On curses

Bill Carter

I understand. I'm the one who thought the "M-I-Z-E-R-Y" series a couple of years ago was a good idea. I get it, I do.

But I'm really, really over the idea of a Mizzou curse.

Ease and greatness are not the same, just as lacks thereof are not, either. Being a Missouri fan is not always easy -- the 2012-13 athletic year was proof of that -- but it's still great. We don't need to brag about how much pain we've been through to set ourselves apart, though it's certainly fun (in a perverse way) sometimes. Being a Missouri fan is always great, and it is so much easier than it used to be.

I bring this up, of course, because Pat Forde wrote about Mizzou again. The piece is rather innocuous and inoffensive, but if he's writing about Mizzou, it's probably about how hard it is to root for Mizzou. And he's probably going to use the word "curse." I'm over curses.

The Tigers are an unlikely 7-0 in their second season in the Southeastern Conference. They can take a huge step toward clinching the SEC Eastern Division title by beating South Carolina on Saturday night in Columbia. These are giddy times for a program picked to finish fifth in the division, and certainly not expected to be fifth in the BCS standings.

But amid the euphoria, please understand the well-earned wariness from the elder Mizzou observers. We have seen too much.

Being a sports fan, especially a college sports fan, is basically agreeing to be hurt. Not a lot of us get to root for teams that win the national title or even get to the title game. Those of us who do, probably don't get to do so more than once or, if blessed, twice. Some of us were born into winning fanbases at just the right time. But most of us aren't Alabama fans in the '00s, or Nebraska fans in the '90s, or Oklahoma or Miami fans in the '80s. Most of us are Missouri fans, or Michigan State fans, or Oregon State fans, or South Carolina fans, or Iowa State fans, or Virginia fans.

We all have lists of terrible defeats. The more I get exposed to other fanbases and program histories because of my job, the more I realize that Missouri just isn't as unique as we want to think in the pain department. The Sports God has certainly been extra creative with us; the Flea Kicker and Fifth Down haven't happened to others. Losing the national title because of Bert Coan didn't happen to others. But beyond that, we've had a pretty normal, mid-tier history. No need to take it further than it needs to be taken.

Those are Mizzou’s marquee misadventures, but the library of agony runs deeper than that. There is a cornucopia of smaller catastrophes that have piled up over the years, with such consistency that every Mizzou fan has experienced one or more you-must-be-kidding defeat on his or her watch.

Brian Brooks, associate dean emeritus of the Missouri School of Journalism and a season-ticket holder since 1974, remembers a home game against Oklahoma in the 1970s when Leo Lewis made a spectacular catch in the back of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. Except Lewis was ruled out of bounds.

Maty Mauk filled in admirably for injured QB James Franklin last Saturday against Florida. (USA Today)

"Replays showed that Lewis had not one but TWO feet in bounds," Brooks said.

"Missouri has been cursed," he added. "I hope it doesn’t happen again this year."

Every school has a "That time we got screwed by the refs" game.

That is the hope, but an accompanying fear simmers beneath the surface. Tortured history strongly suggests that there is a booby trap out there somewhere on this current black-and-gold path to glory, just waiting for the Tigers to step on it.

Almost every school steps on a rake eventually. Only one of 125 teams gets to win the national title, and only about 10-12 schools belong to that club. Most of us are searching for happy moments before the rake. Mizzou's had quite a few of them in 2013.

Consider this profoundly pessimistic quote from former coach Don Faurot: "I don’t know one thing, not a single thing, more overconfident than for a Missouri football coach to buy a house."

He said that in 1935. It was still abundantly true in 1995.

Mizzou has only had nine head coaches from 1935-2013. That's pretty good job security right there.

Forde relives the 1984 Wisconsin-Missouri game, which truly is a hilariously painful loss, notable enough that I wrote about it here. That was a pretty special game. It was special because it was rare. He also recounts the Notre Dame loss that year. Mizzou lost because of a chunked field goal attempt at the end of the game. Ask Florida State fans about field goal attempts gone wrong.

Again, strange things have happened to Missouri in its history. If talking to fans of other schools basically comes down to showing off scars, Mizzou has some good ones.

Pinkel has taken the program a long way, and can strike a mighty blow for optimism Saturday night. It could happen, and perhaps even should happen.

But you’ll forgive the old guard for entering this game with a sense of foreboding. Missouri alums know that the critical error or fluke disaster is lurking out there somewhere, waiting to reintroduce itself at precisely the wrong time.

Is Kansas State cursed because the Wildcats lost to Baylor late last season? Is Louisville cursed because it lost to UCF last week, and to Rutgers late in 2006? Is Oklahoma State cursed because it barely lost to Iowa State late in 2011? Is Clemson cursed because of "Clemsoning"? Most programs are cursed, if you get right down to it. And fans of those schools will all tell you as much.

Signing up to be a fan is the curse. We all wear different team colors, but most of us are going to step on a landmine at some point. And next year, we'll do it all over again. We're investing decades in this in the hopes that maybe, just maybe the stars will align that one time. But if we focus just on the perfect alignment, we might miss all the pretty stars and smaller constellations.

In the last six years, Missouri has been ranked No. 1, had a Heisman finalist, produced all sorts of first-round draft picks, finished in the Top 20 three times (and in the top 5 once), won 60 games, and perhaps most impressively, beaten historical powers Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Florida, and Georgia. There is no taking that back if South Carolina beats Mizzou tomorrow. There is no taking that back if Mizzou loses out and finishes 7-6. That would hurt tremendously, but what's happened has happened. Those moments have been collected, and we've gotten to live through a lot of great ones no matter what happens from here on out.

We've gotten to root for some incredible players, incredible personalities, and high-character individuals. We've got it pretty good. We've certainly been gutted at times -- 2007 Big 12 championship, 2008 Oklahoma State, 2008 Kansas, all of 2012 (right down to Norfolk State in basketball), etc. -- but the good has outweighed the bad. And in some cases, the bad came because of the good.

I want an East title, I want an SEC title, I want a BCS bowl, and I want a national title. The quest for those things never ends, and maybe one day, the sun will shine on Mizzou for a full 14 games. But if it doesn't happen, it's not because of some curse, because of "Mizzou Mizzou'ing again" or whatever. It's just because it's not our time yet. Hell, it might never be our time. But we knew that from the start.

We sign up to become fans not specifically to win titles (at least, not most of us), but to become part of a tradition (or start our own), to be part of a team, to enjoy ourselves despite the omnipresent rakes. And Mizzou fans have a lot of tradition to enjoy and a pretty fun, successful team to root for. If you sit around waiting for something bad to happen, if you forego the great feelings for the foreboding ones, you miss the rare chances to be truly happy as a fan. Mizzou has produced a lot of those chances in recent years, and it has produced an incredible amount just in the last month. I hope beyond hope that it continues tomorrow, and the next Saturday, and on every Mizzou game day through early January. But if it doesn't, I won't feel cursed. I'll feel like a sports fan. And I'll have another scar to show off at parties.

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