Kyle Field had been kind to the Tigers in recent years, but not this time. It was the 24th of November, and the Aggies were just putting the cherry on top of a season most of us would rather soon forget.
A 59-29 whipping in College Station was something Mizzou fans had basically come to expect, so the pain wasn't as sharp as it would have been otherwise. It was just another chapter in the 2012 story, riddled with injuries, criticism, controversy, and seven miserable losses. Mizzou missed a bowl game for the first time since 2004, and it couldn't have come at a worse time. Before the season began, spirits were soaring in Columbia as the Tigers had just made the move south to join the SEC. A winning program with a chip on its shoulder ended up being a losing team with an injured shoulder instead. Missouri began to hear how it would not only fail to fit in with the Southern culture in the SEC, but also how it couldn't possibly run with the big dogs either. How could a team that lost to Syracuse and Vanderbilt on its home field possibly ever compete with the Georgias and Floridas in college football?
Tigers fans began to believe the talk as well, leading many to regret ever changing conferences in the first place.
Fast forward to the beginning of the 2013 season, expectations weren't quite so glamorous for Ol' Mizzou this time around. Many would have been ecstatic just returning to a bowl game, and many felt that seven wins were the ceiling for this team. The coaches picked Mizzou to finish sixth in the East, further reinforcing the doubts. The culture went from bowl game expectations and aspirations of greatness to one of disappointment and fear.
Well, Mizzou fans, this team has something to say about that. To hell with disappointment. To hell with doubt. To hell with ceilings. It's time to throw all of that out of the window and just watch a team wreak havoc on our new Southern brethren.
Mizzou fans point to 2007 as a year when things just felt right. Charismatic quarterback Chase Daniel dissected Big 12 defenses with ease and regularity as electric playmakers like Jeremy Maclin, Danario Alexander (briefly), Chase Coffman, Martin Rucker, William Moore, and Sean Weatherspoon became names forever engraved in the history of Missouri football. The Tigers played in one of the biggest games in their long history, overcoming rival Kansas to become the number one team in the country in the "Armageddon at Arrowhead" game. It was an iconic moment for Missouri fans, something we can always remember and hang onto when things get tough.
Those pleasant memories are what keep us coming back through all the misery. That season led to a boom in the school's enrollment, a renewed interest in the football program, and a spark to light the fire of a winning culture. It put faith in the hearts of Tigers fans who now believed in their team's head coach and his ability to take less heralded players and field a team which would compete for a chance to play for a national championship. It returned a sense of pride to Missouri, and helped remind us how to win. This year's team has the ability to give that same sense of pride. James Franklin, Maty Mauk, L'Damian Washington, Dorial Green-Beckham, Marcus Lucas, Henry Josey, Michael Sam, Andrew Wilson, E.J. Gaines and others are going to be just as memorable as those Tigers of 2007.
Winning makes it easier to embrace a given moment, the ability to just engulf your senses in the few seconds of glory you're experiencing. 2013 has given us that ability again. Just close your eyes and take yourself back to November 24th of last year and remember how that felt. It was empty, the beatdown wasn't even worth getting mad over because we knew it was going to happen. We had become so used to that feeling of loss, the lack of excitement. Now open your eyes and take a moment to realize how different things are this time around. Your team has yet to lose a game. Your team has yet to play a TRULY close game. Things have shifted so much that we've gone from expecting to lose to wondering when it will even happen. Our fans have gone from leaving the stadium at halftime to mocking the FLORIDA GATORS.
We no longer sit around hoping to make a bowl game, we hope to win the whole damn thing. The beloved Tiger logo is sitting among the top of the rankings along with the likes of the cursive "A" of the Crimson Tide, the spear of the Seminoles, the iconic "O" of the Ducks, and the symbolic Ohio State symbol. We're standing on sacred ground, and we should learn to respect the ground we stand on. Instead of worrying that our team isn't as good as we think it might be, we should allow them to prove us wrong. We have a damn good team in 2013, one of the best the school has seen, so embrace that moment. The next time you're at a tailgate, breath in the smell of smoke. Listen to the bustling fans around you. When you go in the stadium, let the sound of the band ring through your ears. When you're looking at the rankings, let that single digit number next to our school's name burn itself into your vision.
BCS Standings #5-1 5 Missouri 4 Ohio State 3 Oregon 2 Florida State 1 Alabama pic.twitter.com/Y3WUIpQbK8— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) October 21, 2013
The moment isn't exclusive to Missouri fans. It's shared with everyone else in the college football universe, which is sure to conjure up some drama to go along with this fantastic season. People will form their own image of the Tigers, some good and some bad. Many fear the day when their team has to take the field against Mizzou, but others will reassure themselves with the idea that the Tigers have gotten lucky this year. The SEC is down, we've played injured teams, our non-conference schedule is weak. Let them talk, and embrace that image. When they lose to us, they'll continue scrambling for reason as to why it happened. Put that burden on them and allow yourself to take the much easier approach of realizing that the Mizzou football team is just flat out good.
As I've stated before, things don't happen in a smooth and clean manner in football. Winning at any level isn't an easy endeavor. We can sit around and complain about how the team looks when they win but that's why we have people like Bill C. around to remind us that there is concrete evidence that our team is good. People will form their own ignorant opinions on things for the rest of existence and for them to say the Mizzou football team isn't good is just ridiculous. Don't concern yourself with those people, join in the debate with those who know what they're talking about. It's also to important to remember this important fact: we couldn't even be having the debate as to whether or not Mizzou is overrated if they weren't winning in the first place.
Finally, let's stop pretending that winning football games is something novel to Gary Pinkel's squad. We used to beat our chests about having one of the best records in college football through the last few years, about our bowl streak. One season does not define a program, but so many of us are willing to allow 2012 to do so. Acknowledge that Pinkel has done a damn good job taking lesser known recruits and not only putting together winning season, but sending them to compete at a high level in the pros as well. Mizzou has already guaranteed yet another winning season this year, but this team isn't done. There are a lot of big games left, and this team is up to the challenge. If and when we continue our winning ways this year, let's remember as fans to act like we've been there before, because Lord knows we'll be back.