M-I-Z... E-R-Y: The Final Four

We have reached the elitest of the elite, the four most hilariously odd, cruel, damaging things to have happened to the Mizzou athletics program and fanbase. We had some upsets and surprises along the way, but in the end, the top four seeds all advanced to the Final Four. And just imagine all the karma we have earned by learning to pound our chests and celebrate past pain for a clean future.

M-I-Z... E-R-Y FINAL FOUR

No. 1 Flea Kicker vs No. 4 Fifth Down (today)
No. 2 Tyus Edney vs No. 3 Them Crackers Shaking (tomorrow)

It breaks down nicely, really: a football semifinal and a basketball semifinal. While tomorrow's basketball entries were cruel and/or embarrassing, the football entries win the creativity prize. The rulebook says you are allowed four downs, and you aren't allowed to intentionally kick the ball and maintain possession. But if you were Mizzou in the 1990s, the rulebook did not apply.

The Flea Kicker

I was in the 14th row in the student section. Actually, no. I had started in the 14th row, but by the time the play happened I was in the 14th layer of students, standing on the second row bleachers. It was just my sixth Mizzou home game, my fourth as a Mizzou student. The game had already been the most incredible sporting experience of my young life. Mizzou had entered as 27-point underdogs and traded haymaker after haymaker with the supposedly invincible champs. There was the bobbling Torey Coleman touchdown. The Harold Piersey interception. The Brock Olivo touchdown reception that almost shook Memorial Stadium off of its foundation. The backwards Corby leap. The Eddie Brooks go-ahead touchdown that still gave me goosebumps as I typed the words "The Eddie Brooks go-ahead touchdown."  (It just did it again.) The stories of Brent Musberger going to the bathroom during a fourth-quarter commercial break and exclaiming "Can you believe this game????" to everybody he passed. The shots of Larry Smith's eyes welling up on the sideline. Al Sterling's near-interception with less than a minute left. (I still swear it should have counted, no matter what the replay says.) It was an amazing, amazing game. And then it became immortal. The ball deflected away from Shevin Wiggins, the crowd surged (and I mean surged) forward ... and the ref's hands went up in the air, signalling touchdown.

After the game, my friends and I retreated to Hatch Hall, eventually settling in somebody's room, sitting around and staring at the floor, then watching the evening's highlight shows, over and over again.  All I could think was, "So this is how it's going to be, huh?" There is perhaps no single play more imprinted onto Mizzou fans' psyches than this one, no play more "Mizzou" than this one. Since this play, things have gotten better, then worse, then a lot better. But 14 years after watching with awe, adrenaline and incredulity from the 14th row, I still can't think of this play without shaking my head.

Colorado 33, Mizzou 31 (1990)

Asked about the five downs, head referee J.C. Louderback deferred all comments to the Big Eight office, then said, "Our record on the field as officials is that they scored on fourth down."

Asked if there was any provision in the rules to remove a touchdown once scored, he added, "Only if there would be a penalty at that point."

There was none - and No. 12-ranked CU won its third consecutive game (4-1-1 overall) and its Big Eight opener. Afterwards, CU coach Bill McCartney emerged from his locker room and preferred to berate Faurot Field's artificial surface rather than address the five-down fiasco.

"The biggest story is that field is not playable," bellowed McCartney, referring to CU ball carriers or receivers losing their footing at least 15 times. "No one should have to play on that field. You can't even make a cut on that dang field.

"It's a joke to college football to try to run an option attack on that field. We slipped and slid all day, or we would have put more points on the board; I'll tell you that."

Retaliated MU coach Bob Stull: "They get five downs and he's crying? We should have stopped them on fifth down."

Hey Coach, you did.

What made the Fifth Down such an infuriating moment in Mizzou's history wasn't even that the Buffs got an extra down. Or it wasn't just because of that. If Johnson had scored easily on fifth down, and if Bill McCartney had expressed nothing but conciliatory regret after the game, it still would have been a historic occurrence. But Johnson didn't score easily on fifth down -- he almost certainly didn't score at alll -- and McCartney announced that his team basically deserved an extra down because of the shoddy playing surface. (And then Colorado won the national title, in part, because of another iffy-at-best call that enraged Mizzou fans all over again.)

The Fifth Down was the call that set off, basically, two decades of self-pity within the Missouri fanbase. Mizzou fans were already somewhat paranoid and guarded, feeling by nature as if they were basically playing by a different set of rules than everybody else. This game confirmed that, at least for one play, they were.

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