"It gets bigger."
In a jubilant and euphoric locker room in the northern-most outpost of SEC country last night, Gary Pinkel concluded his interview with Mizzou Network's Ben Arnet with that line. It came after the standard "we'll enjoy this tonight" all-business disclaimer. It came with his body language withdrawing away from the camera and back toward the sea of noise hidden behind the wall that framed the interview.
It gets bigger, Gary. And the magnitude of what's next begets praise of the magnitude of what has already been done.
What can be said about college football that wasn't said by the most eloquent among us yesterday? In the midst of perhaps the most impartially entertaining day of college football in the sport's recent history, those partial to all things Missouri watched perhaps the most vindicating moment of our collective fanhood. A man that some considered to be on the hot seat entering the year instead set the conference on fire, his program emerging from last year's ashes on his march to Atlanta. A senior class that already had a 10-win season to its credit decided 11-win seasons were better.
It was vindication in every possible fashion: for the quarterback destroyed by his own fans last year, for the running back that would never play again, for the receiver that still looks too skinny to play D-I football, for the two-star defensive end turned SEC sack leader, for the head coach whose last two years had to be among the most trying of his entire life, for the ex-Marine who turned a Big 12 bunch into one of the SEC's best defenses. It was vindication for Mike Slive, whose genteel smile in the face of the "Missouri??" backlash exuded the confidence that has defined his tenure atop the game's preeminent product. To quote Jason Eady, redemption smells like gasoline and burns like desire.
I've noted before that those of us outside the Mizzou footprint are often the only Mizzou fans those around us know. We are the official unofficial spokespeople for our university. Before Missouri embarked upon its inaugural Southeastern Conference campaign in 2012, I had this to say:
For those of you, like me, who are expatriates outside Mizzou's established geographical footprint, it's probably an incontrovertible fact that you are "That Mizzou Fan" to everyone you know in that you are simply the only Mizzou fan they know. To the people you talk to daily, the Missouri Waltz might as well be the Foxtrot with a Scott Joplin tune playing in the background. As such, I know for an absolute fact that your daily conversations with colleagues and random strangers have been the exact same as mine, "Yes, I am well, thanks for asking. Indeed, this is odd weather we're having. No, I don't know how we're going to do in the SEC. Yes, I do realize how good the SEC has been in the last decade. Oh, you say you never considered Missouri to be in the Southeast, that's very profound. You have a good day as well."
The biggest reason I adored the move to the SEC (non-financial division) was this: I wanted Missouri playing football at the highest possible level. I attended the University of Missouri during a stretch in which the program averaged 10 wins a year (#humblebrag). Yet, every win, every piece of success still seemed marginalized in the national scope despite playing in a damn fine conference. If Missouri ever won in the SEC, that marginalization would cease to exist. Every single conversation centered around whether or not Missouri belongs.
Those conversations have changed. Mizzou belongs. And when you belong in this conference, you belong period. The geography, the culture, the history, the order. It means everything to this conference, yet it means nothing today. Meritocracy in the moment has trumped reminiscence in the record books.
Earlier this year, I told Missouri fans to embrace the moment if and when that moment came along. In the middle of the season, I joked I had no idea that moment was going to last several months. That moment ain't over yet.
It gets bigger.
Now the program we joked God hated after the North end zone became the football version of Job's trials heads to Atlanta to face the team God appears to have benevolently hand-selected as his beneficiary in 2013. I can't tell you what's going to happen in Atlanta, just like I can't tell you what's going to happen with Ohio State or Florida State (OK, I can't tell you what's going to happen with Ohio State.) But it's gotten bigger, and I can't wait to see just how big this thing can really get.