A tradition unlike any other, which is to say not a tradition at all, was unveiled Friday at Faurot Field.
Never mind that battle lines actually still are being drawn for the so-called Battle Line Rivalry game between Missouri and Arkansas.
And that what passed for controversy between them happened before the game when each team’s captains may or may not have snubbed the others’.
As it turned out, the first regular-season football meeting between the schools since 1963, and the first as designated Southeastern Conference rivals, had the stuff to serve as kindling to the future.
It also had monumental meaning:
In a microcosm of its season, MU churned back from a 14-3 deficit and overcame a batch of gaffes to win 21-14 and seize a second straight SEC East title in just its third season in the league.
The Tigers will take on either Alabama or Mississippi State in the SEC Championship game on Dec. 6 in Atlanta.
The naysayers will remain, of course.
But if they call it a fluke or a quirk of scheduling, well, two in a row also suggests a pattern.
For that matter, the “slap in the face” of dismissal of last season as a one-hit wonder, defensive end Shane Ray said, has a lot to do with the repeat.
“We understand respect is intangible,” he said. “But you can’t deny the SEC East championship. You can’t deny that. You can’t take that from us …
“At the end of the day, we’re playing for a championship. You can’t take that from us.”
Like it or not if you’re the longtime SEC establishment, which couldn’t quite have had this in mind when MU joined the league.
“Hey, that’s on them,” Missouri defensive end Markus Golden said, smiling. “We knew we could come in and do it, so if they feel some type of way about that, that’s their problem.”
The moment was delivered via the first game of a “rivalry” that you can only say is contrived at this stage.
Even so, it has natural roots to grow and delivered a fine foundation on Friday before a sellout crowd of 71,168.
“Eighty years from now, you’ll be talking about the Missouri-Arkansas rivalry and (that the first) was such a phenomenal game,” MU senior offensive tackle Mitch Morse said … though he’d later scale that back some when he added, “It’ll be great 10, 15, 20 years down the road … to see how this game kind of matures.”
At least on one level, it had an immature start with the artificial drama of whatever went on with the pre-game handshakes.
Any issue was unbeknownst to about all until after Arkansas coach Bret Bielema casually mentioned in his postgame news conference that MU’s captain hadn’t shaken the hands of his after the coin toss.
He also made that point to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who said he was glad Bielema told him since that isn’t something he’d want his team to do.
To hear MU players tell it, though, it wasn’t exactly that way.
They all shook before the coin toss, Golden said, and then Arkansas “took off walking” after that.
So, basically, they greeted each other but didn’t quite kiss goodbye?
“I hate to play the ‘you did it first’ game, but I think one of their players left first,” Morse said. “And then it was just like, ‘Alright, let’s leave.’ (But) I shook a hand, I feel like I might have been the only person to shake another guy’s hand (after the toss).”
Sometimes, he added, those things just don’t work out completely.
As it happened, there was no need to amplify such silliness to prime the pump for a game that held such inherent meaning, anyway.
“In the end, it doesn’t really matter,” said Morse, who called it “a great competition.”
In fact, real drama was there all game, particularly after Arkansas took an early 14-3 lead on the Tigers.
The Razorbacks, who earlier in the season had lost in overtime at Texas A&M and just 14-13 to Alabama, had been peaking.
They’d won three of their last four and were coming off back-to-back shutouts of LSU and Ole Miss, meaning they’d given up a total of 17 points in their last three games combined.
But bleak as it looked after a first half in which Missouri mustered just 121 yards, back came MU with drives of 98 and 80 yards to outscore Arkansas 15-0 in the fourth quarter.
Along the way, it became “a big brawl” out there, Ray said, and the tone-setter for “a huge knucklefest every year.”
And he wasn’t even including his after-the-whistle hit on Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen.
“I don’t play dirty at all. I’m not about any of that. I beat my guy with a clean move (and) … I didn’t hear the whistle, and I hit him,” he said.
So now MU will be in the crosshairs of a salty SEC West champion, and maybe the league itself, as it tries to take another step from the cuddly underdog that surfaced last season to winning a championship that no one could minimize.
“Everybody picks us to lose. And as a team, we don’t understand how you can just count us out like that,” Ray said, smiling and adding, “We love that. Keep picking us to lose.”
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com