What follows is a diary of sorts from Mizzou's win over Colorado (pregame, in-game, post-game). Hope you enjoy it.
It really is easy to take living in Columbia for granted. It takes me 15 minutes to get from house to parking space in Lot X. I don't have kids (and their things) to pack up, and even if I did ... I'm still only 15 minutes away. I visit with a friend of mine from college; she lives in St. Louis and has a nine-month old now. As far as I can tell, nine-month olds are basically puppies; if it's near them, they stick it in their mouth. Leaves, toys, Mommy's shoulder. Getting to a Mizzou game is an outing for them. Even though my friend was (almost) as crazy about Mizzou games as I was in school (she didn't make the stupid overnight trip to Clemson, for instance, but she didn't miss a home game either), she's only going to make it to about half of this season's home games. Things happen, and sometimes you can't make it to town. For me, not an issue. I never want to live anywhere but Columbia.
Lot X, by the way, is quite the scene now. Tents set up everywhere there is grass, TV's with the DirectTV rolling, music pumping ... it's a great tailgate atmosphere. It is also, of course, a long, long walk from the stadium. Laptop bag on my shoulder (I've got a press pass for this one, thanks to our friend SleepyFloyd7), I start to make the walk to our typical tailgating spot, in Lot P on the south side of Mizzou Arena. It's a 20-minute haul. And yes, the walk includes trips through 80%-empty, higher-donor lots.
Now to the normal tailgate, the one thrown each week by The Beef and his wife (The Tailgate Queen). It's an interesting weekly mix of friends from school, Tigerboard, and ... well, there are quite a few people there that I only know as fellow tailgaters. Not sure what their story is. Barbecue beef and cupcakes are on the menu for the week. I think the purveyors of the tailgate were just as ready for an off-week last week as the players were -- not sure how they've been balancing both tailgate prep and the typical demands a two-month old Baby Beef, but they have done an impeccable job so far. The minivan helps, I'm sure. They swear they bought it for tailgating, not for the baby.
The cannon sounds, Memorial Stadium's doors open, and the members of Tigers Lair stream in. Sleepy and I set off toward the stadium, but not before a handful of stops. Sleepy, you see, knows everybody associated with the Missouri athletic department at this point. We duck into the back of Mizzou Arena, where he gives me a quick tour. We also stop briefly at a couple of tailgates in the lot directly south of Faurot (the lot that is getting somewhat torn up this year, causing some lost spaces ... and my demotion from Lot P to Lot X).
We're in the stadium with plenty of time to spare. The view is certainly lovely from up top. The temporary bleachers are out, meaning somebody expects a pretty good crowd. And why not? Mizzou is ranked, they are playing Colorado for the final time after 65 straight years of battle, the weather is nice, and it's an evening game (these are usually rather well-attended). In the end, 62,965 will attend the festivities, some arriving earlier than others.
Sixty-five years. Mizzou beat the Buffs, 21-0, in a rainstorm on November 9, 1946. It was Don Faurot's first year back after the war. The six thousand in attendance saw Howard Bonnett find Bob Teel for a 41-yard touchdown. The Tigers also blocked a kick for a safety -- they will block two more kicks tonight. Nobody probably knew at the time that the Tigers and Buffs would run out the century as conference rivals. Colorado was a western team in those days, sharing Mountain States Conference membership with BYU, Colorado State, Denver, Utah, Utah State and Wyoming. Having spent most of our lifetimes in a midwestern conference, they will once again assume a Pacific role next season.
It is entertaining, the faces you see in the press box. Amid the writers whose faces you've never had any reason to recognize are a few you do.
There's Dan Beebe, the tall, husky Big 12 commissioner whose face we got to know a bit too much this summer. I do not introduce myself.
There's Woody Paige, the Denver Post columnist most recognizable for being an (arguably) likable idiot on ESPN and, more recently, for a tough, emotional column about Kenny McKinley and depression. Humans are really, really complicated, and Paige is the perfect example of that. I do not introduce myself.
There's Rod Smith, local reporter of "Rod's Big Ol' Fish" fame. He's the person who was interviewing Sonny Riccio after the 2003 Mizzou-Nebraska game, when I grabbed Riccio and professed my love to him. Not my proudest moment by any means. I do not introduce myself. He looks at me like he recognizes me, but I think that's only in my head.
As one would expect, the press box seems split between quite a few really nice guys (Chris Gervino, for one) and a few "I wouldn't have called that"/"I TOLD YOU that wouldn't work!" know-it-alls.
There's a buzz in the box as South Carolina wraps up a somewhat jarring win over Alabama. The 2010 season just became that much more like 2007. For Missouri's sake, let's hope those comparisons continue over the next couple of months.
It's about 20 minutes to kickoff, and the crowd begins to filter in, which, really, is part of the gameday experience itself. If you're entering from the west, you've walked through the heavy-duty donor tailgates and the RVs. From the North, you've encountered the Don Faurot statue, the scalpers, and possibly the under-Stadium-Blvd tunnel (walking through that thing to and from work is just brutal). From the South, you've passed the bumping music and the bus south of Hearnes (and the lot where a former football player tackled The Beef into gravel just to show him what it felt like), and if you were walking in early on, you possibly got to/had to stop while the cheerleader/band caravan passed by.
Personally, I like the South route. The noise south of Hearnes gives you a little bit of a buzz, plus it's always fun to remind The Beef about when he got driven into the ground ... I swear he was coughing up blood in the stadium).
The press box has its own internal announcer (which makes for an interesting experience during the game, when you hear "Second-and-7 for Colorado, from the Missouri 36" ... "Second-and-7 for Colorado, from the Missouri 36" ... with each play), and he just gave the "No cheering in the press box" announcement. One of my favorite Twitter moments of the college football season so far was the Idaho reporter who was in the press box for the Nebraska-Idaho football game and quickly came to realize that the "No cheering in the press box" rule doesn't really apply in Lincoln. Reporters here will fare better. In fact, the press box will be so much quieter than I expected during the game. I mean ... I don't think I was expecting a 1920s-style press box with clacking typewriters, cigars, and guys running into phone booths to pass along urgent news. But it's quiet.
Missouri wins the toss and elects to receive. Shocking. Marcus Murphy comes up with the first really nice kickoff return of his career, but Mizzou will go three-and-out to start the game. Trey Barrow uncorks one of the better punts you'll ever see. It zips out at the 2-yard line from 49 yards away.
Missouri has now failed on 3rd-and-2 and 3rd-and-4. Whether Blaine Gabbert tends to think too much, tries to do too much, or just doesn't have the weapons (Jeremy Maclin isn't walking through that door, Chase Coffman isn't walking through that door, etc.), the third-down offense just isn't the same now as it was in 2007-08. Fortunately, Mizzou is putting together one of its best special teams days ever. Matt Grabner one-ups Barrow by having a punt downed at the 1. Field position matters, and Mizzou's winning the battle. Now just convert on third down.
'Max protect' fail. Colorado sends one man out to run a route on play-action, and when he's double covered and Tyler Hansen gets pressured in the end zone, Hansen just throws the ball out of bounds. The refs confer and agree -- there was nobody within 30 yards of the ball. That's intentional grounding, and that's a safety. 2-0 Mizzou.
Mizzou fails again on 3rd-and-2, which gives Colorado an opening in the vital "What will happen first: Mizzou gets a first down, or Colorado completes a pass?" competition. This has not been what one would call a well-played first quarter.
The Colorado defensive line has been outstanding so far. They've been able to get in Gabbert's face while only rushing three or four, which means that there are a ton of defenders in coverage. Yes, we complain a lot about Gabbert's pocket presence and his tendency to panic when his first couple of reads are covered ... but in this case, no quarterback is going to succeed at a high level if the defense is getting pressure on him with three guys. The defensive line is also doing very well in shutting down the run, as evidenced by the fact that Mizzou's fourth drive begins with a zero-yard gain by Henry Josey. Last week I said that this might be Gary Pinkel's best offensive line at Mizzou; they are not backing me up very well right now.
Fortunately, T.J. Moe makes his first appearance of the game, catching passes of 13 and 25 yards to get Mizzou inside the Colorado 35. For all intents and purposes, Moe is five games into his Mizzou career. Yes, he played last year, but a couple of dropped passes and special teams duties don't exactly make a lasting impression. This is the first season he has played a true role in the offense, and the Mizzou crowd already adores him. The whole "St. Louis boy makes good" thing is always a crowd favorite, but throw in the "He takes a ton of hits and pops up every time" factor and mix it with a nice dose of "He scored Mizzou's first final-minute, game-winning touchdown in 34 years," and you've got all-out adoration. Somebody was selling "MOE-ZOU" shirts in Lot X before the game, and everybody was buying them. And needless to say, he got a bigger ovation than even the starting quarterback when starting lineups were announced before the game.
And yes, there's an MOEZOU.com. Of course there is.
The offense will stall, but Grant Ressel booms a 47-yard field goal. 5-0 Mizzou. There just aren't enough 5-0 scores in college football. As Mike Dearmond will say to Pinkel after the game, the offense is struggling, but they still take a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth.
"Susan Griffith, will you marry me?" flashes on the Jumbotron. This begins the crowd search. Where are the cameras? There they are, in the front row of the student section! She apparently said yes. Gotta say ... even though my wife clearly said yes to my proposal, if I had done it in public, her response would likely have been "No, and don't ever speak to me again." To each their own.
After a 53-yard kickoff return by Toney Clemons (I could have gained 35 yards on it, the lane was that big), Hansen finds Clemons for a big third-and-long conversion. Fortunately, Colorado's kicking game has gotten no better since last season. After Zaviar Gooden makes a huge hit on third down (he is one of many defenders who play one of their better games tonight), Aric Goodman misses a 40-yard field goal. Once again, this is not the most memorable game in the Mizzou-Colorado series.
Which begs an interesting question: what was? Mizzou and Nebraska have played quite a few memorable contests through the years (sans the 25-year drought of mostly blowouts, of course). Recently, you had the 2003 drought-ending win, the 2007 gold rush, and the 2009 monsoon. You had the 1978 upset, still one of the most well-played, gripping games in Mizzou's history. You had other Mizzou upsets in Lincoln in 1974 and 1976, and the 13-12 home win in 1973. You had Mizzou's 16-14 win in Lincoln in 1968, and Nebraska's 16-14 obscenity-aided win in 1965. Point is, there have been a lot of tight games with thrilling finishes, and Mizzou and Nebraska played each other many times when both teams were good or very good.
Mizzou and Colorado, on the other hand? It seems like they've rarely been good at the same time. In the entire time they have been conference mates, here are the seasons in which both Mizzou and Colorado won at least eight games (or, back when teams only played 10 regular season games, seven): 1998, 1969, 1961 ... and that's it.
If your conference games do not have high stakes, then you need close finishes to be memorable. So here are the MU-CU games that have seen final scores within seven points in the last 30 years: 2003, 2002, 1999, 1992, 1990 (obviously), 1986. Six times in 30 years. The 1970s were a different story, but in the lifetimes of any Mizzou grads from the last 10 years, the memorable Mizzou-Colorado games have been exceedingly rare.
How much will we miss this this series then? Is simply playing another team every year enough to miss a rivalry? Growing up, there were quite a few people with whom I went to school all the way from kindergarten through 12th grade. But when I left for college, there were a lot that I not only didn't miss, but I didn't even really remember. I saw them almost every day for 13 years, but we both left each other's consciousness rather quickly when given the opportunity.
Make no mistake, of course: Mizzou and Colorado have provided plenty of interesting moments. For one thing, they played one of the most memorable games of all-time in 1990; that clearly means something. Plus, Mizzou's 1997 and 2007 wins were great moments in great seasons, and I've already expressed my love of the 1999 loss in Boulder as one of the most entertaining, absurd games I've ever attended. But it's pretty clear why there has been much less consternation about losing Mizzou-Colorado as compared to losing Mizzou-Nebraska.
Another 3rd-and-4 failure by Missouri is followed by the first truly exciting play of the game: Trey Barrow gets shot out of a rocket on a fake punt, bursting 26 yards for a first down. Barrow will remain Mizzou's leading rusher until the fourth quarter, when James Franklin overtakes him. Leading rusher: QB #2. Second-leading rusher: Punter #2. Odd, odd game.
The fake punt not only gives the crowd some energy, but it also lights a fire under Mizzou's offense. After a five-yard run by Marcus Murphy (seeing more first-half playing time than in any other game), Gabbert reveals that his scrambling occasionally has an upside. He bolts from the pocket and toward the line of scrimmage, and just as he's crossing the line of scrimmage, he spots Jerrell Jackson ridiculously, embarrassingly open in the front corner of the south end zone. Every member of the defensive backfield abandoned their man to chase Gabbert, and Jackson was the beneficiary. 12-0 Mizzou.
Night time has officially set in at Faurot Field. Here's where the gold rush of the past few seasons has really paid off. No matter which camera angle is used, you can catch a bit of a golden glow. It makes Faurot a rather unique environment ... and it inevitably reminds you of the 2007 Nebraska game, where the "everybody wears gold, every game" culture started to come together. As a fan experience, no home game can really top 2007 Nebraska. Perfect weather, perfect kickoff time, perfect performance, against (of course) the perfect opponent.
And here's the downside to Gabbert's scrambling. After a Colorado three-and-out, Mizzou faces a 3rd-and-10 from their 22. Gabbert escapes from what was really minimal pressure, and he is stripped on the edge of the pocket by the wonderfully named Chidera Uzo-Diribe. Jalil Brown recovers and returns the ball inside Mizzou's 20. This is obviously Colorado's best scoring opportunity of the night.
And it's still 12-0 Missouri. On 2nd-and-11 from the Mizzou 14, Colorado ran a reverse to Travon Patterson. They had been setting it up all half, faking a reverse a couple of different times, but the Mizzou defense wasn't fooled. In perhaps the best defensive play of the night, Patterson was cut off running left and attempted to reverse field. It looked like it might actually work until Kenji Jackson, doing an absolutely killer Pig Brown impersonation, darted in from out of nowhere and upended Patterson for a loss of eight. Zaviar Gooden knocked down a third down pass, then Terrell Resonno blocked the resulting 39-yard field goal attempt. (Well, really, it blocked him; it was atrociously low and didn't have a chance even if it weren't blocked.) Granted, Kenji Jackson and Wes Kemp suffered a complete and total brainfart in the process -- with Colorado players moving in, they panicked and covered the ball at the MU 3 -- but this was, regardless, a huge momentum turner for Mizzou, especially when...
...Mizzou scores to make it 19-0 nearing halftime. Kemp atones for his special teams error by coming back 15 yards to catch a duck of a lob from Gabbert on 3rd-and-7, and then the offense truly catches fire for the first time of the night. Michael Egnew (who chose not to watch the KOMU profile of him during warmups, choosing instead to ... well, warm up), Moe and Kemp combine for five catches and 55 yards, setting Mizzou up at the Colorado 14. Gabbert runs up the middle for four yards and gets sandwiched, limping off the field momentarily (both Gabbert and Colorado's Jimmy Smith were shaken up); he then overshoots Moe in the endzone. Two Colorado defenders upend each other in the process.
Bodies are flying everywhere, but Mizzou controls the chaos on 3rd-and-6 from the 10. A perfectly-executed tunnel screen to Egnew works for Gabbert's second touchdown pass of the night. Missouri fans complain about the amount of screens at times, but they are blocked like that, they are so, so pretty.
And it's a 19-point lead for Mizzou at halftime. Colorado had minus-11 second-quarter yards until a pretty, 22-yard dance by Rodney Stewart, and a worthless 22-yard pass to Scotty McKnight as time expired, got them back in the black.
Nothing says "end of a rivalry" like a trio of Lady GaGa songs from Marching Mizzou.
Alright, a few words about the Fifth Down. First of all, I really did enjoy some of the features that came out about the 20th anniversary. The Trib very predictably did a good job with Dave Matter's recap and Joe Walljasper's column. The Outside the Lines specials (print and video) were outstanding. Yes, there were thousands of other features that were repetitive and not worth the time to read, but this play really was a big deal, and it was enjoyable to go through it again.
(Not that this had any impact on the team's motivation level -- most players were between one and minus-one years old when the play took place.)
What's most amazing for me to think about is simply how much this set of five downs changed Mizzou's football culture. Think about it. Before this play, Mizzou was a semi-proud program enduring a few down years. They had been one of the most dominant programs in the 1960s, and they pulled off a series of headline-grabbing upsets in the 1970s. They were a proud program that took on all comers, even if it meant 8-4 records at best. They were drawing record crowds in the 1970s and early-1980s, and the gameday atmosphere was thriving. Warren Powers failed to capitalize on the momentum generated by his first couple of years with the program, and he was dismissed, but as late as 1984, it seemed like Mizzou was one good hire away from resuming their place as one of the country's 20-25 best programs.
Of course, Woody Widenhofer wasn't a good hire. The program endured a bottoming out in 1985 (1-10, but that one win sure was exciting), and after a couple of false starts, Widenhofer was gone by 1989. Bob Stull took over and began to bring in his own personnel (his staff, as mentioned plenty of times before, was incredibly full of coaching talent), and by the second month of his second season, it had to seem as if things were turning around. The late-1980s would be looked at as we now look at the mid-2000s in basketball -- as a down period followed by a quick and certain resurgence. When Mizzou and Colorado played in 1990, Mizzou was 2-2, having just throttled a ranked Arizona State team. Crowd interest wasn't all the way back yet, but an upset over the team who was basically the 1989 national runner-up would have been quite a "We're back" announcement. Mizzou may have still crumbled under Stull after that win (in fact, I'd say it's semi-likely that everything would have played out the same), but if Rock M Nation had existed in 1990 (and I were my current age and not 12), we would have treated this win -- and the seemingly likely bowl bid that would have followed -- as a huge, huge deal.
Instead, Mizzou staggered and fell to 4-7 after the fifth down, and the defeatist vibe would grow. Stull's program would bottom out in 1993, with the epic 73-0 loss to Texas A&M (one that could have been 100-0 had R.C. Slocum not shown some class), and by the time I got to school in 1997, the word "cursed" was thrown around quite a bit; it was almost celebrated, really. Between the Fifth Down, Tyus Edney (and the basketball program's subsequent tumble), and then the Flea Kicker, the Missouri athletic department in the mid-1990s was not the most optimistic place to be. And it all started with this single set of downs.
The second half begins. Colorado comes out with a steady and rather effective diet of Rodney Stewart, who was (along with Toney Clemons) one of the few offensive bright spots in the first half. However, back-to-back unforced penalties (false start, delay of game) and a near-disaster (Hansen somehow escapes a Dominique Hamilton sack, then almost throws a pick) sets up a 4th-and-5 at the Mizzou 40. If they have any chance of coming back, they will convert on this fourth down.
Instead, they commit their second false start in this set of downs. They'll punt instead. The story of the night for Colorado.
Mizzou has quickly gone three-and-out, and despite another pretty punt-and-roll, Colorado has already moved back to midfield. Mizzou, who I called potentially the best third-quarter team in the country less than a week ago, appears completely lifeless in the third quarter.
An illegal formation penalty (the rare "four in the backfield" call), turns 3rd-and-6 into 3rd-and-11, and Colorado cannot convert. They will punt again.
The best thing about this quarter: it has gone by quickly. De'Vion Moore hurdled a tackler at one point, which gave the crowd a temporary buzz. But two inaccurate passes from Gabbert hint that he's more dinged up than anybody thought, and Mizzou punts again. We are already almost to the end of a completely unmemorable quarter.
We've got a Cody Hawkins sighting!! The slippery Hansen was completely ineffective when he truly needed to make a play, so the coach's son gets a shot. (Because apparently they don't have any other quarterbacks?) That can only mean: another steady diet of Rodney Stewart.
The third quarter is over. On your feet for ... the Missouri Waltz! Maybe this is how they began the fourth quarter in 1946 too. Note to those on the east side of the stadium (where I normally sit): the west side holds the beat while clapping so much better than you do. Timing must come with experience.
Fourth-and-12 for Colorado from the Mizzou 22 after yet another unforced Colorado penalty (delay of game). A blitzing Kip Edwards converges with Jacquies Smith for a sack. Both have played wonderfully today, and yet again Mizzou quashes a Colorado drive (with a bit of help from the Buffs).
And the press box starts buzzing like it hasn't since the end of the Alabama game -- James Franklin is in. Gee, I wonder what the post-game interviews will focus on in about another hour...
For those who do not enjoy unnecessary quarterback controversies, the next five minutes do not go very well. Franklin makes a lovely pass to Jerrell Jackson for a first down, then breaks off a 34-yard run on a zone read, then finds throws a pretty lob to Egnew for the tight end's second touchdown of the night and a 26-0 Mizzou lead. We have talked about the past and the present tonight ... now here's the future.
The Beef sends me an e-mail around this time, saying that Franklin's perfect drive might be the worst thing that could have happened; suddenly Blaine Gabbert has become the least popular good quarterback of an undefeated team in the country. We can express disappointment that Gabbert hasn't improved more (or any) in his junior season, but as Mizzou heads into the meat of their schedule, and as they prepare to leave the state for the first time, a slightly dinged Gabbert is still a better option than a true freshman, no matter how poised said freshman looks. If we ever need a change of pace, however, Franklin might deserve a brief nod. We'll see.
(In his postgame interview, amid the barrage of "Yes, sir" and "No, sir," Franklin gives the perfect answer: Blaine Gabbert is the quarterback, and he'll be ready next week. But Franklin will be ready if his number is ever called.)
And we've found Gabbert on the sideline, with a giant Ace bandage and icepacks around his midsection. Random character in the press box: "It looks like he's carrying twins." Pinkel will say after the game that Gabbert was struggling to breathe at times because of what would end up being diagnosed as a high hip pointer. He couldn't properly rotate his hips on passes, which explains his sudden, noticeable inaccuracy in the third quarter. Gabbert is clearly a tough S.O.B., but it is pretty obvious how much trust the staff has in Franklin. Last year, Gabbert probably never comes out of the game, even if all he is doing is handing off in the fourth quarter.
With eight minutes remaining in the game, it is time to go down to the field. Press members without photo passes are allowed on the pitch for the final five minutes of the game. We share the elevator down with approximately 113 other people, two-thirds of which are old, rich, drunk alumni. It is an enjoyable, if claustrophobic, ride.
While waiting for the clock to officially hit five minutes, we get to watch from the south gate as Kip Edwards intercepts a fourth down pass and returns it 50 yards to the Colorado 32. Mike Alden stopped next to us to watch the play, then happily fist-bumped an assistant as they walked to the field. (Shockingly, the A.D. does not have to wait until five minutes remain.) I would begin to ramble about the amazing job Alden has done in hiring coaches over the last decade, but I've shared my thoughts on that before. And this post is already long enough.
Time to watch the remaining few minutes along the fence in front of the locker rooms and Touchdown Terrace; it's an interesting mess of Rock M members (RPT, UribeAuction, SleepyFloyd7, and myself), Golden Girls, photographers, and athletic department officials. Soon, the recruits who were watching the game from the east stands move to congregate in front of the locker room as well. Mizzou quarterback Corbin Berkstresser: pretty big boy. Mizzou offensive line commit Taylor Chappel: VERY big boy.
Really, a recruit's visit is a pretty sweet deal, as I got to learn when a certain Oklahoma tight end was doing the recruiting rounds back in 2006. They get fed a big meal at Dan Devine Pavilion before the game (Pinkel comes by at some point to say hi and give them all the once-over), they tour the facilities (weight room, press box, etc.), they get nice seats at the game (it used to be behind the south end zone, but now they're on the east side to accommodate Touchdown Terrace), they get to stand outside the locker room and high five the players as they're coming in after the game, and they get to hang out inside the locker room during the postgame speeches and everything. You may even get to talk to your favorite player for a while. Of course, he may be naked while you do so. This is a locker room, after all.
(That last part has some pretty clear unintended consequences. Trent's older brother as we were getting ready to leave the locker room in '06: "Well, I guess if we're all done looking at d***s, we can get out of here, huh?" You really can't avoid them.)
Matt White makes breaks up a third-down pass in gorgeous fashion, and Cody Hawkins' fourth-down pass to Scotty McKnight falls incomplete. The shutout will stand. SleepyFloyd7: "Just for old time's sake, we should give them another down." Yes. Yes we should. But we don't.
Franklin downs the ball in victory formation, and Mizzou is 5-0 for the fourth time in five seasons. I know we're getting spoiled here and are already recalibrating our expectations to be disappointed with 9-3, but it bears mentioning that before 2006, Mizzou had started 5-0 just twice since Dan Devine's departure in 1971 (1973, 1981). Yes, early schedules are easier now, but before we get caught up in the game of raised expectations, we should take a second to marvel at Mizzou's run of success. Yes, we always want more, but we are currently getting a more consistently high level of play from year to year than in any time since at least the late-1970s. And it feels pretty good.
As RPT darts onto the field to film the celebration, I wander on the field myself. It's only the second time I've been on the field since we rushed the field following the 2003 Nebraska win. Right on cue, I see Rod Smith again. No Sonny Riccio, however.
While hanging next to Sleepy like a good unpaid intern (which was my unofficial role for the day), I once again realize that he knows everybody. There's Dan Hoch, telling him that whatever hobbled him during part of the game would be fine. There's Kevin Rutland, who has by all accounts matured dramatically in his time at Mizzou, going out of his way to shake Sleepy's hand. There's Anthony Gatti, who is a big freaking guy. For some reason, he looks bigger than the other linemen ... aside from Chris Freeman, anyway. Freeman still has a good couple of inches (and quite a few biscuits) on everybody else.
We await Gary Pinkel's arrival in the interview room. Through the locker room walls, we can hear the team celebrating loudly. You can't make out the words, but you can hear Pinkel yelling something, followed by an explosion of shouts and cheers.
When you're this close to both the winning team and the losing team, you really do come to realize that every win is a big, big deal. Almost every week, your team takes on a team with 85 scholarship players as or almost as big/fast/strong as they are. They play chess against a coaching staff that is getting paid almost as much, as much, or much more than they are. (Even most of the bad coaching staffs and programs are made up of rather smart, competent people.) Every week they plan and prepare and worry. The anxiety and the sleep deprivation add up throughout the season, and you can very easily come to understand why coach health problems seem to increase on a year to year basis.
The differences between winning and losing, even by 26 points, are minuscule, and you celebrate every time you're on the winning side of the ledger.
The Pinkel portion of the press conference has begun. It really is impressive how much he seems to have loosened up (or at least become more self-deprecating) over the years. Then again, winning helps. I assume the tenor may have been different after a loss.
The free-for-all begins as the players appear for interviews, and the media members post up around them. James Franklin, Trey Barrow, Dominique Hamilton, Jacquies Smith, Marcus Murphy, Carl Gettis, Zaviar Gooden, Andrew Gachkar, Terrell Resonno, and eventually Blaine Gabbert populate what really isn't a very large room. Gotta say, it's a bit entertaining watching the Dave Matters, Dearmonds, and others go to work. They are efficient in both the questions they ask and the amount of room they cover over the course of 15 minutes.
Time to head home. I get a text from a buddy of mine that says, simply, "I f***ing love Les Miles," so I call him and set about the long hike back to Lot X.