LAWRENCE — Kansas quarterback Jordan Webb has opted for the ultimate rivalry game cliche, saying that it's about bragging rights for an entire year, when he stops mid-thought.
"It's a lot more than that, to be honest," Webb said. "You wanna win for the state and for your university."
And then you think about what he just said. Webb is a native of Union, Mo. He has lived 18 years in Missouri, compared to just two in Kansas. But on Saturday against the Tigers, he wants to win for the state.
"It is kind of weird," Webb said. "But I'm definitely happy to be on this side of the border now."
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As Webb gets older, it will become less weird. He's going through a process that many Jayhawks have gone through over the years — you could call it border naturalization. Players who arrive in Lawrence from Missouri begin to think like Kansans. They begin to talk like Kansans. They begin to act like Kansans. And then. . . .
"I consider myself a Kansan," said Phillip Strozier, a KU senior safety from Kansas City, Mo. "Just by going to school here and putting a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this program."
Strozier is not alone.
"I feel like a Kansan," said Sal Capra, another Kansas City, Mo., native who switched sides. "I haven't really spent more than a week at home since I've been in college. I've lived in Kansas for pretty much five years. I feel like this is a good place to live."
Not play football. Live. Capra sounds like a guy who will proudly pay his taxes here. At least right now, this phenomenon is happening more in the Kansas program than Missouri's. The Jayhawks have 11 players on their roster from the Show-Me State, while the Tigers have just three from the Sunflower State — senior linebacker Andrew Gachkar of Overland Park, junior cornerback Trey Hobson of Stanley, and freshman defensive lineman Lucas Vincent of Olathe.
It can only be assumed that they have gone through the same process of assimilation in Columbia, where hatred for the state of Kansas is cultivated with the same care as a fine wine down the road in Rocheport.
But there are more Missourians in this rivalry who are changing their allegiance. And none of them will thirst for victory more than Kansas junior tight end A.J. Steward, who hails from St. Louis.
"It's actually a real big deal for me when I go back," Steward said. "I can go to church and I can go out in public and know that I got a win versus Missouri. I just feel superior to those around in St. Louis, and I can wear my Jayhawk gear around and kind of throw it in their faces. It really does mean a lot to me."
Thing is, simply by virtue of geography the MU-KU rivalry in Kansas City is more intense.
Strozier grew up cheering for Missouri, and his entire family is made up of Mizzou fans. He'll hear about it plenty if the Jayhawks can't pull the major upset on Saturday. That would make Strozier 1-4 against the Tigers. It just so happens that he blocked the Missouri field-goal attempt that would have tied the game in the closing seconds during KU's 40-37 victory in 2008.
"That's a special moment," Strozier said, "but the fact that we lost the other times kind of stands out the most."