The Illini are a familiar foe for Quin Snyder's team. These clubs have met every year for the past two decades in St. Louis. Our Orange and Blue Native American neighbors are easily Mizzou's biggest non-conference rival. After all it is the "Land of Stinkin!"
Iowa is rapidly making up ground on Illinois. The Hawkeyes (whatever that is) and Tigers began a home-and-home series several years ago and it has not disappointed anyone. There is no place like home for these teams as each holds serve in their house. Iowa won a hard fought double overtime battle last year in Iowa City. Missouri returned the favor this year in Kansas City by overcoming a double-digit deficit in the final two minutes to down the Hawks. Afterwards, Iowa coach Steve Alford blamed his teams 11-point collapse on the officiating and not on himself.
Several factors lead to good rivalries. The first is a long history of intercollegiate athletics between two geographic neighbors. Missouri and Iowa border each other, but they do not have a long and storied past. It also helps to have a major metropolitan area between the two schools. Kansas City is a central spot between Columbia, Lawrence and Manhattan. St. Louis is perfect for the annual Busch Bragging Rights Tiger-Illini match up. Kirksville and Ottumwa just do not have the same excitement as either of these venues.
Rivals need to hate the other team's players and coach. Missouri's true rivals used to chant, "Sit Down Norm," "Jason Sutherland is a goon" and "The Haley Twins Suck!" (Wait a minute; I was the one who yelled that last one.)
Of course, it worked both ways as Mizzou fans made fun of "Big Country Time Lemonade", Eddie "The Thug" Najera, Jacque "Off" Vaughn and Kevin "Wolf Boy" Prichard. I cannot think of one mean thing to say about Chuck Long, Acie Earl or B.J. Armstrong. I bet most Mizzou fans even like B.J. (He was great in Chicago).
These important factors can be overlooked as long as the games are strong. Rivalries can be formed based on good, hard fought battles with controversial endings. Missouri and Iowa games always go down to the wire. It is as sure as sunshine. One can learn to hate. Isn't that a blessing? I grew to hate "Pasty" Jess Settles. Over time my distaste for Luke "The Home" Recker bloomed. I now strongly hate Steve "Munster", er, Alford.
By the way, memo to Luke Recker, we know you've perfected the art, but continuous hand checking will be penalized in Columbia. We just thought you'd like to know.
In the end, rivalries are based on hate. I dislike Saint Louis University, but I hate Kansas. I dislike SMSU, but I hate Arkansas. I dislike Oklahoma State, but I hate Iowa. Hate is not a family value, but it is the fuel that feeds the fire of intercollegiate showcase games.
One more thing, hell will freeze over before I root for any team with a "Hawk" as a mascot.