"Oops," I said to husband Ray as we entered the restaurant. "This may not be the best T-shirt to wear here."
The restaurant was TGI Friday's in Columbia, Mo. - the heart of Tiger country - and I was wearing a bright red "beak 'em Hawks" national basketball championship T-shirt. Worse, because it was raining, I'd slipped on my white jacket with a big Jayhawk on the back and KANSAS on the sleeve.
"Are you from Kansas?" guessed the young woman who greeted us at the door.
"I'm a Jayhawk fan, too," she whispered conspiratorially. "I grew up in Missouri and was taught to hate Jayhawks, but I made up my mind to like them."
"That's the same reason my mother became a Republican," I confided. "She was the youngest of 12 children and said her parents and older siblings were such die-hard Democrats that if God were running as a Republican and Satan as a Democrat, they'd mark their ballots for the latter."
Our waitress was very nice (she worked for tips, mind you) but she laughingly proclaimed, "We're going to have to turn you into a Tiger fan!"
And I, realizing that someone could spit in my soup and I'd never know it, told her that we had rooted for Missouri's football team in their bowl game. It was true, but I didn't mention that it was one of the hardest things I had ever done. She then admitted that the restaurant's manager was a Jayhawk fan and "we rag on him all the time about it!"
With any luck, I thought, the pro-Hawk manager was supervising the making of my soup. Except for one female customer who snarled "Mizzou!" when I walked by her table, the Columbia Friday's experience was a positive one.
I was far luckier than son Greg, daughter-in-law Val and grandkids Gabe, Sammi and Zoe, who live in Missouri. Greg and Val have three KU degrees between them and are proud (and brave) enough to wear their alma mater's colors and mascot. The grandkids also have plenty of hawk garb, but they are leery of wearing it to school.
Greg's desk and office walls show his university allegiance, and he isn't shy about wearing his hawk shirts and ties to work. Recently, when he wore his KU championship polo shirt, a Tiger supporter made a remark about crimson and blue being ugly colors. "I know," said Greg with a smile, "I tried to get a championship shirt in black and gold, but they don't make them in those colors."
But my favorite of Greg's encounters with Tiger fans occurred when he entered an elevator and said a pleasant hello to the older gentleman inside. The man looked at Greg's hawk shirt and gruffly responded, "I don't speak to Jayhawks."
"Oh?" inquired Greg, "how long has this been going on?"
"Since the Civil War!"
"Really? You must be older than you look."
When my mother, an Oklahoma A&M (now OSU) student, married Dad, a KU student, for a few years she maintained her loyalty to the Cowboys when they played at KU. She told me she was the sole individual wearing orange in the student section sitting beside Dad in his KUKUs sweater. (Yes, Virginia, once there really were KUKUs.) Even so, she said the KU fans never gave her any grief.
Perhaps it is the bad blood that existed during the Civil War between the slave state of Missouri and the free state of Kansas that causes the team rivalry to be so intense. Whatever the reason, next time we travel through Columbia, I'll be sure to wear a plain white shirt just in case the pro-Jayhawk manager isn't on duty when I order soup. One can't be too careful in Tiger country.
- Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence.