The Louisville-Kentucky rivalry is the talk of the Final Four, and I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade. There’s a lot of history there, and the schools happen to be located in the same state. Fair’s fair. All I ask is that you don’t ignore the long, rich rivalry between Ohio State and Kansas. It’s lesser-known, yes, but no less meaningful, and today we should take time to remember the strange interconnected past that forever links the Jayhawks and Buckeyes.
It all started in 1875 …
Aloysius Brutus, the son of a Kansas barley farmer, decided on his 17th birthday that the agricultural life was not for him. He asked his father (David Llewelyn Brutus, one of the state’s 10 richest men according to a contemporary wealth survey commissioned by the state) for permission to enter the famous Topeka Seminary. But the elder Brutus was a distrustful man who lacked a spiritual side, and he told his son that, “religion is but a poxy on the righteous fervor of labor. My sons shall be men of the callous, not the cloth.”
Distraught, Aloysius gathered his scant belongings — a biddle stick, 10 “territory dollars” stolen from his mother’s pistol drawer, and a primitive toy similar to a slap bracelet — and lit out in the middle of the night, heading east. When he reached the border a week later, he uttered the iconic words, “Kansas, cast thy eyes downward, for I humble thee by my leaving.” A local gadfly heard the words, and published them in his popular pamphlet, Hearde in Thy Sweet State.
Brutus’ ego, along with the business sense he’d learned from David Llewelyn, led him to abandon his dreams of priesthood and go into the wagon manufacturing business. He started in eastern Missouri, but was chased out of town at age 26 when it was found out the wagon axles he used were made from a cheap rubberized material bought at a discount from Mexico, leading to several fatal crashes around the area. But he was a resilient man, and he turned up in Ohio seven years later. This time, business boomed, and soon he was a wealthy pillar of the community.
In 1894, he established the State University of Ohio in Columbus. He had not forgotten his unpleasant Kansas beginnings, and insisted that it be written in the school charter that no student from Kansas ever be admitted. (The rule was not revoked until his death in 1941.) Kansas remembered him too, from the anger that swept the state when his quote was printed in Hearde in Thy Sweet State, and the legislature issued a law (redundant, but they were making a point) that no resident be allowed to attend Ohio State. Also, David Llewelyn Brutus was tried and imprisoned for the crime of “rearing seditious offspring.”
Thus, the animosity between the two schools was born. Even today, the image of Brutus Buckeye, the mascot named after Aloysius Brutus and designed in his likeness, is banned from Kansas-based television stations.
The Great Kansas Corn Fire spread across the state in August of 1926, destroying acres and acres of crops and ruining the economy, and it just so happened that the first Kansas-Ohio State football game was scheduled for that October. When the visiting Buckeyes won 82-4, it set off a spark that ignited the entire state in a red rage. The stagecoaches carrying the Ohio State football team were only able to outrun the pursuing Kansas militia due to the fact that in a great historical irony, the militia’s wagons had been sold to them by an unscrupulous Missouri dealer looking to unload some of Brutus’ old wagons with the faulty rubberized axles. The wagons collapsed less than a mile into the chase, and the Buckeyes were able to escape eastward.
But without economic opportunity, the young unattached men of Kansas began to form outlaw bands. One of these, the Vengeance Raiders, crossed the country on horseback to kidnap Brutus Buckeye, the Ohio State mascot, and restore the state’s honor. They found him drinking alone in early December, and brought him back in ropes to Kansas. They didn’t realize until they were safely in Topeka that the man wearing the mascot uniform was Ezekiel Amadeus Brutus, the youngest son of Aloysius. When his father heard the news, he used his great wealth to convince the state government to declare war on Kansas.
The state militias began to form in the early part of 1912 (by this time, the Kansas forces had replaced the useless wagons and hanged the vendor), and conflict was only avoided when President William Howard Taft intervened and brokered a deal by which Ezekiel Brutus would be married to Evangeline Collier, the daughter of the Kansas governor. This arrangement placated both sides until the marriage fell apart in 1926 due to what Hearde in Thy Sweet State called “assiduous infidelities.”
Enraged by the separation of his son from Evangeline Collier, Aloysius Brutus attended the first basketball game between the two schools, hoping for satisfaction. Instead, he watched as the talented Kansas Jayhawks, coached by the legendary Phog Allen, beat the Buckeyes by the lopsided score of 125-13. Indeed, written accounts of the game seem to indicate the Ohio State team (founded earlier that season) didn’t completely understand the rules of the sport, and the only points they scored were when a sixth and seventh man illegally entered the game in the late moments and Kansas found it prudent not to protest.
Allen grinned at the Buckeye faithful on his way out of the gymnasium, and Brutus would later describe his smile as having “all the pomposity of a sated jackrabbit” in his memoir, The First Real American. The game inspired riots in Columbus, and violence against the Jayhawk players was only avoided due to the fact that Brutus had refused to allow gasoline into the city because he was convinced (wrongly, it turned out) that the gasoline boom was a plot to enrich a few Texans, and that cooking oil would work just as well in any engine.
The Jayhawks escaped, but Brutus banned basketball from the campus, and later the entire state. Like the ban on Kansas students, this last until his death, in 1941.
Less than two months after Brutus was killed by his seventh and final heart attack, the first Kansas-born student at Ohio State University was escorted through the campus. The girl, named Margaret Bohanon, was considered a traitor in her home state (Hearde in Thy Sweet State even called for her extradition and arrest) and an abomination by Ohioans. Many had gathered to protest her admission, and she was hit by several rotten grapefruits (Ohio’s state food, at the time) on her way through the campus.
However, she persevered, and when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt praised her courage in one his fireside chats broadcast to millions of Americans, popular sentiment turned in her favor. A popular song with the chorus “Marge, Marge, Bo-hanon, we want you on our side!” even swept the country. (The melody was later preserved in a song honoring Joe DiMaggio, which is how it’s best remembered today.)
Unfortunately, the admission of Kansas students at Ohio State didn’t quell the hatred between the two schools. For the next 30 years, Ohio State won every football game and Kansas every basketball game. Things evened out beginning in the ’70s, but when Kansas star Danny Manning famously called Ohio State “the Academy for Buffoons” in a Columbus Dispatch story in 1987, it ignited the two-week hysteria known as “The Jayhawk Fortnight,” or the “Blue Terror,” when Kansas fans and residents were harassed across the state of Ohio and banned from most restaurants. The state of Kansas returned the favor, and soon the death toll reached triple digits.
Again, presidential intervention was necessary. Calling both sides “clowns,” Ronald Reagan forced Ohio State to join the Big Ten and Kansas to join the Big 12, and dictated that neither side would play the other in any sport “unless it became necessary by dint of the postseason.”
Which brings us to the present. With so much at stake, it’s impossible not to remember the contentious history between the two teams when Ohio State and Kansas meet on the hardwood this weekend. And the powers-that-be have not forgotten, either; before the game, Kansas coach Bill Self and Ohio State’s Thad Matta will speak to the respective fan bases in a joint press conference, urging them to avoid violence and respect the institution of the game.
When the contest ends, the rivalry will return to the shadow of Louisville-Kentucky. But memories are long, and the past is persistent. Today, on the eve of the Final Four, we recognize the bad blood, and pray for a peaceful result.