The blogosphere has been awash with "_____ of the decade" posts recently, and while I wasn't planning on writing any myself, others' posts have been entertaining enough that I have changed my mind. Clearly this series won't all be done by the end of the "decade", but oh well. First up, a two-part series on the best and worst Mizzou moments of the decade. I always prefer to be broken down, then built back up (instead of the other way around), so we'll start today with the Worst Mizzou Moments of the Decade, then redeem ourselves with a Best Of.
What makes something worthy of the Worst Moments list? It can be any number of events. Mizzou unfortunately had plenty of embarrassing moments in the middle part of the decade, and you'll see some of them below. But you'll also see plenty of straight-up painful losses of differing magnitude, from post-season losses that kept Mizzou from higher heights, to mid-season losses that just plain felt like a left hook to the gut. There are a lot of different ways to quantify "worst," and the below list runs the gamut. And you know what? There's some ridiculously painful stuff below the jump, but reliving it reminds you to be grateful for how far we've come. For the most part, I actually half-enjoyed writing this post for some morbid reason.
(And no, AO is not on this list. It just didn't seem right to list somebody's death among a bunch of losses and club incidents. In true reality, it was the top ten all by itself. So we're not even going to go there.)
Honorable Mention (in chronological order)
Basketball: Oklahoma 84, Mizzou 80 (2000). I've never seen a shot go further in before rimming out than Clarence's 3-pointer with about two seconds left in overtime. This game was so tough and intense that I charged out of Hatch Hall and walked around campus for an hour after it ended. I was in a T-shirt. It was snowing. Didn't matter. One of the best games I've ever watched, and one of the toughest losses to take.
Basketball: Oklahoma 81, Mizzou 75, NCAA Elite Eight (2002). Roughly Mizzou's 22nd straight loss to OU in basketball, none had more on the line than this one. Clarence Gilbert went 1-for-16 from the field, Arthur Johnson went 1-for-8 from the line. If either of them hits their season average in those categories, Mizzou probably goes to the Final Four.
Basketball: Kansas 79, Mizzou 74 (2003). Awful shooter Aaron Miles banks in a line-drive 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 1:20 left, then Kirk Hinrich knocks in a 25-foot fadeaway to beat the shot clock with 0:23 left. Just disgusting.
Basketball: Gonzaga 87, Mizzou 80 (2003). In this game, a) Mizzou got called for a 10-second backcourt violation with 27 seconds left on the shot clock, and b) Mizzou got called for a foul in overtime when two Gonzaga players ran into each other with no Mizzou player within two feet. I've rarely been as angry after a loss. It didn't wreck what was clearly a doomed season (it didn't make the team lose to Belmont), but it kick-started potentially the most frustrating season in Mizzou history. And I'm still pretty pissy about the ten-second call. I, uhh, sometimes have trouble letting go of things, especially bad calls.
Football: New Mexico 45, Mizzou 35 (2005). Mizzou had fallen apart in 2004 and unveiled a new spread offense in 2005 ... and nothing Brad Smith did could stop Hank Baskett from catching bomb after bomb after bomb. Any hope for some high level of success went flying out of the window in the season's second week, and the goal quickly became simply bowl eligibility.
Basketball: Sam Houston, Mizzou 77 (2005). After two straight NIT campaigns, probation, and the falling apart of what what was supposed to be Mizzou's program-saving recruiting class (Tyler Hansbrough, Brandon Rush), Quin Snyder's Tigers needed to get some momentum going early on, and the 2005 Preseason NIT was just the chance they needed. Just beat Sam Houston and Drexel to get to the semis, and you'll get some good experience against Duke and UCLA. Whoops. God, the middle part of this decade sucked.
Basketball: Gary Link Goes to Quin Snyder's House (2006). Even when Mizzou fans got what they wanted, they were pissed off about how it happened.
Football: Iowa State 21, MIzzou 16 (2006). Will Franklin got hurt. Martin Rucker, Chase Coffman and Brad Ekwerekwu took turns limping off the field. Tony Temple couldn't hold onto the ball and got yanked ... again. ISU's Ryan Kock was unstoppable up the middle. And yet Chase Daniel and a hastily thrown together cast of characters -- former walk-on Tommy Saunders and freshmen Jared Perry and Danario Alexander -- rallied. Down 21-16 with time expiring, Daniel fought off numerous tackles and somehow willed himself into the endzone, only Monte Wyrick was called for a hold. Replay showed that Wyrick tried to hold, but got blown up too quickly even get a grasp on his defender. Gary Pinkel has never yelled quite as loudly, virulently, or for quite as long about a call, going so far as to treat the game as a win the next week. I was only slightly less vocal about my displeasure.
Baseball: Louisville 16, Mizzou 6 (2007). Tim Jamieson's program had established some serious momentum through the middle of the otherwise craptastic-for-Mizzou decade, and it all built up to this. A year after making the Super Regionals in California, Mizzou hosted their first ever NCAA Regional. They beat Louisville on Saturday night and only had to beat the Cardinals one more time to make the Super Regionals against an extremely beatable Oklahoma State team. The College World Series was within their grasp. Then, in front of a standing-room-only crowd, Louisville beat Mizzou on Sunday with a late-game home run. And the next day, they scored eight (EIGHT!) first-inning runs off of future first-rounder Aaron Crow, pitching on basically 2.5 days' rest, and coasted to a regional victory. Quite the kick in the balls.
Soccer: Mizzou misses NCAA Tourney despite winning the Big 12 title (2009). Still miffed about this.
Now for the REALLY annoying moments.
10. Basketball: Belmont 71, Mizzou 67 (2003)
The loss to Gonzaga was infuriating, but at least the Zags were a good team. The one-point loss to Illinois? Ditto. The two-point loss at Memphis? Pretty annoying, but hope was far from lost for the prospects of the 2003-04 season. Mizzou was still ranked, after all. But then Belmont came to town. Mizzou outrebounded Belmont by 11 and held a comfortable 31-21 lead near halftime ... but then Belmont went on a completely inexplicable 36-14 run to go up 12. Mizzou charged back to tie but could never get ahead. Up two, Belmont missed the front end of a one-and-one with 12 seconds left ... and grabbed the offensive rebound to clinch the game. A season that began with Mizzou in the Top 5 came crashing down, but hey, we were having fun in Shreveport (the Independence Bowl was the next day), so that softened the blow ... sort of.
9. Football: Kansas 40, Mizzou 37 (2008)
With the North title clinched and a hangover lingering from having beaten KU in Arrowhead the season before, Mizzou picked a really bad time to have their worst offensive half of football in a couple of years. An interception on their first drive, a drive-killing dropped pass on the second, a fumble on the third, and Mizzou found themselves down 10-0 early in the second quarter. After an injured Chase Coffman caught a touchdown pass to cut the lead to three, Chase Daniel was called for intentional grounding in the endzone for a safety (12-7) and KU scored a touchdown after the free kick (19-7). Four horrid first-half drives led to a halftime deficit and tired Mizzou defense. In the second half, the damage had been done. Mizzou got moving and took a 30-26 lead with under seven minutes remaining, but KU's dink-and-dunk offense had Mizzou on a string by that point, and it very much became a who-has-the-ball-last situation. KU scored to go up 33-30, but Mizzou came back and took a 37-33 lead with 1:50 left.
8. Basketball: Kansas 84, Mizzou 82 (2004)
A furious February rally (punctuated by this disgusting dunk and an exhilarating 2OT win over an Oklahoma State team that would end up in the Final Four) had Mizzou on the doorstep of the NCAA Tournament despite Belmont, the cloud of Ricky Clemons, and everything else that had happened to Mizzou that season. Despite a late road loss to Texas Tech, a win over KU would probably still get Mizzou into the NCAA Tournament thanks to the late hot streak and a great strength of schedule. Really, it was the perfect setup. Senior day for Arthur Johnson, Travon Bryant and Rickey Paulding. The final game ever at Hearnes. Here's where Mizzou saves its season.
The setup got even more perfect when Mizzou trailed by ten with 5:00 left before rallying furiously to tie the game. AJ had a career high 37 points and was absolutely fabulous down the stretch, making six of six free throws to bring Mizzou back. KU got the ball last, but Keith Langford was too well-covered to get a shot off, so he had to pass it to far-from-offensively-dominant freshman David Padgett ...
... who calmly knocked down an awkward-looking 10-foot line drive with two seconds left. KU stole the inbounds pass, and just like that, it was over. Mizzou's season, the Hearnes era, all of it. Over at the hands of Kansas. That this moment DIDN'T end up in the top five says a lot about the middle part of this decade.
7. Football: Troy 24, Mizzou 14 (2004)
Mizzou's coming off of their first bowl in five seasons, they're ranked in the Top 20, and they get a rare Thursday night national audience to showcase just how far they've come with Brad Smith at quarterback. Oh yeah, and it's my birthday in about five hours. Mizzou effortlessly drives down the field for two early scores, going 119 yards in 19 plays and easily going up 14-0.
But then, things change. Tyler Luellen can't block Demarcus Ware. The offense grinds to a complete and total halt, gaining just 217 yards in the game's final 3.5 quarters.
And then, Junior Louissaint happens. And then the wheels go flying off. On national television.
6. Basketball: The Popcorn Incident (2005)
Actually, this may have been one of the best moments of the decade, depending on your perspective. It was the moment in a dying relationship from where you know there is no coming back. Mizzou is on probation, there is no hope, there is little talent on the roster (no matter what the recruiting rankings say), Quin Snyder's career (and marriage) have fallen apart, and things couldn't get any more humiliating. And then Illinois creams Mizzou in St. Louis. And somebody dumps popcorn on Quin's head.
5. Football: The Five-Game Losing Streak (2004)
So Mizzou has bounced back from the Troy disaster. They creamed Ball State, they took out Colorado at home, they knocked off Baylor in the rare 9pm kickoff game (nothing like having your game end after SNL). They stand at 4-1 and are easily the favorites in a horrendous Big 12 North. They even throw a scare into Texas, knocking VInce Young out of the game and losing by only a touchdown in Austin. All of their goals are in front of them. They even lead Oklahoma State 17-0 just a minute before halftime. But then OSU scores right before half ... and things stop going according to plan. Mizzou's final five drives: four punts and a turnover on downs. Donovan Woods goes 34 yards to tie the game, then Jason Ricks kicks a field goal to win.
No worries -- Mizzou is still in control of the North! And then they get stomped in Lincoln, tearing off Tony Temple's redshirt and throwing 50 times in 50-mph winds.
But they still control their own destiny! And they're up 21-0 on a wilting K-State team midway through the second quarter! But then, Darren Sproles strikes. And again. And then...
And after all that, Mizzou STILL controls its own destiny! That's how bad the North was in 2004. Four losses in a row wasn't enough to kill their North title hopes.
But five in a row was.
GOD the middle of this decade sucked. In every freaking way imaginable.
4. Football: Oklahoma 38, Mizzou 17 (2007)
I feel weird putting anything from the 2007 season on this list, but this one was the rare double nut-punch. You can't not put it here
Nut-punch #1: Mizzou is ranked #1 in the country for the first time in 47 years, and after some tough early going -- they are without primary (and secondary ... and tertiary ...) red zone threat Chase Coffman, and Danario Alexander blew out his knee early on -- they rallied to tie the game, 14-14, at halftime. They are 30 minutes from the BCS Title Game. They force an OU punt to start the second half and have driven from their 7 to the OU 25. Then Jeremy Beal sacks Chase Daniel. And then Curtis Effing Lofton sacks Daniel. Mizzou punts, and OU drives 80 yards for a touchdown. Then Martin Rucker lets a Daniel pass go right through his hands and into the waiting arms of Curtis Effing Lofton. Ballgame. It's always OU f***ing up our plans.
Nut-punch #2: The Orange Bowl committee, which apparently starts watching football the day before they have to make their bowl selection, sees Mizzou getting thumped by OU and decides, "We don't want some non-competitive team in our bowl ... let's take Kansas! They're 10-1!"
Never mind, of course, that it was KU's loss to Mizzou that prevented them from getting manhandled by OU themselves.
(Nut-punch #3: At 9-3, 1.5 games worse than Mizzou, with a loss to Mizzou in their back pocket, Illinois also gets an at-large BCS bowl bid. I loved my trip to Dallas, and the Cotton Bowl overall was a wonderful experience ... but this was still annoying as hell.)
3. Basketball: Texas 75, Mizzou 69 (2004)
A random January basketball game against a not-as-traditional rival ranks above all these other gut-wrenching moments? Above a failed national title bid? And losses to Kansas? Yep. I can't explain why this one hit so hard, but ... I'm still not sure I've gotten over this one. It was just so unfair in every way.
Remember Bill Simmons' "Levels of Losing" column from way back when? Remember The Stomach Punch game?
Level III: The Stomach Punch
Definition: Now we've moved into rarefied territory, any roller-coaster game that ends with (A) an opponent making a pivotal (sometimes improbable) play or (B) one of your guys failing in the clutch. ... Usually ends with fans filing out after the game in stunned disbelief, if they can even move at all. ... Always haunting, sometimes scarring. ... There are degrees to The Stomach Punch Game, depending on the situation. ... For instance, it's hard to top Cleveland's Earnest Byner fumbling against Denver when he was about two yards and 0.2 seconds away from sending the Browns to the Super Bowl.
Despite the fact that this wasn't even a postseason game, this was the quintessential Stomach Punch game. Mizzou lost a lot of tough games that year (seriously, no single season has been more represented on this list than the 2003-04 basketball campaign), but there was something special about this one: Mizzou had played so well. They had played defense like you always wanted Mizzou to play defense. They knew their backs were against the wall after laying eggs against Memphis, Belmont and Iowa State, not to mention showing nothing viable at all against Syracuse. They needed this game, and they played like it. Whether it was Linas Kleiza blocking a Brian Boddicker three, or Rickey Paulding dunking on heads, or Arthur Johnson and Kleiza making some huge free throws, Mizzou made every play they needed to make. Except one. Joe Walljasper, take it from here:
The hour was getting late, so the Missouri Tigers were making it easy for the ESPN SportsCenter folks. The script went something like this: troubled team learns the errors of its ways, starts playing a better brand of basketball and takes a huge step toward the NCAA Tournament with a victory over Texas.
Cue the tape of Rickey Paulding slashing along the baseline, dunking violently and chinning himself on the rim with 32 seconds left in the game. Offensive aggression rewarded. Cut to Arthur Johnson rotating to impede the progress of a driving Royal Ivey and rejecting Ivey’s shot with 10 seconds left. Team defense rewarded.
In two highlights, Missouri’s transformation from underachiever to Big 12 title contender would be summed up neatly.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, that wasn’t a wrap.Johnson’s blocked shot happened to land at the feet of Texas forward Brian Boddicker, who tied the game with a 3-pointer. Yadda, yadda, yadda, the Longhorns won 75-69 in overtime.
I remember absolutely nothing about overtime. I'm pretty sure I may have actually blacked out after Boddicker's shot went in. Apparently Texas went 10-for-10 from the free throw line to ice the game. I have no idea. Mizzou would go on to rally one more time, playing wonderfully before losing to Kansas (Moment #8) and collapsing in the Big 12 Tourney and NIT, but I personally never got over this one. The Hearnes losses to Kansas in 2003 and 2004 made me angry; the Belmont loss made me bitter; the Gonzaga loss made me furious, and not at the team. But this one just made me sad, and that rarely happens.
2. Athena-Gate (2008)
It's amazing where the Mizzou basketball program was just 23 months ago, isn't it? Then, it was a team lacking in maturity, listless on the court, and faltering off the court. Kalen Grimes had been kicked off the team. Mike Anderson, Jr., got a DUI. Daryl Butterfield was involved in a domestic disturbance. Demarre Carroll was shot in the leg. The program seemed rudderless and, quite frankly, unlikable. Mike Anderson had not proven that he could be a winner at the major-conference level. And then, after one of their more likable moments -- a come-from-behind win in Boulder -- four seniors and a junior decided to have a nice night out on the town. The next morning, Stefhon Hannah, Jason Horton, Marshall Brown, Daryl Butterfield and Leo Lyons were suspended, and Hannah was in the hospital with a broken jaw. The first story ("Hannah had nothing to do with it, he just got hit by a frying pan as an innocent bystander") didn't exactly hold up to much scrutiny, and after more incriminating details emerged, and Hannah's mother bad-mouthed the entire city of Columbia, and Hannah went home to Chicago and got officially kicked off the team ... well, this wasn't Ricky Clemons-level embarrassing, but it was embarrassing enough.
Thirteen months later, Mizzou got within ten minutes of the Final Four. Again, reliving the bad makes you appreciate the good that much more, no?
1. Ricky Clemons (2002-04)
Somehow, choking his girlfriend for watching Roots wasn't the worst part, nor was the eventual probation that hit Mizzou long after his departure. Hell, it wasn't even the ATV accident at the school president's house (when he was supposed to be "studying" elsewhere). No, the most embarrassing -- and morbidly entertaining -- part of the whole Ricky Clemons ordeal, from the great promise of Fall 2002 to the eventual resignation of Quin Snyder, had to be the jailhouse tapes.
On the evening of Aug. 1, Ricky Clemons placed a phone call from Boone County Jail to the home of University of Missouri Assistant Athletic Director Ed Stewart. Stewart’s wife, Amy, answered the phone. She said some guests, including the MU president’s wife, were coming over for dinner.
What was the special occasion?
The depositions in Clemons’ assault case against Jessica Bunge had hit the media, and Missouri basketball Coach Quin Snyder and assistant Lane Odom were publicly accused of giving Clemons improper gifts and cash.
"We’re celebrating," Amy Stewart told Clemons. "Celebrating your little ass because it’s all out."
In another phone conversation, she was even more forceful.
"You’re going to take them down. You know that, right?" Amy Stewart told Clemons. "You’re taking them down."
"I’m taking great pleasure," Amy Stewart said. "You’re taking them down."
Clemons’ taped phone conversations from jail, obtained by the Tribune through an open-records request, portray an athletic department and university bitterly divided over the former MU point guard....
In the recordings, Amy Stewart related a story, which she attributed to her husband, about the atmosphere at the Hearnes Center at the time.
"Ed come home, every time he come home, he be like, ‘Them crackers shaking. They going crazy. They don’t know what to do. They shaking. They can’t talk to Ricky. They’re like some crackheads running around there,’ " Amy Stewart said.
Them. Crackers. Shaking.
To see where this athletic program has come at this point, despite the losses, despite the turmoil, despite drama too creative for any other school to come up with in the middle of the decade, is so amazing and, quite frankly, heartening. It was almost too easy to make fun of Mizzou, in football or basketball (but mostly basketball). Now? We've got the classiest set of coaches in the conference, we've won 38 football games (and counting) in four seasons, and perhaps most amazingly, we're coming off of an Elite Eight run in basketball with perhaps the most likable set of players ever to don a Mizzou uniform at the same time. And with all we've been through, I don't think we'll be taking success for granted anytime soon.