to wind up 7-5 and earn a respectable bowl trip. A 6-6 finish might not produce a postseason plum.

KU coach Mark Mangino considers MU his No. 1 rival, but there have been periodic lapses in zealotry and venom since 1891. KU and MU loyalists once held major Kansas City gatherings the night before the game. Sometimes radio stations would broadcast the boasting (before anyone dreamed of television). Some drunken bum, from either camp, would grab a microphone and begin babbling, his compadres would roar approval, then everyone would try to sober up for the game, in Kansas City, Lawrence or Columbia.

People often took things darn personally and got heated up. Physical confrontations by non-players were not unusual. There were charter trains to Columbia via Kansas City by Jayhawkers, or visa versa, and marches down the main drag to the stadium.

I never was more miserable at a game than in that minus-15-wind-chill disaster of 1950 at MU, where ill-equipped KU lost seven fumbles and fell, 20-6. My favorite contest was the come-from-behind KU win here in 1947, 20-14, that sent KU to its first bowl game. Then there was that delicious 23-7 walloping of the unbeaten Tigers at Columbia in 1960. It gave KU a clear-cut Big Eight title until MU wangled two forfeits via the Bert Coan free-trip caper.

Yep, the series has had its ebbs and flows since 1891 but it almost always produces something to justify its billing as one of the nation's greatest and longest rivalries.

¢ Spare us, please, any more "poor me" yarns about J.R. Giddens and his allegations about shabby treatment at KU that forced him to shift to the New Mexico basketball program, where he's now prospering. KU coach Bill Self left J.R. more dignity than he deserved, and Gidmo overlooks the fact that KU busted a gut to provide him great medical treatment leading to a full recovery and a better future, if he doesn't screw it up. Enough, already!

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