They are in different conferences now, not on one another’s schedules and not nationally relevant. But 10 years ago Friday, Missouri and Kansas played in one of the most important games of the college football season.
When the two teams met at Arrowhead Stadium on Nov. 24, 2007, the Jayhawks were No. 2 in the AP poll, and the Tigers were No. 3. The game determined so much: Which team would earn the No. 1 ranking in the BCS standings heading into conference championship week, which team would win the Big 12 North and face Oklahoma in the league title game, and which team would keep its national championship hopes alive.
The game even earned a nickname: Armageddon at Arrowhead. Former Star sports columnist Jason Whitlock wrote at the time that it was “the most hyped, anticipated and significant game ever played inside the home of the Chiefs.”
Even 10 years later, after he coached the Tigers in two Southeastern Conference title games and Cotton Bowls — the first of which came during that 2007 season — former Missouri coach Gary Pinkel believes “it was as big a gameday environment as I’d ever been in in my life.”
That was the common sentiment among the players and coaches The Star interviewed recently, as they all relived one of the most significant games in the history of either program.
Some quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Pinkel: I’ve coached in three Rose Bowls, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowls, Citrus Bowls and everything else. I’ve been to a lot of games, and I don’t know of a bigger gameday environment than this game, whether it was a bowl game, whether it was a rival game, whatever it was. It was kind of surreal in a lot of ways. Michigan and Ohio State play rival games. People play theirs. But this was as big as any that ever was.
Kansas safety Darrell Stuckey: I just remember watching No. 1 (LSU) lose Friday. I think the craziest thing is, we were undefeated, and we weren’t even being talked about in the national championship at that time. At that point, we had just blocked out any kind of views or perspectives from the outside. We knew we had something great. We didn’t need anybody else to tell us that.
Kansas coach Mark Mangino: That particular game was the kind of buildup that you see for the Red River Rivalry on the Texas State Fairgrounds. Everybody’s into it. Everybody around the stadium on the fairgrounds wearing their school colors. When we pulled up at Arrowhead, the place was a sea of black and gold or crimson and blue. I don’t think there’s anybody in the parking lot that didn’t have one of those colors on.
Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel: Driving into the stadium, I think we came in from the east side and we saw on the left side of the bus it was black and gold and the right side was red and blue. The black and gold side was cheering for us, they were rocking our buses. The blue side was flipping us the bird. And you could just smell barbecue in the air and all the cooking. You could smell everything. I had never been through something like that in my life. The magnitude of the game really sunk in then.
Pinkel: As you’re driving, the fans are just pounding the side of the bus. I try to prepare my players for everything, but I didn’t know that was going to happen. It was surreal.
Mizzou tight end Martin Rucker: Some people were so drunk they didn’t know what team it was. Some fans are flipping you off. Some of them are clapping. Some of them are Mizzou fans that are flipping you off. They don’t know if it’s Mizzou or KU.
Mangino: When we came out of the locker room, we realized the place was packed. There wasn’t a seat to be had in all of Arrowhead Stadium.
Stuckey: I believe it was the third-largest crowd in Arrowhead history, and we weren’t the Chiefs. It was freezing cold in the stands, but I didn’t actually know how cold it was on the field. I remember people telling me and seeing the temperature gauge, but it felt so warm on the field. I don’t know what it was. We swore the field had heat coming from it.
Rucker: I remember being particularly excited we had heated benches.
Pinkel: Even when we weren’t very good, the rivalry by itself stood out different than most any place I’ve ever been with a rivalry. Then all of a sudden, your records are so awesome. You’re nationally ranked in the top five. And all of a sudden now both teams are going to play, it’s going to be a big, big game. ESPN’s “College GameDay” was there. “GameDay” always adds so much to anything.
Missouri wide receiver Tommy Saunders: This is KU. We have to beat them as bad as we possibly can. We don’t ever think they’re good. We didn’t respect them as you respect other teams, just because of the rivalry.
Kansas defensive back Aqib Talib: That Missouri game was almost as big as the Orange Bowl — them being our rivals. The first time we played at Arrowhead Stadium with the neutral, half gold and black, half red and blue. It was a crazy atmosphere. I remember the fans rocking our bus before the game. We kind of were late getting into the stadium, getting into the locker room because there was so much traffic. If you look at the NFL players off both of those teams, it was like 18 to 20 guys who went to the NFL off both teams.
Behind Daniel, a Heisman Trophy finalist, Missouri had one of the best offenses in the country. The Tigers were loaded with talented skill position players, and Kansas received steady quarterback play that season from Todd Reesing, who had only thrown interceptions in two of KU’s 11 games leading up to this one.
But both teams started the game with two straight three-and-outs.
Daniel: The first two or three drives it took a little bit to get used to the game, get used to the atmosphere.
Mangino: What a lot of people overlook: Missouri and us had great defensive units that year. Everybody talks about the offenses of the teams. The defensive units were really good. That was a complete team for us, and I thought Missouri was a complete ballclub.
Stuckey: Missouri had a pattern. They liked their certain plays, and if it worked, they were going to run the same thing and set up a different formation. They’d change personnel and get basically to the same formation, but out of different personnel. But whatever formation they ended in, that was the tell.
Missouri finally began to move the ball on its third drive of the game, when Daniel completed a pass to Danario Alexander to get the ball to Kansas’ 22. The Tigers lined up for a field goal, with Saunders as the holder — except receiver Willie Franklin stood near the Missouri sideline. Kansas noticed him just before Saunders completed a pass to him, and Missouri’s best chance to score up to that point in the game — with less than seven minutes left in the first quarter — ended as a turnover on downs.
Pinkel: It’s something that we wanted to do, and we were going to do it if we were in position to attempt a field goal that would have been difficult but possible to make. I wanted to let my team know we’re going to win this game. We’re not going to sit back and just play conservative. We’re going for it, whether it worked or not, it still sent a message to our football team that we’re not sitting around and hopefully everything works out for us.
Rucker: It would have worked if it had happened about a half-second sooner. They recognized it at the last second. We were throwing everything at them that we had. We weren’t going to leave any bullets left in the chamber. We were aggressive all season long, and that game wasn’t going to be any different.
Saunders: As we were lining up, he was open. I think in football games, you can’t always do what makes sense mathematically. You’ve got to do what you’re feeling and show you’re going to try stuff to turn the game around. For us, that was just part of who we were. It doesn’t matter if we had 10 incompletions in a row. We’re going to go out there and throw the ball.
Stuckey: He was out wide. It was me and Chris Harris, and Chris ran out on him. It was a prediction of my NFL career. Special teams was my awareness. Me and Chris always looked out anyway. We were roommates. We always talked all the time. We were sitting there watching them walk off the field, and we saw him never step off the field. We looked in, and looked out, and he was the 11th one. Chris ran out over him, and he didn’t get a chance.
We always were aware of everything. We knew that it was on us to check outside of us. It was on me to check the other side too to make sure. I was an over-communicator, and Chris was always aware of his surroundings because he was always a technique guy. Whatever he was told to do and what his job was, he was going to do it to the max.
Mizzou began its next drive with 4:28 remaining in the first quarter and moved downfield methodically. The Tigers recorded four first downs on the drive, the last of which came when Daniel completed a pass to Saunders inside the red zone. Kansas’ Mike Rivera forced Saunders to fumble, and Rucker recovered the fumble for Missouri at the Tigers’ 4.
Stuckey: We tried to force some turnovers, force some balls out, and we didn’t capitalize on them.
Saunders: I thought I was down. They called it a fumble, and we got the ball back. In games like that, those are the plays you remember. For me — and probably for everybody — it was a relief that we got everything turned on and were ready to be moving forward. In those games, in the rivalry games, those are the things that happen. You drive the ball, you get momentum, you fumble, and then everything changes.
Three plays later, a Tony Temple run put Missouri’s offense at the Kansas 1. On fourth and goal, Missouri executed a screen pass for Rucker.
Rucker: In a game like that, you want to be in the books, and you want to be in the books for something good. To score the first touchdown against a rival at Arrowhead was really, really cool. I fake outside, come back directly toward the quarterback, and Chase threw it kind of low. I remember that I bobbled it a little bit but made sure I secured it against my body. If I had dropped it, I covered it up so much that the refs wouldn’t have been able to see.
I remember thinking before we snapped the ball, This is it. We’re going to score the first touchdown, and it’s going to be you. Catch the ball and score.
Kansas seemed ready to respond when, on the second play of the following drive, Reesing and wide receiver Kerry Meier connected for a 39-yard gain to open the second quarter and get the ball to Missouri’s 26. A play later, Reesing tried to throw a touchdown to Dexton Fields, but Missouri’s William Moore intercepted the ball. It was Moore’s seventh interception of the season and the first Reesing had thrown in his last 213 pass attempts.
Pinkel: Some guys, in those kind of environments, they’re so into it because the environment is so awesome that it kind of compels them. You’re playing the best football you’ve ever played. That applied to William Moore. You intercept in the end zone, you get the ball back and go and score — that’s like a two-touchdown flip. Those are mammoth.
Mangino: We had some unforced errors and some mistakes that were not characteristic of our football team.
Following the interception, the Tigers’ next drive started at their own 2 but they drove downfield and scored on an 11-yard pass from Daniel to Alexander. Mizzou went up 14-0 with just more than five minutes remaining in the first half.
Missouri defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams: Chase was back there running around for what seemed like 10 minutes to find Danario on a crossing route.
Daniel: They were playing really soft outside. A lot of hitch throws, short runs, a lot of screens, play-action stuff. I just remember everything clicking in the first half. We were gonna take what they give us.
That interception was the beginning of Kansas’ first-half struggles. The Jayhawks’ next two drives ended with kicker Scott Webb missing 33- and 45-yard field goals. The first miss hit the right upright. The second one was wide left. Missouri would take a 14-0 lead into halftime.
Rucker: Once they missed a couple of field goals, the breaks were going our way. We were going to win this football game. Losers always find a way to lose. Winners always find a way to win. That night, KU found a way to lose.
Stuckey: It was a lot more windy early in the game. I can’t remember what happened with the hold or the kick, but that was at a point where we were (previously) golden on our field goals. It never comes down to one player. We put ourselves in that position to where one play mattered. Because there’s a lot of other plays that built up to that one play that made that play matter so much.
Kansas’ struggles continued for one more drive, the Jayhawks’ first of the third quarter. They went 36 yards on five plays before Reesing threw his second interception. This one, his sixth of the season, happened because he threw the football behind receiver Marcus Henry, who could only get one hand on the ball and tipped it into the air. Mizzou’s Castine Bridges returned it 49 yards to the Kansas 40.
Missouri scored seven plays later and led 21-0.
Stuckey: In those cold games, the hardest thing is to get the offense going. On defense, you’ve got to run and tackle somebody. On offense, you’ve got to catch the ball. And if you can’t get the running game going and get your offense going consistently into a rhythm, it’s hard to take those risks to throw the ball.
That game was a little windy too. The wind calmed down as the game went on. But toward the end of the game, it got to the point where your competitive edge kicked in, and you didn’t care if your hands were cold, you were trying to find a way to catch it. (Offensive coordinator) Ed Warinner was a smart guy. He was going to figure out how to give Todd a chance.
Kansas would score touchdowns on each of its next four possessions. Reesing settled in and threw for 210 of his 349 yards in the second half. He was responsible for three of Kansas’ four second-half touchdowns, including a 5-yard run. During Kansas’ final two scoring drives of the half, he completed 10 of his 17 pass attempts.
Mangino: Our offense got in a comfort zone. We noticed some things that Missouri was doing defensively that we thought we might be able to take advantage of. If we’d have come out and played that way in the first quarter, we would have been in better shape.
The Tigers scored on their first four possessions after halftime, too. They had two touchdowns, followed by two field goals.
Mizzou was up 31-21 when it got the ball back with 8:28 left. The Tigers needed to bleed the clock, and Daniel helped them do that.
Daniel: There was really no panic for us at all. I think it was just more so let’s do what we do on offense. For us offensively we thought we were playing really well the entire night. Whatever we did, they couldn’t stop us.
On third and 14, at the Missouri 42, Daniel found Alexander on a crossing route for a first down. The sophomore receiver finished with a season-high 117 receiving yards. Two plays later, on second and 12, Daniel found Maclin for 14 yards and another first down. The drive ended with a 43-yard field goal — and perhaps more importantly, Mizzou took nearly 5 minutes off the clock. The Tigers were ahead 34-21 with 3:31 to go.
Daniel finished the game with 361 yards and three touchdowns. He attempted a season-high 49 passes, and he completed a season-high 81.6 percent. He didn’t throw an interception. He only threw for more yards in one other game that season, on Nov. 3, 2007, at Colorado.
Talib, to reporters after the game: I’m sure we just sent him to New York (for the Heisman Trophy ceremony). He made good decisions all night and didn’t try to force anything. He’s got my vote.
Pinkel: For great players, great games bring the best out of them. It doesn’t mean you’re going to win the game necessarily, but it means you’re probably going to play awesome, and understanding the team you’re playing is going to make plays. You’re going to have to make plays and come back and forth. Chase loved the environment. I don’t think he ever got too nervous before games. He came to Missouri to help us be in that position.
Rucker: Nothing special for Chase. That’s just what he did. That’s why we were so good. He was the guy guiding the ship. That’s what you have to have out of your signal caller. And Danario, honestly, he’s probably the best athlete I’ve ever been around.
By the time Kansas finished an 11-play, 63-yard drive that got the Jayhawks within 6 points, there was only 1:23 remaining. Kansas had to attempt an onside kick.
Saunders: He kicked it straight to me, and I caught it. Every onside kick that I ever practiced was for that one onside kick right there. If you blow it and you drop it and they get the ball back and score, that’s it. You don’t get any second chances.
Missouri would have a three-and-out after that and punt to Kansas, but the Jayhawks got the ball at their own 11 with just 17 seconds left. On the first play, the Tigers pass rush closed in on Reesing, and Williams sacked him for a safety, making the final score 36-28 Mizzou.
The play produced one of the game’s most memorable images. The Kansas quarterback stood up with a chunk of Arrowhead’s grass wedged between his helmet and facemask.
Pinkel: The safety was such a remarkable play. I know so many Mizzou alumni that have the picture of Reesing with the mud in his face after that play.
Maclin: That’s a legendary image right there.
Daniel: That will always stick with me for as long as I live.
Stuckey: It was the first time we really looked up and realized we were No. 2. Seeing (No. 1) LSU lose right before us. We probably got caught looking up. For a moment, we realized that we enjoyed it for just a moment, and in that moment, it didn’t come together. Certain times you show up and you just expect it to fall together, fall into place.
Missouri kicker Jeff Wolfert: Party at Arrowhead.
The 2007 season remains arguably the best ever in either program’s history. It was the first time Missouri had reached the No. 1 ranking since 1960, and the Tigers haven’t done so since. They would lose 38-17 to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game before beating Arkansas 38-7 in the Cotton Bowl.
Kansas’ No. 2 ranking remains the program’s highest ever, and the Jayhawks would go on to win the Orange Bowl and secure 12 victories, also a program high.
Mangino: When I walked into the locker room, obviously you’ve got a bunch of disappointed kids. They played their hearts out. They went 11 weeks in a row, long games, when just about every pundit in America every week predicted we’d lose. I didn’t want that Missouri game to leave a sour taste in their mouth.
When I talked to them after the game, I said, “If you really want to be the team that you’ve been all year, we’re going to get ready for a bowl game. And I don’t care where we go, we’re going to win that bowl game. We’re not going to let this great season end on a sour note. It’s been too good of a season for the University of Kansas — the best they’ve ever had. We’re going to spend that month focused on the opponent, and you guys are going to walk out of the stadium victorious.”
Talib: We didn’t win the game, but fortunately, it worked out for the better for us. We didn’t have to play Oklahoma. We still got to go to the Orange Bowl.
Pinkel: I got 5,000 texts and phone calls. We’re going to be No. 1 in the nation in 24 hours, and then we’ve got a big game coming, so enjoy it for 24 hours and let’s get back to work.
Rucker: We knew we were going to be No. 1. But we were just as excited we had beat KU.
Maclin: The game is right behind my first NFL game in terms of what it meant to me. To be able to play at Arrowhead with both teams doing as well as they were doing, that place was rocking.
Mangino: Some people have rivalries just because they’re in the same state or 60 years ago they played for a conference championship, and now they hate each other. But the uniqueness of the Border War is that it’s etched in history; it’s based on history. And it’s kind of cool, you know? As they say, all good things have got to come to an end. There’s no more Border War. Missouri moved on to another conference, and Kansas moved on. But while it lasted, that was a tremendous rivalry.