There have been few surprises in the first two rounds of the karma-cleansing experiment known as M-I-Z... E-R-Y. What does the Elite Eight hold?
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.
It wasn't that he won, even though he did. After all, Bill Self has beaten Mizzou at an even higher rate and won the national title that eluded Williams in Lawrence, and he didn't make this bracket. (He almost did, but that's not the point.) Really, it was the aw-shucks personality. The fact that he talked like Deputy Dawg and built the reputation of being one of the best people in college basketball while allegedly doing some pretty negative recruiting behind the scenes. And let's face it, even if he was not guilty of any negative tactics ... the more bulletproof your character is, the more rival fans will attempt to shoot bullets through it. Mizzou hated Roy Williams because, unlike with Billy Tubbs, Danny Nee or others, they weren't given the high road. They couldn't hate him because he was a jerk, they could just hate him because a really, really successful Kansas coach. Which, it turns out, was enough to get him into this bracket and into the Elite Eight.