The Border Showdown: the Kansas Jayhawks vs. the Missouri Tigers

In all of the Midwest region of the United States, there may not have been a more intense rivalry than the one between the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the University of Missouri Tigers.

The rivalry between the schools that stand two-and-a-half hours apart on Interstate 70 in Lawrence, Kan., and Colombia, Mo., began in an unconventional way, far away from the football fields and basketball courts that made it famous.

“It (The Border Showdown) actually has historically significant roots that go all the way back to the Civil War, when militias from the two states fought each other and raided towns in both states,” Will Heckman-Mark, a senior at the University of Missouri, said.

Although never meeting on the battlefield, the militias, which were aptly named the Jayhawkers and the Tigers, were fighting over whether or not to let a state decide if it would become a slave or free state, a concept known as “popular sovereignty.”

The animosity began in 1854 when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was signed and created the Kansas and Nebraska territories and the concept of popular sovereignty. This angered the people of Missouri, who believed that the decision of whether or not a state would allow slavery was better left to the Missouri Compromise, which was signed into law in 1820, and repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

The animosity between the state of Missouri and the Kansas Territory led to bloodshed during the time known as “Bleeding Kansas,” right before the Civil War, when the pro-slavery Missourians journeyed into Kansas and killed around 40 people and injured many others.

When the Civil War began, the Jayhawkers struck back, ransacking six towns in Missouri, including Osceola, and plundering and razing large parts of western Missouri.

The animosity between the two states never ceased and 30 years after the Civil War began, on Halloween in 1891, the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri met for the first time on the gridiron in what would come to be known as the Border Showdown.

For 16 years, the Tigers and Jayhawks only expressed their contempt for each other when they would meet on the football field. But, in 1907, the schools’ men’s basketball teams met for the first time on the hardwood, where it has shined.

There have been many times when the hate that these two schools have for each other has boiled over.

There’s the Brawl at Brewer Fieldhouse, Missouri head basketball coach Norm Stewart having his players stay in hotels in the Missouri side of Kansas City and refusing to let them spend money on the Kansas side, Kansas head football coach Dom Fambrough saying “I’ll die first!” when talking about a physician from Missouri, and so many more.

In terms of the actual play between the two schools, Missouri has a slight edge in football (57-54-9) and Kansas has absolutely dominated in men’s basketball (172-95).

Kansas center Jeff Withey jumps for the ball against Missouri forward Ricardo Ratliffe at the beginning of the game between the #8 Jayhawks and #4 Tigers at Missouri's Mizzou Arena in Colombia, Mo., on Feb. 4, 2012. Missouri beat Kansas 74-71. Photo courtesy of Taylor Bennett on Flickr.

Kansas center Jeff Withey jumps for the ball against Missouri forward Ricardo Ratliffe at the beginning of the game between the #8 Jayhawks and #4 Tigers at Missouri’s Mizzou Arena in Colombia, Mo., on Feb. 4, 2012. Missouri beat Kansas 74-71. Photo courtesy of Taylor Bennett on Flickr.

In 2011, the series met its end when Missouri announced it was leaving the Big 12 Conference, the conference that, along with its predecessors, Kansas and Missouri had always both occupied, for the Southeastern Conference starting in the fall of 2012.

That doesn’t mean that the hate for either school has ceased.

“I don’t like Missouri and I never will root for them but rather, cheer against them even when they’re in the SEC now,” Brad Robson, a senior at the University of Kansas said. “We (the Kansas student body) felt like they were doing a disservice to not only the Big 12, but to both states. It was a selfish move that they made because of the money.”

The hate hasn’t relented in Colombia either.

“I don’t really follow KU sports too closely except for their basketball team, who I continue to actively root against,” Heckman-Mark said. “I still hate (Kansas head men’s basketball coach) Bill Self and absolutely love when that team loses. I know a lot of my friends and classmates feel the same way here, and I’m sure the people over in Lawrence don’t like us very much still either.”

The hate from both sides is still palpable, but a return to play between the two universities does not seem to be on the horizon anytime soon.

“I believe that the series may resume someday,” Robson said. “But the game won’t mean anything since we’re in different conferences.”

Fans should hope that one day soon the two schools can come to an agreement and this once intense rivalry that dates back to the Civil War will never be forgotten.

Tell me what you think about the rivalry and if you think it should come back in the comments below!

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3 comments on “The Border Showdown: the Kansas Jayhawks vs. the Missouri Tigers

  1. Marian J. McPherson says:

    Hello Jeff,
    My name is Marian McPherson, and I work for the Columbia Missourian in Columbia, Mo. We have a section called “From Readers,” where we publish work from readers, bloggers, etc… I came across this post in the Mizzou reddit, and we are interested in republishing it for our audience to read. Please email me at if you’re interested in letting us share your work. Thanks!

    • D. Brown says:

      I think when you refer to ROGUE militias from Civil War history, you intended to write “jayhawkers and bushwhackers” instead of “jayhawkers and Tigers.” The Tigers actually were a militia based in Columbia, MO, but their sole purpose was to protect both the citizens of Columbia as well as the students at the University of Missouri from savage attacks of said rogue militias (i.e., jayhawkers and bushwhackers). The “fighting Tigers” militia unit never, NEVER killed innocent civilians. The jayhawkers killed innocents on a daily basis and did nothing but to continually inflame hostilities on the border. If the Union Army had taken a proactive role in shutting down the jayhawkers early in the Civil War, they would have saved thousands of lives. Please note there is a HUGE difference between Mizzou and ku when it came to choosing mascots in the early 1890’s. Mizzou named their mascot for men of honor who were protecting their community. The same cannot be said of ku and their mascot.

  2. […] not only the oldest west of the Missouri, it is the second-oldest west of the Mississippi (to the Border Showdown) and has been contested since 1899 when Wyoming took a trip down to Fort Collins and lost to the […]

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