Corby Jones (1995-98)
What was your Corby moment? Mine came in the final minute of the 1997 Nebraska game. Down 28-24, with the ball at the Nebraska 6, he backed up to pass. Seeing nobody open, he scrambled right, advanced to around the 3-yard line, then, for all intents and purposes, dove backwards toward the endzone. He was upended by two Huskers but blindly stretched the ball across the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown.
That single play encapsulated everything Corby Jones had to offer: leadership, athleticism, testicular fortitude, (somewhat justifiable) lack of trust in his arm or his receivers ... everything.
It would be easy to forget about Corby a bit -- we thought he was fast, but then we saw Brad Smith. We thought he was a leader and a winner, but then we saw Chase Daniel. But in the 1990s, with Mizzou having quickly become a bottom-tier program, Corby (one of the clearest "first-name only" athletes in Mizzou history) willed them back to relevance. He chose Mizzou over Nebraska when nobody did that, and like the team itself, he suffered through some significant growing pains in his first couple of seasons. But after showing more glimpses of greatness over the last portion of his sophomore season, he became the face of Mizzou's first winning teams in almost 15 years.
Like his career as a whole, the 1997 season unfolded slowly and memorably. From last summer's Countdown piece on 1997:
When I ponder how exactly to go about writing a book about Mizzou football history (it's still in the cards, but it's going to take a while), I wonder about word counts and page numbers. Some seasons, you can summarize in a page or less. The team had the same strengths and the same weaknesses, they beat bad teams and lost to good teams, and then the season was over. Then, there are seasons like 1997, with enough plot twists and highs and lows and unexpected turns and craziness ... that I briefly ponder writing a book about each decade. The 1997 season is one of those "inevitably high word count" seasons. There could be a chapter on the 15-7 KU loss and Corby's crisis of confidence. And a chapter on Andy Katzenmoyer's classic hit ... it was that good.
[T]here could be a chapter on the 41-11 loss at Kansas State, the team meetings that followed, the season reversal that occurred starting with the Homecoming win over Texas. Then a chapter on the double-OT win over Oklahoma State -- the first half surge, the second half collapse, the one-handed touchdown grab by Ricky Ross, the greatest call of all-time from Bill Teegins, and the swinging gate. And a chapter about the Colorado game (Rick Neuheisel after the game: "I had no idea they could do what they did to us.") and clinching of bowl eligibility for the first time since 1983. And about six chapters on the Flea Kicker game -- one for the pre-game hype, one for each quarter, one for the play itself, one for overtime. And a chapter on the team's recovery against Baylor. And of course one for the Holiday Bowl. And a final one for the way the level of pride found in the university and the city itself quadrupled between the beginning of October and the end of November. The 1997 team, which coincided with my freshman year at Mizzou, had a sense for the dramatic -- both the good kind and the bad kind -- and though it goes on the list in the midst of a string of 6-, 7- and 8-win teams, it stands out for that reason.
The five-game stretch from Texas to the Baylor season finale was one of the most memorable strings of games in recent memory; Corby went to a new place, and he took the team with him. The 1998 season was even better, though attached to a giant waft of "What If." Corby fought through a lingering turf toe issue, and Mizzou lost three games by a touchdown or less, but they out-shot West Virginia in the Insight.com Bowl to finish 8-4.
Their 15 wins in 1997 and 1998 were as many as Mizzou won in five seasons under Bob Stull and more than Mizzou won in four seasons under Woody Widenhofer. Mizzou was back -- albeit briefly -- and nobody had a more singular influence on the turnaround than Corby Jones.