Laura and I were sitting in Fuzzy’s Taco Shop late the night after Missouri defeated Kansas in Arrowhead Stadium this past fall. Mercifully, the longest football season of our lives was over. Volleyball’s season ended that night as well with a victory on senior night but no NCAA invitation awaited the team as hoped.
Tired and more than a bit cranky from the long day, we ate our shrimp tacos and drank a cold beer while Laura typed away on her phone. Up popped a tweet from Laura.
“To anyone who is listening, I hate Missouri.”
Mighty strong words from Laura, but I knew why. Her next tweet confirmed my intuition.
“That’s from the Sooner in me, but it plays well in Kansas too!”
Her anger had nothing to do with the football game other than to drive home the fact that Laura’s hatred of Missouri actually stems from a real “war” Laura fought in on January 17, 1987. KU and MU fans can talk all they want about the bitterness between the two schools, but none of them have really been in a war the way Laura was on that afternoon in Columbia.
If you click on the article to the right, you can read the Sports Illustrated account of the fight at the end of the Oklahoma women’s game against Missouri. The article ran in the same February issue covering Phil Sims leading the New York Giants to victory in the Super Bowl over the Denver Broncos. That guaranteed good readership. However, Sports Illustrated’s account is far from the full story. Here are all the details courtesy of one of combatants.
Take a look at the photograph of the fight used in the magazine. You can see two players fighting on the floor. Above them, a Sooner player ripped another Missouri player away from the players on the floor. That Oklahoma player doing the ripping is Laura.
A freshman, Laura did not play in the game. Trace the reason to the monstrous knee brace you can see on her left leg. She tore her ACL shortly before coming to Oklahoma. With surgery far from today’s advanced techniques, ACL repair was not always the wise decision. Laura strengthened the surrounding muscles and dragged the heavy brace throughout her career. No matter, that did not stop Laura from getting in on the action.
“As we all knew Missouri was a dirty, very physical team that used lots of cheap shots,” Laura recalled. “It was a very close game and nearing the end. We needed to foul. We were down and one of my teammates, Margaret McKeon, made a pretty physical foul on Missouri player, Lisa Ellis, but it wasn’t a dirty foul. Ellis threw the ball into Margaret’s face, a baseball throw right into her face. That inflamed things quite a bit.”
During the post-game handshakes, emotional Oklahoma coach, Maura McHugh, confronted Ellis. Pointing her finger in the player’s face, McHugh sternly shouted, “You would be a very good player if you weren’t so cheap and dirty.” Ellis swiped McHugh’s hand away knocking the coach back into her players.
“We all surged forward to defend our coach,” Laura said. “The melee ensued when McHugh got knocked to the floor.”
As the fight escalated, Laura remembered squaring off ready to swing at a Missouri player, but instead brushed past her to aid her teammate on the floor. Laura likes to say that she was only trying to pull the additional player off her teammate, but the photograph shows the Tiger player being jerked back hard enough to expose bra straps.
The other highlight of the photograph is seeing the hands and arms of the Missouri mascot, Truman, coming in from the right of the image going right for Laura. As much as I wish I could report that Laura kicked the Tiger in the groin, Laura admits things were so wild on the court she can not remember who she might have hit, including Truman.
“I do know that if Truman grabbed me I wouldn’t have been happy,” Laura admitted before quickly moving on to an even better fight story.
Her teammate McKeon came from Queens and another player, Toni Campbell, was from Philadelphia. Laura recalled them both being very feisty players.
“Let me just say they were fine with fighting,” Laura said. “The girl who had thrown the ball into Margaret’s face, they got her down on the ground. One of them was kicking her breaking some ribs, and the other player was pounding her face breaking her nose. The only way they got Margaret and Toni off the girl was for fans to come out of the stands to pull them off the Missouri girl.”
With a men’s game against Oklahoma State to follow the women’s game, the crowd in the arena had grown steadily throughout the second half. Laura recalled Missouri fans pelting the Oklahoma bench with popcorn and eventually coins throughout the game. One of the sidelights to the fight Laura remembers is the sight of one of her teammates not joining in the fight but instead gathering up the coins under the bench chairs. Guess there was no reason not to make a profit from the game.
Police finally gained control and escorted the teams off the court. In the locker room, security guards stationed outside the doors had a walkie-talkie blaring.
“It was a mess in the locker room. I could hear over the walkie-talkie there was a report that some fans were getting bats to hurt us as we left the arena,” Laura remembered. Led by security, the players were safely escorted to their bus through a throng of booing and screaming fans. “From then on, there was extra security at every basketball game we played on the road.”
Coach McHugh and two players from both teams received two game suspensions, but Laura admitted with some pride, “I guess you could say we lost the battle – the game – but we won the war.”
As we approach the final regular season basketball meeting between Kansas and Missouri, the vitriolic fandom that will accompany the hyped game will have Allen Fieldhouse as rancorous as it gets. It will be a real battle, but likely will not escalate into a war.
Unfortunately, Laura will miss all the fun and will instead find herself in Columbia with the KU swimming and diving team at the Big 12 Championships, not far from where her personal war against Missouri began.
Kansas State stuck a dagger in Missouri’s title hopes Tuesday night. Come Saturday, KU hopes to pull that knife and split MU’s title hopes from stem to stern and leave the Tigers gasping their last Big 12 breaths. If KU wins, Laura is sure to be smiling since a state of war still exists and always will.