When I told my St. Louis dentist, Jay Joern, an ardent Mizzou fan, Id be moving to Kansas City, his first reaction was to insist I live on the Missouri side. After all, he noted, legendary MU coach Norm Stewart prided himself on never spending any money in Kansas.
By VAHE GREGORIAN
The Kansas City Star
Or so he thought. When I told him that Stewart, in fact, had acknowledged he just liked to say that for theatrics, Dr. Joern slumped back in his seat as if Id told him there was no Santa Claus.
He was just one of many to weigh in on the unique matters of the Missouri-Kansas border, which even in my few weeks here since arriving to work for The Star Ive come to learn has seeped far deeper into the landscape than anyone can understand from afar.
Id studied it, interviewed people about it and been here enough over 25 years that I thought I had a sense of that pulse. Yet its evident Ive got a lot more to learn about the depths of that not to mention plenty of other things about the area. (Why 7 Highway, for instance, instead of Highway 7?).
Still, this much I can tell already: Something fundamental is missing from the Kansas City sports scene right now, and not just because the Chiefs havent won a playoff game since 1994 and the Royals havent since beating the Cardinals in the 1985 World Series.
A year ago this month, Mizzous departure to the Southeastern Conference became official, and the MU-KU rivalry as we knew it came to an end. Just like that, a tradition 150 years in the making vanished.
Like each other or not, Mizzou and Kansas have to start playing each other again. Soon. Its bigger than the institutions themselves, or the current leaderships and decisions theyve made. Its about the very underpinnings of the area, essential to the tapestry and part of the DNA in sports and beyond.
Two entities that feed off each other by definition need the other, even if they dont see it in the moment.
Its just sad, said Royals pitcher Aaron Crow, who grew up in Topeka, played at Mizzou and has jousted with Jayhawks fans ever since.
The state of affairs is symbolically bookended in the Framewoods Gallery windows on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence.
Prominently displayed among other works are artists renderings of Blood-Stained Dawn William Quantrill and his raiders savage attack of Lawrence on Aug. 21, 1863 and The Final Battle, a scene from Kansas 87-86 overtime basketball victory over Mizzou on Feb. 25, 2012.
Each image tells its own vivid tale, but considered together they represent another: the span of the bygone era, from the roots of the Mizzou-Kansas rivalry to its apparent last signature.
We miss Missouri Without question For the immediate future, for both programs, there is something missing for the immediate future, Kansas coach Bill Self said Thursday in his office. But from our standpoint, theyre not part of our long-term future. And were not part of their long-term future.
Self says this without a hint of rancor, by the way, just a matter-of-fact statement that Mizzous move from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference was a rejection of its past, one that jeopardized the stability of those left behind.
In some ways, in fact, Self is downright nostalgic about Mizzou.
I will admit that theres not a game that Ive enjoyed coaching more in on our schedule than going to Columbia, he said, reminding that hed long been tethered to MU since playing and coaching at Oklahoma State against Missouri in the Big Eight. Hey, I wanted the Missouri job; they didnt hire me. Then I go (from Tulsa) to Illinois, which is Missouris biggest non-conference rival, and we have great fun in that series. Then I come here, where its the most bitter rival.
It was always a game that was circled in my mind. I dont have that same feeling now. The dynamics have changed.
Not that everyone entwined with KU feels that way. Former star Bud Stallworth, for instance, was visiting Kansas on Thursday. Asked if he thought the games should be resumed, he said, Absolutely.
Told his answer, Self laughed and said, Because he dropped 50 on Missouri in a 1972 game.
Its all very kind of complicated, and there are a lot of different layers to it, former Kansas basketball star Ryan Robertson said.
Robertson, who is married to a former Mizzou soccer player, encapsulates some of that himself. He says as a fan hed love to see Kansas and Missouri continue to play basketball games but that as a former Jayhawk he understands the schools resistance and believes MU needs the game more than Kansas does.
No matter who or what you want to blame for the rivalry abruptly going dormant, all the fan teasing and taunting and hatred and humor that had a tangible epicenter simply rings hollow now.
When the dust settles here and people get to what the new long-term normal should be, its my hope that we could rekindle this in a late December or early January annual game at the Sprint Center, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said by telephone Thursday, adding that such a game would be a natural along the lines of the iconic game MU plays against Illinois in St. Louis every year.
Without that? Its all just the sound of one hand clapping, and toward what end, exactly? If they dont play, theres no focal point and not even satisfying trash-talk. Reveling in the others failures in other galaxies is nothing like relishing direct victory.
Maybe time will heal, or at least soften, KUs stance of declining to engage MUs repeated offers to extend the series in a new context.
I understand, absolutely, that were the institution that made the decision to go to the SEC; I got it, we understand that, MU athletics director Mike Alden said Wednesday, adding that Mizzou chancellor Brady Deaton and Alden had tried without being invasive to continue to make overtures to KU administrators. But we also understand that this rivalry and these relationships have been built for over a century. And so, while at some moment in our history we made the decision to go to the SEC I just think that those types of decisions of a moment in time, you would hope that they wouldnt affect generations.
But at this moment in time, anyway, Kansas isnt receptive.
My opinion is still the exact same it was a year ago, and its not a hatred opinion, Self said. Its just like, Hey, you took your ball and went and played with somebody else. Were not just standing on the sidelines waiting to play with you. Weve got other people we can play.
As for down the road?
Maybe the next coach may see it differently, or maybe the next chancellor, or maybe the next athletic director, Self said, because time does have a way of soothing some things.
But even as time might ease tensions, it also might foster apathy.
Nobodys going to view it as a great rivalry five years from now; nobodys going to view it as a rivalry 10 years from now, Self said. There will be somebody else who will emerge in some way, shape or form that kind of fills that role for both programs.
And it may not ever get to the level that the Kansas-Missouri deal got to. It probably wont. I dont see how it can. But its still going to be somebody else.
And its going to leave a void if it comes to that. Even if both sides can feel justified in their actions, its a net loss for Kansas City.