A rivalry that often was spirited and at times contentious will come to a rather subdued end this afternoon at Haymarket Park in Lincoln, Neb. That is where the universities of Missouri and Nebraska, both sporting sub-.500 Big 12 records, are to wrap up a three-day baseball series.
Today's game will mark the completion of an intra-conference sports matchup that began in 1892, when the inaugural Missouri football team lost to Nebraska 6-0 — the Tigers forfeited the game because the Cornhuskers had a black player on their roster. By 1893, the schools had resolved their differences, and Mizzou beat Nebraska 18-12 in Kansas City.
The Missouri-Nebraska rivalry in football is the third-oldest west of the Mississippi River.
"I'm very sorry that it's over, because it was a great rivalry," said John Kadlec, who has been at Missouri, as a football player, coach and more recently a broadcaster, for more than 40 years. "It wasn't what I would call bitter; just a great rivalry between two schools."
Teams representing the universities in various sports have faced each other close to a thousand times. Big Ten-bound Nebraska has the edge in nine of the 11 sports that they currently share in which head-to-head records are kept; Missouri leads only in men's basketball and baseball.
Mizzou and Nebraska shared affiliations in six conference incarnations, from the Western Interstate Football Association (1892-1897) to the Missouri Valley Conference (1907-1927) to the Big Six (1928-1948), the Big Seven (1949-1960), the Big Eight (1961-1995) and eventually the Big 12 (1996-present). Both schools were independents from 1898-1906.
The Missouri-Nebraska split results from a series of conference shakeups that have jumbled the collegiate sports scene. While Missouri will remain in what will be a 10-school Big 12, Nebraska joins the 12-school Big Ten. Colorado also is leaving the Big 12, for the Pacific 10, which then will have 12 members.
"It's disappointing it's the last" meeting with Nebraska, MU baseball coach Tim Jamieson said. "We've had such a good rivalry in baseball, as well as other sports. … My history goes back. My dad (Dick Jamieson) coached football (at Nebraska) in the '70s, so I've got a lot of memories from Nebraska and from the rivalry there.
"It's been very, very competitive."
Jamieson recalled a game in 2005 that featured a pitching matchup of Max Scherzer for 17th-ranked Mizzou vs. Joba Chamberlain for the No. 5 Huskers. Scherzer now is with the Detroit Tigers; Chamberlain pitches for the New York Yankees. Current Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon was in the Nebraska lineup, and Aaron Crow, also with the Royals, pitched for the Tigers in that series.
Scherzer and Chamberlain tossed complete games in a 2-1 MU win. "Max had told me he was pretty much done after the seventh inning. I convinced him to go back out for the eighth because the middle of their lineup was up that inning, including Alex Gordon," Jamieson said. Scherzer "zipped right through that, and then he would not let me take him out of the game.
"He was still throwing 97, 98 miles an hour in the ninth inning."
Norm vs. Nee
Missouri has a decisive edge (126-93) over Nebraska in men's basketball. But that series has had its moments.
Norm Stewart, an All-American basketball player at Mizzou and the Tigers' coach from 1967-99, remembers games at the Nebraska Coliseum, which opened in 1926. "It was like playing in a bowling alley," Stewart said. "It was about three times as long as it needed to be, and the floor was kind of down on one end."
Stewart and Huskers coach Joe Cipriano (1964-80) became close friends. "Joe was a character," Stewart said. "Back in those days, we had a lot of fun."
But Stewart and one of Cipriano's successors, Danny Nee (1986-2000), weren't exactly pals. According to Sports Illustrated, with the Tigers en route to a 17-point victory in 1989, Stewart "wheeled around at the Nebraska fans behind his bench … and yelled, 'When your bush-league coach gets his (expletive) act together, then we'll stop pounding on you!' "
In 1994, Nebraska nearly spoiled MU's unbeaten Big Eight season. The Tigers, 13-0 going into the final league game, survived 80-78 when sharp-shooting Eric Piatkowski's 3-point try rimmed out at the buzzer.
"That ball is in the basket — the top of the ball is below the cylinder," Stewart said. "And it came out."
Kansas always has been Missouri's No. 1 rival; that hasn't changed. But Nebraska over the years has been a staunch adversary. That's been especially true in football.
"I think it's always been a good rivalry," said Tom Osborne, the current Nebraska athletics director and longtime football coach (1973-97). "It seems like the games that Nebraska's had with Missouri, going clear back into the 1960s, were usually physical, hard-played games. … I've always had great respect for Missouri."
Well, maybe not always. Osborne and MU coach Warren Powers (1978-84) — a former Nebraska player who had served on Bob Devaney's staff there along with Osborne — took swipes at each other.
Powers once referred to Osborne as a "red-headed son of a bitch" and was particularly incensed when it was suggested that Missouri had delivered some cheap hits vs. the Huskers. Osborne reportedly put together film of what he considered to be questionable blows and shipped it to Powers.
"What do they think we do every Thursday before we play Nebraska? Have 15 minutes of twisting ankles and 15 minutes of wringing necks?" an incredulous Powers asked.
Nebraska has a 29-game edge in the series, built largely on a 24-game winning streak (1978-2002). Three MU coaches — Woody Widenhofer (1985-88), Bob Stull (1989-93) and Larry Smith (1994-2000) — came and went without beating Nebraska.
Still, Osborne said, "We had a lot of intense games even when we were winning. Some of those games weren't all that easy."
Some were, though: That streak included pastings of 69-21 (1990), 63-6 ('91), 57-0 ('95) and 51-7 ('96)
The year before Nebraska's domination began, Mizzou scored a riveting 35-31 victory over the second-ranked Huskers in Lincoln. Running back James Wilder — aka "The Sikeston Train" — scored four touchdowns, including a game-winning carry in which Wilder famously tossed aside linebacker Bruce Dunning near the goal line.
That loss cost the Huskers a shot at the national championship.
The year after Nebraska's lopsided win in 1996 produced perhaps the most memorable tussle in the series. And the most bitter for Tigers fans.
The Cornhuskers rolled into Faurot Field with an 8-0 record and the No. 1 ranking in the polls. Yet the Tigers went toe-to-toe with the Huskers for 60 minutes — and then some.
Mizzou grabbed a 38-31 lead on quarterback Corby Jones' 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eddie Brooks with 4½ minutes remaining. Nebraska's last chance came when it took over at its 33-yard line with 62 seconds and zero timeouts left.
With MU's first sellout crowd since 1984 howling, the Huskers began a now-or-never march. On fourth down from the MU 12-yard line and 14 seconds remaining, Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost sprinted to his right and aimed a pass for wingback Shevin Wiggins near the goal line.
Defensive back Julian Jones closed in from behind, and all three — Wiggins, Jones and the ball — arrived at the same time. The ball bounced away, but it caromed off the falling Wiggins' foot and bounded back into the air, a couple of yards into the end zone.
Diving Huskers wideout Matt Davison scooped the ball into his arms an inch or so from the turf. That TD — referred to since then as the "flea-kicker" — tied it, and Nebraska prevailed in overtime. The Huskers went on to share the national title with Michigan.
"It was clearly a special game, and I think that makes the memory of Nebraska vs. Missouri a lot more meaningful to me. Because they were the best," Corby Jones said. "I left everything I had out on the field that day. And if that wasn't enough for us to win, it wasn't enough for us to win."
Gary Pinkel was in his third season as Mizzou coach when the Tigers snapped Nebraska's string with a 41-24 victory in Columbia in 2003. Led by quarterback Brad Smith, Missouri charged out of a 10-point hole after three quarters, piled up 27 points in the final period and roared past the 10th-ranked Cornhuskers.
"That game right there, it kind of broke a barrier down," said Pinkel, who has a 4-6 record vs. Nebraska. "That was a big night … a huge night. We needed a win like that to kind of propel us into the future."
In 2008, the Tigers won in Lincoln for the first time since Wilder bowled over the Huskers 30 years earlier. Quarterback Chase Daniel was the catalyst in MU's 52-17 drubbing of Nebraska.
"We obviously had some great games with them, even the ones we lost, the tough ones," Pinkel said.
If Missouri and Nebraska are going to clash again, in any sport, it will have to be in a nonconference setting. No such meetings are scheduled, but Osborne and MU athletics director Mike Alden have discussed the possibility.
"Maybe we can play a basketball game or two, or baseball or some of our other sports," Osborne said.
Football schedules are completed years ahead, and the Big Ten, like the Big 12 starting next season, is considering going to a nine-game league slate.
"That leaves you with fewer opportunities to schedule out-of-conference games," Osborne noted. But neither he nor Alden ruled out a resumption of Missouri vs. Nebraska at some point.
"I guess it's all about change," Stewart said. "It takes years to get the rivalries developed, and that was a good one — football, basketball, all the sports. They'll be missed."