For the seventh time in their football histories, Missouri and West Virginia will meet on the same field Saturday morning, the latest in a series that first kicked off nearly a century ago. Here’s a look back at the first six meetings…
We turn to the pages of The Savitar, Mizzou’s university yearbook, to chronicle the first Tigers-Mountaineers meeting, Oct. 30, 1926. Calvin Coolidge was in the White House; Chuck Berry, Marilyn Monroe and Hugh Hefner were newborns and Gwinn Herny was in the midst of three Missouri Valley Conference championships in four years at Mizzou.
The Tigers headed to Morgantown, W.Va., and blanked the Mountaineers.
“The Tiger attack reached its greatest momentum when West Virginia was downed 27-0 at Morgantown, October 30,” The Savitar wrote. “Missouri went East in grand array, and when darkness settled over the wet field the famed mountaineers, frequent claimants of the Championship of the East, had been beaten for the first time during the season; and on their home field for the first time since 1919. It was the first contest since 1921 in which the West Virginians had failed to score. ... A thousand cheering students and a display of fireworks welcomed the victorious team on its midnight return. The heavy score of the contest remarkable on account of the reputation of the West Virginians and the rain that fell during the game, attracted national attention. Pride ever go with before destruction. The next week the Tigers met Oklahoma.”
The next year, West Virginia traveled to Columbia and once again failed to score, losing to Henry’s Tigers 13-0.
The Tigers had fallen on hard times when the series resurfaced more than 60 years later. In 1993, Bob Stull’s final season coaching the Tigers, Mizzou headed to Morgantown a week after one of the worst losses in team history, the 73-0 bloodletting at Texas A&M. Things didn’t go much better for the Tigers at WVU. Don Nehlen’s Mountaineers were loaded that year and finished the regular season undefeated before losing to Florida in the Sugar Bowl. They pounded Mizzou 35-3.
Down 21-0 in the fourth quarter, the Tigers got stuffed on the goal line and even worse fumbled … and watched a WVU safety return the ball 97 yards for a touchdown. It was one of those days in one of those years for the Tigers. MU turned the ball over six times, including four Jeff Handy interceptions. It was MU’s 12th consecutive road loss. "It seems like once things go wrong, it just snowballs," cornerback Jason Oliver told the Post-Dispatch that day.
A year later, Mizzou was under new leadership, but the result was no better for first-year coach Larry Smith. The Mountaineers came to Columbia just 1-4 … but left with a 34-10 victory.
“While the Tigers trudged off the field,” Vahe Gregorian wrote for the P-D, “where they were frequently booed or cheered sarcastically by the exasperated crowd of 40,251, West Virginia players strutted off unmussed and giddy. ‘I had a blast!’ West Virginia quarterback Chad Johnston said.
“Johnston, suddenly eagle-eyed, had completed 17 of 45 passes entering the game but completed 17 of 25 passes against Mizzou's jumbled defense. ‘Obviously, I don't think Missouri is as tough as some of the guys we've been playing,’ he said.
“Neither, evidently, did West Virginia coach Don Nehlen, who tried to be tactful but couldn't quite contain himself.
“‘Larry is too good a friend of mine for me to comment on his team,’ said Nehlen, who like Smith attended Bowling Green. ‘Certainly, we blocked some people,’ he added, ‘but how good were the guys we were blocking?’”
Four years later, Smith had the Tigers playing their best football in nearly two decades and they met West Virginia again in the 1998 Insight.com Bowl. It was a storybook ending to the careers of quarterback Corby Jones and tailback Devin West, who were victorious over a loaded WVU team that featured Marc Bulger at quarterback and Amos Zereoue at running back. The 34-31 win was Mizzou’s first in a bowl game in 17 years. In a season that began with the death of Jones’ father, Curtis, the team’s defensive line coach, Jones capped his outstanding career with a thrilling victory.
"They're probably the most mentally tough football team I've ever been around," Smith said after the win. "We've had a lot of adversity . . . but you know what? Nobody complained. They just kept playing."
The lasting image of that game was Mizzou freshman sensation Justin Smith tackling Bulger INTO Zereoue.
Barry Odom was a player in that bowl victory over the Mountaineers … and 18 years later, WVU was the opponent again when Odom made his debut as Mizzou’s head coach in Morgantown on Sept. 3, 2016. The Tigers’ new offense under Josh Heupel was sluggish early, committed some costly turnovers and didn’t visit the end zone until the final minutes in a 26-11 loss.
“You’re never, ever, ever going to get me down,” Odom said after his head-coaching debut. “That’s the mindset our football team has. There’s a winner and loser in everything we do in life. We ended up on the short end today. By no idea or means is that what we’re going to accept.”