Column: With shame and glory, a final Border Showdown slowly fades away

Junior guard Michael Dixon lays the ball against the glass for a basket in the first half of the last installment of the Border Showdown.

The best part of being inside Allen Fieldhouse on that Saturday evening for that superlative-worthy, spellbound game between rivals as old as the Civil War was knowing that the history pages were better for it.

The worst part was knowing the book closed.

The night before what presumed to be the final meeting and Big 12 Conference showdown between No. 3 Missouri and No. 5 Kansas, a man, maybe in his mid-20s, sat inside a tollbooth collecting a buck twenty-five from all driving on I-70 into Lawrence, Kan.

Asked if he was going to the game tomorrow: “Nah man, I’m stuck here. Should be crazy, though.”

Just ahead, at a Presto gas station beside Third Street, a worker stood behind the counter, a thin man, spectacled and bearded, also likely 20-something, who was asked the same.

“Nah,” he said. “I’ve gotta work.”

And it’s sad, really, because they, like anyone not quick enough to snag a ticket or able to afford the few remaining on Stubhub (a courtside spot for $2,400!) missed something truly great.

And it’s sad, really, because they likely won’t have another chance.

“It’s a shame it’s going to end, but it’s definitely going to end,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said after the game, the adored king having walked off the court waving to a crammed and jumpy bunch of fans that roared his name after his team's 87-86 overtime win.

Why, oh why?

“Missouri’s got to market their future,” Self said, referring to the Tigers’ switch to the Southeastern Conference. “We’re in the past.”

It’s great, really, because the youngest and newest generation of the rivalry experienced how grand the finale was. Spectators had set up camp as early as the previous Sunday, when they huddled inside a designated area of the “The Phog.” Groups ranging in numbers from 15 to 30 claimed their spots in line.

During the week, at least one representative of each group had to be present to raise his or her hand in case someone with a clipboard shouted the name of his or her group, or else risk being booted down the waiting line.

By Saturday morning, clear and sunny and cool and perfect, 273 groups were said to be scattered about. Multiple lines filed into multiple entrances like ants into their hill.

A red car that looked like a Jeep whizzed down Naismith Drive. A woman, appearing only as a gold spot from a distance, emerged out of the passenger side window.

"And it’s great, really, because the game went into overtime, so that the rivalry could last just a little longer. But it’s sad, really, because it could not last forever."

“WHOOOO! MIZZOU! YEAH!” she shouted across the empty field toward the statue of Forrest Clare “Phog” Allen and his front entrance.

The blue and red lines that wielded signs — and propaganda, like the centerspread artwork inside the morning’s student paper depicting a triumphant Jayhawk standing over a dead tiger and the words “MISSOURI (SEC)EDES” — released snorts of disapproval.

They were glad she was driving away. Why, oh why was she driving away?

If you were on James Naismith Court just a couple hours before the doors were opened to chaos, you would have felt something calming. It would have just been you and the astonishing quiet, just you and the bright lights shining on five national championship banners hanging from the north.

No suite-style box seating was in sight, no electronic advertisement was floating around. Just old bleachers and old hardwood. Just basketball.

And it’s great, really, to know that such a simple place has survived through the years. But it’s sad, really, to know that it would no longer host its classic intruder.

And it’s great, really, to know that Paige Padgett, a 9-year-old with very long hair and very impressive vocal chords, sang the national anthem and led the singing of the alma matter. But it’s sad, really, to know that when that voice matures, it won’t be heard before such a game ever again.

At tipoff, the sound decibel readings ranged from 119.3 and 120.2. It might as well have been a concert featuring buzz saws as instrumentals.

Early on, the Tigers were cool, calm and collected, perhaps more than they’ve ever looked all season. They went on a 12-1 scoring run in the last four minutes of the half.

Sophomore point guard Phil Pressey nailed a three in the left corner, which made Self call for time and Missouri coach Frank Haith fist-pump.

Soon thereafter, senior guard Marcus Denmon nailed his own trey. He twirled around and nodded. Senior big man Steve Moore bounced on the balls of his big feet heading into the locker room, yelling, “Let’s go!”

"At tipoff, the sound decibel readings ranged from 119.3 and 120.2. It might as well have been a concert featuring buzz saws as instrumentals."

Kansas swung and swung, and Missouri’s legs were suddenly giving out. The Jayhawks had chopped away at a 19-point lead. With 1:49 remaining, Travis Releford made a pair of free throws to make the game teeter-totter at one for the first time since the opening minutes.

Three tiny cheerleaders backflipped. Behind them, an old Jayhawk fan was parked in his electric wheelchair. His hand trembled lifting a bottle of blue Powerade, a Jayhawk fan.

And it’s great, really, because he got to see the rivalry end with such a dandy. But it’s sad, really.

And then Missouri had the lead by three with 30 seconds to go. The mighty Thomas Robinson converted an and-one. At the south corner pocket of the fieldhouse, the setting sun outside let in streamers of light, which bounced around the flailing, excited arms of fans up there.

On the next play, game tied, Pressey free-lanced to the basket, only to hoist the ball up into the swat of Robinson, who tumbled into him, only to create a ferocious, viral plea from Missouri fans for a foul. The sound decibel was at 127, a bit higher than the barrier for when pain begins.

And it’s great, really, because the game went into overtime, so that the rivalry could last just a little longer. But it’s sad, really, because it could not last forever.

A group of Kansas students chose against The Hawk, the popular bar downtown where the front door bouncer appeared overwhelmed controlling the masses trying to get in. Instead, they sat around their dorm room with cans of Budweiser and they were happy, as they all should be.

They were there.

They can tell of when the Border Showdown went extinct, how the noise made their ears ring and their sternums vibrate, how the magic made their hearts leap up a bit.

The bunch shouted over one another.

“Whatever Bill Self says around here goes!”

“I wish it would continue. But it’s their fault they’re leaving.”

“I wish today happens every year. You’re never gonna have a game like that ever again.”

It was great, really, because they were so young and so thrilled to have been a part of it all. But it was sad, really, because the night was so old. It too was not everlasting. It too would soon fade away.

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