Kansas vs. Missouri is no longer a matter of life and death, although to the fans of these two schools, it definitely feels like it. The documentary "Border War" details the historic roots of the Kansas-Missouri rivalry, beginning with the guerilla combat of pre-Civil War America, and enduring today on the playing fields of athletic competition.
It is widely believed that the seeds for the American Civil War were planted along the Kansas-Missouri border. The bad blood began as a struggle for self determination, and the protection of state’s rights regarding the issue of slavery. The violence that ensued has fueled this feud since the early 1850’s.
In over a century of fierce athletic competition the Kansas Jayhawks and Missouri Tigers have staged one of the most heated and historically significant rivalries in all of sports. Standing as the second oldest Division I series in America, KU vs. MU is the only American college rivalry derived from actual warfare.
"Border War" explores the passion behind this rivalry, its beginnings, and how events that occurred 150 years ago continue to affect Kansans and Missourians today.
I already know certain people will accuse me of being biased or having an agenda when they watch this documentary. I guess that’s just the way the Border War works. I would never try to hide it…I’m a proud Jayhawk, so that automatically means half of the audience will probably be skeptical before the show even begins.
I’ll admit it, and the people who know me best will agree that I am extremely biased when it comes to this rivalry. However, I think my background benefits me in this case. If you haven’t lived it, if you’ve never been passionate about one side or the other, I doubt you’d be able tell this story like it needs to be told. That being said, I think it’s possible to fairly present both sides of the argument, even if you support only one.
I grew up loving Kansas and hating Missouri, but until I got to KU in the fall of 1996, I never really knew why. I figured proximity was probably the best explanation for the animosity. I was only half right. When you get to Lawrence, just as I assume is the case when you arrive in Columbia, it doesn’t take long to be indoctrinated into the bitter feud that existed prior to either university.
To me, all other rivalries pale in comparison. I’m not just talking about KU’s Sunflower State Showdown with Kansas State, or MU’s Braggin’ Rights game with Illinois. I’m talking about all other rivalries…anywhere. Maybe there’s a soccer rivalry somewhere in Europe with roots grounded in similar conflict or warfare, but in America, nothing compares to the historical significance of the Border War.
Because of this, I continue to be disappointed in the political correctness of KU and MU in referring to it as a “Showdown.” If any series deserves to be called a “war”, it’s this one. A rivalry with so much meaning to so many people needs a name that represents its level of historical importance. To quote former KU coach and legendary Missouri hater Don Fambrough, “Border Showdown sounds like we’re going to a tea party…not a football game.”
No matter what you call it, the Border War is not the most famous rivalry in America. If you include professional sports, it might not even crack the top ten. Sure, it’s easy for Michigan and Ohio State to hate each other when they’ve played for a conference championship almost every season since the dawn of time. Same goes for North Carolina and Duke in basketball. It’s different here. Kansas and Missouri hold a unique disdain for each other, even when there is no game being played.
It crosses into almost every aspect of life here in Kansas City. It’s amazing, but it’s true. Even people who don’t claim an affiliation with KU or MU seem to maintain some predisposition. Kansans complain about Missouri roads, Missouri schools, and Missouri politicians. Missourians would just assume the terrible drivers and elitist snobs from Johnson County stay on their side of the state line. Of course, all the Kansans migrate to Missouri for entertainment because there’s nothing in Kansas…right? And so it goes. Do you believe some Kansans and Missourians still manage to marry each other? Gross. There should be a law against it.
I figured that many people just don’t understand why they have this subconscious bias. Even the most passionate fan might not really know where all of this bad blood began. Maybe it was something a grandparent said that’s stayed with them into adulthood. Perhaps their mother or father made snide comments while driving through the “other” state on a family vacation. I guess I thought those people might want to know where it all started, so I initiated the process of compressing 150 years of complicated history into approximately 100 minutes of television.
This documentary isn’t necessarily about sports. Then again, neither is this rivalry. Sure, I thought it was important to talk about some of the more memorable moments and personalities within the athletic realm of the Border War. More importantly, I wanted to explain how “a game” can invoke feelings and reactions that are usually reserved for life’s more important endeavors. To those who love their home, their heritage, and their history, it’s never been “just a game” and it never will be.
As a freshman at KU in 1996, I would have never guessed that I would someday get the chance, or even desire the chance to meet people like MU legend Norm Stewart, or every Jayhawk fan’s enemy, Jason Sutherland. It’s always been my belief that the worst Missourians are the ones I don’t know. It’s crazy, but now that I’ve made this documentary, I’ve had to come to realization that I actually like some of these people. (I don’t like them as much as Don Fambrough, but I don’t know if I like anyone as much as I like Don Fambrough).
This project has also opened my eyes to the viewpoints held by those east of the state line. I still don’t agree, but at least I understand, and hopefully I am able to convey. Maybe it isn’t exactly the same history I learned at KU, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valid. Sometimes history is more about what you believe to have happened, and how it affects you, than it is about what actually did happen.
I doubt this documentary will change anybody’s mind, and I definitely don’t want it to. I know for a fact it won’t cause Kansans and Missourians to play nice. It fact, the stories that are told might even inspire a little extra animosity. If that happens, and even if I get a few nasty emails, I guess I’ll then be able to consider this project a complete success.
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