Riccio to Sesay
I've spent a lot of time this summer getting Football Study Hall up and running, and while the point of that site was primarily to establish a football stat nerd community on the SBN network, perhaps my favorite part so far has been the What I Love series, a weekly look at all the reasons I adore college football. Since blogging is all about stealing others' ideas, I decided the best peace offering I could make for the M-I-Z... E-R-Y series was the theft of one of my own ideas. I'll get the ball rolling on this What We Love series and add to things on a semi-daily basis, but I want to see what others come up with too. Players, coaches, games, traditions ... it all counts. Of the four seasons -- winter, spring, summer and football -- my favorite is clear. Now let's talk about why.
Any series about Mizzou and love has to start with the only Mizzou player to whom I have directly, personally expressed my undying affection. Sonny Riccio threw 22 passes in his Missouri career before transferring to Delaware to actually get some playing time. I remember only one of them. But you could make the case that it was one of the most important passes in Missouri history.
You know the story by heart, but I'm going to tell it anyway. It is October 11, 2003. Despite the most intense crowd in memory (somehow made more intense by a driving, first-half rainstorm), and despite a few early breaks and big plays -- a throwback touchdown pass to Brad Smith, a muffed punt by Nebraska -- Missouri entered the fourth quarter of a Saturday night game against the Huskers trailing by 10 points and staring a 25th consecutive loss to the Big Red Horde in the face. Brad Smith began the final stanza with a 39-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 24-21, then James Kinney (and an unidentified lineman) obliterated Jammal Lord on third-and-long, forcing a fumble that Dedrick Harrington recovered and returned to the NU 9. But the drive stalled, and Mike Matheny lined up for a 31-yard field goal to tie the game.
Fun fact: I didn't actually see the entire play live. I turned my back because I was a complete wreck and couldn't watch Matheny's field goal. I was waiting for the crowd to cheer and tell me the game was tied; instead, I heard The Beef shriek (and it was a shriek ... The Beef's voice does not crack often, and it cracked like a sidewalk in an earthquake), "Oh, they FAKED it!" I turned around just in time to see Sesay catch the ball.
There have been three moments at Faurot Field where I can remember nothing but unmitigated chaos and white noise.
Mention any of these three plays to me, and my eyes will well up like my name is Larry Smith.
As for the declaration of love? After the game, while racing to the 50-yard line to meet The Beef, ZouDave and others, I passed Riccio getting interviewed by Rod Smith of Rod's Big Ol' Fish fame (ah, mid-Missouri). I grabbed him by the shoulder pads and said, "I love you so much." His response? "Uh ... thanks!" I don't think this is why he ended up transferring, but I cannot be so sure.