November 24, 2009

Tuesday Notebook: Rivalry renewed

Some are born into the rivalry. Some have to learn it as they go. But eventually, they all understand it.

"This is not real difficult to understand how big this game is and how important this game is," Gary Pinkel said. "A lot of schools don't have rivalries like this, and we're very fortunate to have one."

Pinkel said he learned how big the rivalry was on the day he was hired, when multiple fans told him simply, "Beat Kansas." His players learn just about as quickly.

"The game taught me," said Texas native Kevin Rutland. "Just seeing how the fans were, even walking on campus, they pull you to the side, 'I don't care how your season is going, but as long as you beat KU, you'll be fine.' I'm sitting there, I don't know what that means, we've lost other games. But it's so big around here. It's also become part of my life to where it's big to me also."

"Right away," said Jarrell Harrison, a Las Vegas native in his first year as a Tiger. "When I first got out here, I could tell the big game was Mizzou-Kansas. Everybody talks about it and you can tell right now that this is a big time thing around here."

"I remember when I first got here, I would go out in the community and all I would hear was 'Beat KU,'" Sean Weatherspoon said. "You can do anything else, as long as you beat KU."

Weatherspoon said Lorenzo Williams and Martin Rucker were instrumental in teaching him about the rivalry. Some Tigers didn't need to be taught. Those that grew up in Kansas City knew all about it.

"A lot of guys from out of state, they inherit this. They probably don't know too much about KU, but the know we don't like them," said Derrick Washington a product of Ray-Pec High School outside of Kansas City. "I tell them, this is big. This is real big. This is bigger than probably any game you're gonna play while you're here."

It is those Kansas City natives for whom this game is personal.

"I'm a Missouri guy, I never liked KU," Washington said. "It something I grew up with. I never really liked KU, never really paid attention to them."

"It means everything," said North Kansas City alum Jayson Palmgren. "It's like the whole season in one game."

If anyone gets this game, perhaps it's Palmgren. He was the only Tiger to use the H-word on Monday.

"I hated Kansas when I was little," he said. "When I was little, my parents dressed me up in KU gear and I hate them for it. I found a little picture that my grandma showed me and it's me in a KU outfit."

The Jayhawks did recruit Palmgren out of high school, when he was eighth-ranked player in the state of Missouri.

"Yeah, they did," he said. "But I didn't even really talk to them."

How big is this game? Even the coach can't resist getting in his subtle digs.

"Being in Arrowhead Stadium has been great the last two years," Pinkel said. "We like that it's in Kansas City, Missouri."

Game on.

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