That's right, it's time for the next official Rock M Nation tournament. On the heels of last year's Mizzou 25 competitions and this offseason's Meme Madness, we are now going to spend the next month looking at some of the greatest wins in Mizzou football history and attempting to pinpoint the single biggest one.
But before we can do that, we have to solidify the field of 32 wins. There are four regions, once again skewed slightly toward recency--the 2000s Region, the 1976-2000 Region, the 1963-1975 Region, and the Pre-1963 Region. Seven of the eight games from each region have been chosen, but for the next four days we will be using Play-In Games to set the field.
Yesterday we completed the 2000s Region. Today, it's 1976-2000. Without revealing the seven games already determined worthy of inclusion in the field, here are the nominees for the eighth and final spot:
December 23, 1978: Mizzou 20, LSU 15
Why it is notable: Documented here, it capped off one of the more exhilarating seasons in Mizzou history. Playing dominating defense in the Liberty Bowl, Mizzou took a 20-3 lead at halftime, accentuated by Earl Gant and James Wilder touchdowns. The offense shut down in the second half, but the defense made play after play, nursing a lead that had shrunk to five points. Reserve linebacker Eric Berg finished the game with an interception, fumble recovery, and intercepted a 2-point conversion pass for good measure, and one of the most memorable Mizzou teams in history went out a winner.
Why it isn't already in the field: The offense did the defense no favors, and Mizzou was just a play or two away from a painful loss. Plus, this win was overshadowed by the insanely great 1978 wins over Notre Dame and Nebraska.
December 29, 1979: Mizzou 24, South Carolina 14
Why it is notable: Mizzou followed up its 8-win 1978 season with three straight to start the 1979 year...and then fell apart. Injuries, dissension, and inconsistency led to a disappointing 6-5 season. With lots of big names on the roster, Mizzou snagged a Hall of Fame Classic bid and amid worries that they weren't happy to be there and could possibly lay an egg, the 3-point favorites physically dominated the Gamecocks, built another big halftime lead (just like the year before in Memphis), and held on for a relatively easy win. Eric "Bowl Game" Berg recorded 9 tackles and a pick to lock down his second straight Bowl Game Defensive MVP award, and while Heisman winner George Rogers got his yards (133 of them), the SC offense couldn't get it done.
Why it isn't already in the field: Let's face it--it's not even Mizzou's best bowl win over South Carolina. This dulled the sting of a disappointing season, but with players like Phil Bradley and James Wilder at their college peaks, more was still expected.
November 5, 1983: Mizzou 10, Oklahoma 0
Why it is notable: Clearly the 1980s were not a gold mine of great Mizzou performances, but there were a few. The highlight of Mizzou's 1983 Holiday Bowl season had to be their shutout win over 14th-ranked Oklahoma. A depleted OU backfield managed -7 rushing yards in the first half and only once put together a drive of more than six plays. Defensive tackle Robert Curry was the star, with two sacks, a fumble recovery, and six tackles, and current Mizzou assistant Andy Hill scored the game's only touchdown in a stunningly easy Tiger win that moved Mizzou to 3-1 in conference. And any time the goalposts come down, it was a pretty good day.
Why it isn't already in the field: A lot of the wins in this field were harbringers of future success. This one was not. Mizzou would creep by Oklahoma State, then finish the season with losses to Kansas and BYU in the Holiday Bowl. Mizzou would go 3-7-1 in 1984, getting Warren Powers fired in the process. In a vacuum, however, this was one of the more exciting wins of the 1976-2000 period.
More games after the jump!
November 2, 1985: Mizzou 28, Iowa State 27
Why it is notable: If one of the most important characteristics of a "great" win is the excitement it generates among the players associated with the game, put this one at the top of the list. Mizzou ended a crippling 10-game losing streak, overcoming a 10-point halftime deficit in the process. Down 27-20 with under a minute left, Darrell Wallace--a major bright spot of the mid-'80s--plunged in from two yards out, and without hesitation Mizzou went for two points and the win. Warren Seitz rolled right and found Junebug Johnson for two points and a victory. Mizzou players cried and hugged after the game, and in the middle of Mizzou's darkest period, this win brought a shining (and temporary) light.
Why it isn't already in the field: Yeah, Mizzou went 1-10 in 1985. Great, dramatic gutty win...but they went 1-10.
November 22, 1986: Mizzou 48, Kansas 0
Why it is notable: How does a team pull off a 125-point turn-around in just two games...in football? Easy--by losing 77-0 to Oklahoma one week and beating Kansas 48-0 the next. Any 48-point win over Kansas is a great one, and this was as cathartic a win as Mizzou experienced in this time frame.
Why it isn't already in the field: On the flipside, Mizzou won by 48 and still managed a -29 point differential over a 2-game span. Oh yeah, and Mizzou followed up this great win by losing 10-6 to a mediocre OSU team.
November 21, 1992: Mizzou 22, Kansas 17
Why it is notable: If there was a moment for hope in the Bill Stull Era, it came with the next two entries. Mizzou stumbled to a 1-8 start to 1992, and it looks like Stull was about through in Columbia, but the Tigers followed a 27-14 win over a 6-5 Kansas State team with a 5-point win over a Kansas team that would go on to beat BYU in the Aloha Bowl. Jeff Handy had taken over for Phil Johnson halfway through the season and posted ridiculously high numbers through the end of 1992.
Why it isn't already in the field: If I asked you about the 1992 MU-KU game, would you have any recollection whatsoever?
September 11, 1993: Mizzou 31, Illinois 3
Why it is notable: Documented here, Mizzou followed up the season-ending win over Kansas in 1992 with a crushing of Illinois in 1993. The defense played well, holding the Illini to 255 total yards, while Jeff Handy played a self-professed "alright" game, going 20-for-30 for 281 yards and two TDs, and earning Big 8 Offensive Player of the Week honors. Think of how optimistic the desperate fanbase must have been at this moment. Since starting 1991 with a respectable 3-2-1 record, Mizzou had lost 13 of 14 games before beating KSU, KU, and Illinois from 1992 to 1993 and posting insanely high offensive numbers. Blue Springs product Jeff Handy looked like the real deal, and it looked like Stull's funky offense was starting to thrive.
Why it isn't already in the field: Um, Mizzou went to College Station and lost 73-0 the next week. Stull was let go three months later.
From Comments (leghumpingjihadkiller):
Jeff Handy, who may be one of the greatest “traditional” QB’s in the history of the program, went 20-30 for 281 yards and 2 TD. Bob Stull talked to Don Faurot about the split T formation and implemented it for short yardage situations after watching Fresno State run the split T. The defense held its opponent to their lowest point total all season…and there were 10 more games for the Tigers after Illinois.
Mizzou sucked the rest of the year. It would be over a month before they won again (42-9 vs. Oklahoma State (homecoming?)) and in that month they were manhandled by a total score of 148-31, including a 73-0 beating in College Station the week after the Illinois game.
Yeah, there have been great moments in Mizzou history that tower over this game, but of this list provided, I think this is the best of what’s there.
November 23, 1996: Mizzou 42, Kansas 25
Why it is notable: You want to talk about hope-building, season-ending wins over Kansas? This is the hope-buildingest of them all. A hit-or-miss 1996 season was ending with Mizzou out of bowl contention yet again, but in the 1996 finale Mizzou moved to 5-6 by running around, past, and through the Kansas defense. They rushed for 412 yards while holding KU's offense to less than 300 total. Brock Olivo went for 166 and Corby Jones for 159. Jones's 80-yard option keeper was the play shown every 30 seconds that following off-season. And for once, the off-season hope paid off--Jones, Olivo, and company led Mizzou to its first bowl in 14 years in 1997.
Why it isn't already in the field: A 5-6 team beating a 4-7 team doesn't, in the end, merit automatic qualification in a field that includes some pretty big 1970s wins.
From comments (MizzouJD):
Every big Tiger Home win will always be compared to this one for me. The Tigers had done nothing in a lot of my generation’s lifetime and those of us that grew up with Tiger football at this time would have killed to just make a bowl game. But with underclassmen Corby and Brock hope was building. Then we finally got the big win and tore down the goalposts knowing that in 1997 we really could be able to have a winning record and go to a bowl. It was more than just beating down ku, it was about beating down the brick-wall of 13 straight losing seasons and knocking the door open to winning football again at Mizzou.
Yeah, 1997 was the year we finally had a winning season and it wasn’t until GP came that we were able to capitalize on Larry,Brock and Corby’s foundation to have a consistent winner…. but this was THE GAME that marked the end of a dark era.