As we continue to try to switch gears from basketball season to football season (it's been difficult, considering all the recent basketball news), we now switch from our basketball hall of fame of sorts (The Rafters) to the second class of our Football hall, The Wall of Excellence.
After a false start in the 1990s, the 2000s saw Mizzou move forward and stay there. In Mizzou's third-winningest decade ever (after the 1960s and 1940s), there were plenty of stars; and even though we already selected a handful last year, there are plenty of strong options remaining this time around.
Below are your seven 2000s nominees
Zack Abron (2000-03)
Mizzou 25 Bio: He was slow, didn't run very smart, and fumbled an insane amount during his freshman season in 2000. Three years later, he was Mizzou's all-time leading rusher. He was the prototypical "bowling ball" running back, and he was amazing in his consistency. He was never going to go off for a 200-yard game, but he'd get you 4-5 yards on every play (often more), he always fell forward, and after his freshman season, he never fumbled. The Tigers very much missed his consistency in '04, falling to 5-6 with a stable of running backs that were definitely faster and more talented, but just weren't as good.
Danario Alexander (2006-09)
For three years, Danario Alexander just showed flashes. In 2006, he showed major breakaway speed against Nebraska and in the Sun Bowl (and, perhaps most of all, when he sprinted by Aqib Talib in forming an unnecessary convoy for Jared Perry during Perry's touchdown against Kansas). In 2007, he looked great against Illinois, then broke his hand. Then he looked great against Nebraska and All-World against Kansas ... then tore his ACL. After multiple surgeries, he returned in 2008 and, while still running a bit gingerly, he proved himself a decent red zone threat.
Then 2009 happened. We entered 2009 wondering if Mizzou had a #1 receiver on the roster ... and all Alexander did was put together the best season a Mizzou receiver has ever had. A career mark of 113 catches, 1,781 yards and 14 touchdowns is pretty good ... and Danario did that in one season. In the month of November alone, he had 49 catches for 820 yards and six touchdowns, better than Mizzou's second-leading receiver had for the entire season. Watching him put together what should have been a Biletnikoff Award-winning season was one of the more gratifying experiences this Mizzou fan has ever experienced. Despite the multitude of injuries, Danario ended his career with 191 catches, 2,778 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Jeremy Maclin (2007-08)
It is hard to come up with something new to say about Cheat Code. In just two seasons, he put together a strong case for having been Mizzou's all-time best receiver and kick/punt returner. He managed 182 catches for 2,315 yards and 22 touchdowns in just 28 games as a Tiger, plus he threw in three punt return touchdowns and two kick return touchdowns for good measure. For a fanbase that went almost 15 years without seeing a punt return touchdown and almost 30 without seeing a kick return touchdown, that level of success was jarring.
As good as Maclin was, his love of the Mizzou program was perhaps his most likable quality. In two seasons, he proved that he was clearly, demonstrably ready for the pros (the Philadelphia Eagles agreed when they drafted him in the Top 20), but as his stay-or-go press conference approached, he was almost begging for a reason to stay. After committing to Oklahoma early in the process, he made the switch to Mizzou, became one of MU's all-time most successful players, and wanted desperately to come back for a third season. Knowing the love that he has for this place, watching highlights of him at this stage is almost an emotional experience.
William Moore (2005-08)
Mizzou 25 Bio: William Moore hits as hard as Demontie Cross and has a nose for the ball like Roger Wherli. He raps like he’s a member of Three 6 Mafia. He drives around what looks like a pimped out, black & gold Ford Taurus. He lives and breathes Mizzou, and he might end his career as the best safety to ever play at Mizzou.
Few pick their moments like Willy Mo.
^ As a backup safety in 2005, he made his first splash against Iowa State by picking off a Bret Meyer pass and taking it to the house in a game that Mizzou ultimately won in overtime.
^ Seeing Xzavie Jackson score on a pick six against Texas Tech in 2006, he decided it looked pretty fun and yanked the next Graham Harrell pass out of the arms of the intended Red Raider receiver and, again, took it to the house.
^ When Mizzou needed a tone-setter in front of 70K against Nebraska in 2007, it was Willy Mo who absolutely obliterated Marlon Lucky on a swing pass.
^ When Pig Brown went down for the season and Mizzou needed someone to pick up the slack, there Moore was, crushing and picking off Cody Hawkins.
^ And picking off Stephen McGee.
^ And Josh Freeman.
^ At Arrowhead, when KU finally got some offensive momentum going and tried for the homerun ball, Moore picked it off.
^ In the Cotton Bowl, when Felix Jones broke a long gain into Mizzou territory, Moore stripped him of the ball. And then ended the season with another pick six.
Martin Rucker (2004-07)
Mizzou 25 Bio: Martin Rucker is a Husker legacy. His brother, Mike, was an All-American in Lincoln, and most NU fans assumed they'd end up with Mike's baby brother. But 'T' decided to create his own legacy.
MotherRucker is a leader in every possible connotation of the word. He is a leader on and off the field. In 2007, if the team needed someone to make a catch, he made it. If the team needed a big block, he made it. If the team needed a runner to carry four defenders for a first down, he did it. After hearing from the NFL draft committee that he needed to improve his toughness during his senior season, MotherRucker quite simply became one of the toughest runners I’ve ever seen. He found it a personal offense when only one guy tried to tackle him.
Never mind that Martin Rucker was an All-American tight end, and never mind that he leaves Mizzou with over 2100 career receiving yards and 18 TDs. He was a no-brainer for the Larry Smith Regional because no player has ever led by example more than he did in his four years in Columbia. He overtook a strong incumbent tight end to start from Day One. He yelled and screamed on the sidelines at the 2005 Independence Bowl and told anybody who would listen that Mizzou was going to come back and win (and they did). He turned his biggest weakness into his biggest strength for his senior year. He made this his team, and he was one of the biggest individual reasons why Mizzou won more games in 2007 than in any other year in their history.
Brian Smith (2003-06)
Mizzou 25 Bio: He was barely bigger than a strong safety, but he was fast and relentless, and while his career ended a few games too early after he broke his hip halfway through senior season, he still finished as Mizzou's all-time leading sackmaster. It wasn't a coincidence that Mizzou's season crumbled in '06 after Smith got hurt.
Sean Weatherspoon (2006-09)
Look up "Vocal Leader" in the dictionary, and there's a picture of SPOOOOOOOOOOON next to the definition. A three-year starter with enough personality for an entire linebacking corps, Sean Weatherspoon was fast, dominant, and crazy-likable. After special teams and scrub duty on the 2006 team, 'Spoon stepped into a starting role in 2007 and became one of the faces of Mizzou's best defenses in 20 years. His four seasons in a Mizzou uniform saw him rack up 396 tackles and 43.5 tackles for loss, plus a multitude of third-down stops, interceptions, and fumbles forced.
His punishing hits and the "SPOOOOOOOOOON" response they earned from the crowd will be remembered, but as he departs for the pros, it is worth remembering him for the same reasons we remember players like Alexander and Maclin. Not only was he good, not only did he play a major role in Mizzou's end-of-decade breakthrough, but he was also insanely likable. It's one thing to win with what seem like hired guns, guys who don't really let you get to know them and are just there to put together a good NFL Draft highlight film. It's another to do so with guys who love their university and love giving their fans a chance to get to know them. The culture Gary Pinkel has created here is both wonderful and easy to take for granted, and the culture will almost definitely suffer in SPOOOOOOOOOOON's absence.