Missouri vs. Kansas: I’ll miss it

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“It’s who you are.”

Those words have been running through my head this week. They are Shana’s words, said after Missouri’s loss to Kansas State and my surly mood for a day.

Truer words have never been spoken. For more than 20 years now, I’ve been a Tiger living around the enemy. Days without trash talk from Kansas fans don’t exist. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

THE BACKGROUND

In the mid-1980s, I was on a road trip with my dad. We drove through Columbia, Mo., past Memorial Stadium and Faurot Field. I asked, “Dad, who plays there?” “Missouri, son, but they’re not any good anymore.”

I didn’t care how good or bad they were. I was 9-year-old blown away by the stadium. From that moment on, I’ve bled black and gold.

Basketball was the sport back then, thanks to Norm Stewart. I remember listening to Big Eight wars against “jackass” (Norm’s words, not mine) Billy Tubbs and the Sooners, and, of course, Danny Manning and the Jayhawks.

My loyalty remained intact in 1989 when we moved to Burlingame, Kan., located between Lawrence, Kan., and Manhattan, Kan. Not exactly comfortable territory for a Missouri guy.

I wore a Missouri shirt during the first week of school and heard plenty about it. I didn’t back down. I’ve never understood the belief that somebody should change teams based on geography. Being a good fan means you stick with your team.

GROWING UP

The next several years simply intensified the rivalry. My eighth-grade year, 1989-90, was a good one. The football team beat the Jayhawks (then again, who didn’t?), and the Tigers knocked off No. 1 Kansas teams in basketball twice, including an epic game in Lawrence I’ll never forget listening to on the radio.

High school, however, was a struggle. The Jayhawks won six straight. I distinctly remember tearing up the day after Kansas knocked off Anthony Peeler’s last team in overtime. Jayhawks fans were and are merciless. I wouldn’t have that any other way, either.

The reprieve was my senior year, which included two Missouri wins, an undefeated conference season, an Elite Eight run and a call from Stewart, who I’d phoned to interview for an English project.

For those of you who think Norm was a jerk, think about that. He called a high school senior, in Kansas no less, immediately after Missouri’s season ended, to help him with an English paper.

If I'm covering a game or working, objectivity is the name of the game. At home? Not so much

OBJECTIVELY SPEAKING

Even when I worked at Kansas newspapers, folks new I was Missouri fan. At least those I worked with. Hell, at my first few jobs, even the readers knew it. The more I think about that, the more absurd it seems – writing columns about Missouri in the likes of Independence and Emporia.

I’d like to think that changed when I had a column at the Topeka Capital-Journal. My goal then was to be as objective as possible. The emails I got about being a Kansas fan were great news to me as a journalist (not so much to me as a fan).

I’m sure some bias slipped. A co-worker pointed out in 2007, “You picked Missouri to win the North this year? There’s a shocker.” Missouri proceeded to win the North and was one game from playing for a national title.

The co-worker was a rabid Kansas fan. There’s a shocker.

MEMORIES

Lee Coward’s ice-cold jumpers to stun Kansas at the buzzer, Peeler’s 43-point explosion in a loss at Allen Fieldhouse in 1992, Booker’s one-man gang performance at AFH in 1994, the 1997 Columbia Classic, Aaron Miles’ oblong 3-pointer that somehow found the bottom of the net in 2003, David Padgett’s sloppy heave in 2004, Thomas Gardner’s 40-point game in 2006 (Quin Snyder’s last win as a college coach), Zaire Taylor’s buzzer-beater in 2009 and Marcus Denmon’s legendary finish this year.

Oh, the memories. So many of them on both sides.

Unfortunately, the memories are all we have. These teams probably won’t play for a long time, if they do again. Missouri is leaving for the SEC, and Kansas is taking its ball and going home.

Hopefully at some point Bill Self will man up and play Missouri. It's his call. He does run the athletics department.

THE BREAKUP

I get why you’re mad, Kansas. You feel like Missouri deserted the conference. Why would you help out somebody who bailed on you? Why do anything that’s good for the Tigers (how about because it’s also good for Kansas?)?

That line of thinking is ridiculous. Would Kansas have left the Big 12 if it had the chance? Would it have bolted if the ACC came calling? Or the SEC? Absolutely. To say otherwise is denial.

Another myth is that Kansas fans don’t care about Missouri. “We beat you all the time anyway. We don’t need you. We’re Kansas.” Baloney. Every Kansas fan I know lives to beat Missouri. It makes your day. You get to belittle folks like me at work, in the grocery store or from your register at Burger King.

You’re going to miss talking trash on your archrival. You’ll miss those annual beatdowns in Allen Fieldhouse. You’ll miss asking where we are in the Big 12 standings (basketball anyway. You don’t win in anything else).

I’m not going to lie. I won’t miss hearing about losing to Kansas. But I will miss the games. I’ll miss the feeling I had on Feb. 4, when Denmon ripped your heart out minutes after Conner Teahen had the audacity to taunt a guy who’s five times the player he is.

SO LONG

I can’t say it’s always been fun. I’ve been so mad I wouldn’t talk to my family. I’ve broken remotes. I’ve yelled and cussed. Hell, I even cried when I was a kid.

But it’s been wildly entertaining. We’ll keep the light on for you if your administration decides to put on its big boy pants. Until then, in the words of Augustus McCrae (6:30 mark in above video) in “Lonesome Dove”: I god, it’s been quite a party, ain’t it?

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