Monday Musings - The Waxing Poetic/Fired Up Edition

Well...the winter break for the Monday Musings is coming to an end.  While there was only football and basketball (of both varieties) played this past week, the schedule blossoms next week into a full-on docket of Mizzou sports.  So, I suppose I am going to take this chance to speak a little longer about a couple of sports as I have the time to dedicate to it.  In the end though, any time I say I am going to keep it short, I go long and any time I decide to go long, it ends up being short, so who the hell knows how this will finish.

Football:

First off, it is rather strange to talk about a football game which happened just about a week ago already.  However, maybe this will be a blessing in disguise, as it should provide some additional perspective which Tuesday did not hold.

I did not have many parameters for the college I wanted to attend when I started looking back in high school.  They needed to have a good journalism program (as it was to be my intended major) and I wanted a big-time college atmosphere because I so enjoyed sports.  Mizzou had both (obviously) with the J-school...and basketball.  Football was different in 1995.  Few my age could tell you of the history of the 60's and 70's, all we knew was we were not good, but it was fun to go to games at Faurot six times a year.  Hell, for all of my well-documented spirit for the Tigers, my first game (against North Texas) saw me sport a navy blue Mizzou sweatshirt.  Football, for better or worse, was social more than anything.

Don't get me wrong...I cheered hard that season.  I always cheered hard, even back in high school when I lived through 10 wins in four years and never a win on homecoming....though we did tie twice.  But expectations in 1995 did not exist, so I was endoctrinated into big time college football by being able to simply go and enjoy everything else, since enjoying the game was not really a steadily viable option.

The years went on and brought the Corby/Olivo/West years of 96-98.  We tore down the goalposts in beating a 4-7 kU squad to end 1996 at 5-6.  I have a piece of that post with the words, "The Corner has been Turned" written on it.  Did I believe that when I wrote it?  Probably, but did I understand what needed to happen for that to actually be true?  Nope...but we went out there and tore them down anyway and I wrote it nonetheless.

I learned a great lesson in November of 1997.  You see, the game against Nebraska was the first time I had seen the Huskers thanks to the transition of schedules from the Big 8 to the Big 12.  The ultimate experience which I always wanted was at my feet.  The chance to take down #1 at home.  I really finally knew what it was to be at a big time college football program.  The lesson learned that night was one of how to stay in the moment and enjoy the game for what it was.  I was able to do that for about 57 mintues that night, but I faltered right at the end.  In the end, I poured my soul into what I was watching and it broke my heart...and still does every time I see that play.  The fact I have a physcial reaction to seeing something 11 years later speaks to that.

A strange thing happened in about 1999.  The notion of recruiting rankings on the internet was something I became exposed to.  You see, when we were bad in 1995 or good in 1998, we just were.  But recruiting rankings allow you to spin how godo you are going to be going forward, making it all the tougher when you are not.  And once you have opened that box, like Pandora's, there is no closing it.  Every year since has been born with greater expectations thanks to what has been written by some and read by more and more.  The chances of really being surprised, and therefore pleased, decreased greatly because regardless of whether the rankings and the banter was legit, you could convince yourself of almost any expectation.

But then last year happened.  Sure..we had all seen what Chase Daniel could do going all the way back to 2005.  Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker provided a very unique duo at a very individual position.  Tony Temple had never lived up to his hype, but he had been very-much hyped.  And then there was Jeremy Maclin, more legend than anything at that point since he had not yet seen the field.  And while we were predicted by most to win the North, no one saw the season coming at the level it came.  And in that surprise rests the greatest level of enjoyment I could experience with football.  Because at that level, you can enjoy all the ancillary experiences (tailgating, weather, friends, sights, sounds) but then still not be really disappointed in the outcome of the games.  The team had fun, you could see it and feel it, and the fans did at the same time.

2008 brought perhaps the two most dreaded words I now know...increased expectations.  And with increased expectations came increased scrutiny.  Even the blowouts did not seem as pure, because too much time was spent breaking down what would need to happen in future games, and not enough time was taken to enjoy what had just happened in the previous game.  The ridiculousness of Daniel and Coffman and Maclin and even Washington in his first season became expected, and when the ridiculous was not delivered, even though the normal performance was still better than most Mizzou fans had ever seen, there was more lament at the absence of the ridiculous than the appreciation of the norm.

So when the game ended on Monday, all of Mizzou Nation exhaled.  Some exhaled out of pleasure we had come back to win such a tough game.  Others exhaled out of exasperation that a frustrating season had ended.  And across the media (whether traditional or untraditional), regrets were shared about a season where all expectations had not been achieved.  But no matter which way you looked at the season, the playing field from which your opinion formed remained the same.  Mizzou now seemingly had reasons to be disappointed in a 10-win season and in the performance of one of the greatest teams in program history.

2009 is going to bring ME a great opportunity, and I hope many Mizzou fans choose to take advantage of it.  Expectations of the team and the season will be diminished. Certainly not entirely, but diminished nonetheless.  It is going to allow (me at least) the chance to get back really enjoying things which may have been looked beyond this past season.  The tailgating without the hand-wringing before a game or even after it.  The way some of our great writers (Mike D, Joe W, Dave M and others) are able to write about the experience they witness on Saturdays. The sights, sounds, smells and time spent around Faurot with friends.  Now, I am not telling you to be less of a die-hard...far from.  The amazing level of analysis The Boy is now able to create and offer can certainly shine lights on so many different and new nuances to the game and increase your enjoyment of those terrible Sunday-Friday times between games.

In the end, I am not here to tell you how to be a fan....no one can do that.  All I can tell you is that I personally did not enjoy this season as much as I should have, and not nearly as much as the season and performances we saw deserved.  When you start to take success for granted, you have very little space in which to be able to enjoy a season like we all did in 2007, but a hell of a lot more space to be disappointed about it, even when it might not merit it.

Men's Basketball:

I was at a hockey game on Tuesday night for the game against Centenary, and I did not even really get a chance to see any highlights, so I'll just pass on talking about it.  I did, however, get to see the entire Georgia game this past weekend.  Most of the first half was frustrating in our inability to hit shots in our half-court offense, (and dont get me started on Matt Lawrence's initial 3-point shot selection) but we hung in there with our ability to create turnovers and transition those into scores.  A nice finish in the last five minutes gave us a lead, but the start of the second half brought more of the same.

But slowly it turned.  Kim English would hit a couple of big 3's, then followed by Zaire Taylor hitting a number of big shots.  Free throws were hit (for the most part) and the defense turned up the intensity (though when Georgia DID hang on to the ball long enough, they were often able to score with either Woodbury or underneath with any one of their seemingly endless supply of guys bigger than 6'7).  Mizzou, even with a less than inspired performance by Leo Lyons, was able to outlast Georgia effectivly.

Now here's the rub.  Looking past Coppin State at home coming up this week, we start the Big XII season on the road next weekend against Nebraska.  This is a game we have probably lost far more than we should have over the past number of seasons.  This year, NU has a home loss to UMBC (along with road losses against Arizona State and Oregon State), which in my book puts them MAYBE a small step above Georgia.  If you can win in Georgia, you need to win in  Lincoln, in Ames, in Boulder, in College Station and in places where you will have to visit teams you are better than in conference.  I am not saying you have to win all of them, but based on what we are seeing right now, you should at least win some of them, and even THAT would be an upgrade over what we have done in the recent past.

The team appears to be learning how to win, especially by being able to win their first true road game.  The new winning streak is at 3, and SHOULD get to at least 7 in my book.  Coppin State, at NU, and then home for Iowa State and CU is the perfect way to spend the next two weeks in not only improving our record, but also in re-affirming that we perhaps do deserve to be in the top 25.  We won't get there this week, but string these winnable games together and I think we will all agree that 16-2 would be a HUGE step in the right direction for this program.

Women's Basketball:

Another good week for the lady Tigers, as they had two wins in two games.  They started the week back on Monday afternoon against SEMO and used an early and dominating 29-2 start to get out to a lead they would obviously not come close to relinquishing.  Winning by a final score of 60-31, they were led by Jessra Johnson's 14 points and Alyssa Hollins' 13 points.  Mizzou was only 4-20 from 3 point range, but a solid (especially for them) 19-39 from 2 point range.

Traveling on Saturday to one of The Boy's favorite basketball destinations in Pittsburgh, they would take on the 10-4 Dukes of Duquesne.  The teams would be tied at 18 after about 8 and a half minutes of play before junior Amanda Hanneman would make one of her 2 three-pointers on her perfect shooting afternoon (9 points) to give MU the lead for good.  Alyssa Hollins would lead the way with 19 points and 8 boards, and freshman Christine Flores would burst on the scene with a 6-7 effort, netting her 17 points for a career high.  Flores also scored 9 against SEMO and the 6'3 forward from San Antonio, Texas looks to be earning more and more time each game.

Next up for the ladies will be their final out-of-conference game with a Tuesday tilt against Chicago State at 5:00 p.m. in Mizzou Arena.  My guess is that if you come out early enough to the Coppin State men's game, you could cheer the ladies on to the finish of their game.  They will then start Big XII play with a tough battle against undefeated aTm on Saturday night at 5:00 p.m. in Mizzou Arena.  The game will also be televised locally on Mizzou Sports Network.  The team is now 8-4 and owners of a nice 7-game winning streak.

Coming up This Week:

Aside from the two games aside for men's and women's hoops, the Mizzou Indoor Track team will start its season on Friday afternoon with the Mizzou Invitational inside the Hearnes Fieldhouse.  The women's gymnastics team will hit the mats up in Ames for a tough battle against another Big XII team on Friday evening.  Switching to Saturday, the men's and women's swim teams dive in down in Lexington, while the wrestlers will be in Cedar Falls, Iowa at the National Duals.  MUCH more to come on that this week, especially once the brackets are released for the event.

Random Thoughts:

  • Another solid week for New Jersey, who came right back from a tough loss down in Dallas to get an OT win over Ottawa yesterday afternoon.  The win now puts them just one point back of Philly in the Atlantic.  Of course, I also got to see the team in person for the first time in three years against the Blues, and for my thoughts on that, you are welcome to head to In Lou We Trust and check them out there.
  • Ed Reed really is just sick...I was more impressed with his 2nd pick than his first.  He had no real business covering that much ground to be in that position.
  • As much as I hate to admit it, I just find myself rooting for Darren Sproles. I will admit to being a Charger fan for awhile (I ALWAYS loved their unis...actually, I dare you try to find a version I do not like over the years) and he just had an amazing effort against Denver, followed by another against Indy.  In fact, he had almost 575 total yards between those two games...just sick.
  • I will go with Carolina, Philly, Pittsburgh and Baltimore next week.  Long live the 6 seeds!
  • Though I find it strange to type these words, I am just about football'ed out from this long holiday weekend.  11 bowl games and 4 playoff games...
  • Speaking of playoff games, I hope Dodge does not sell ONE single Hemi truck, even if they are fire and bomb-proof.
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