It’s Chrismas, but for Missouri fans, it may seem like the presents have already been unwrapped.
(Ok, yes, a bowl win and a nine-win season are the champagne waiting to be popped on New Year’s Eve, but we can wait for that.)
The basketball team — both of them! — ended losing streaks to Illinois over the weekend, and both came in relatively dominant fashion. Even more, we had the wonderful schadenfreude of watching players with Illini connections lead one of those double-digit wins. Let’s face it, like watching an annoying cousin return from the first semester of college looking like the Michelin Man, schadenfreude around the holidays is the gift that keeps on giving.
Even more than that, Missouri finally has an honest-to-goodness rivalry with some real teeth, from fans to the teams themselves! Even reporters are getting involved:
Missouri football gave us plenty of presents leading up to Christmas, opening the Advent calendar of recruits with Kelly Bryant and Shawn Robinson and Jamie Pettway, et al. And there are potentially more presents left (in addition to the bowl game) with four-star defensive end Chester Graves still on the board.
We have a wrestling team that’s ranked sixth in the nation and is one of the low-key biggest sports attractions in the state, even taking its show on the road to Kansas City and packing a gym there — and winning in thrilling fashion.
But you know what is the best present of all? Stability.
For the first time since — maybe 2013? — it feels like we have that stability. Not just with football or basketball, but with the entire athletic department. Over the last month, Missouri athletics has made national news, and it’s been almost exclusively positive.
- High-profile, much sought-after transfers? Check.
- A potential first-round pick at quarterback? Check.
- Big wins for the basketball teams, including the emergence of Jeremiah Tilmon into the player everyone expected him to be? Check.
- Coaches that bleed black and gold? Check.
- Uniforms oozing with swagger for both football and basketball? Check and check.
This is in stark comparison to where the athletic department stood three years ago, when an all-talk, no-walk athletic director rolled into Columbia with his HGTV cliches and then almost just as fast rolled back out of Columbia with those some cliches.
The culture has changed — Sam Snelling wrote about Missouri basketball’s culture following the Braggin’ Rights win, but there’s been a shift in the culture of the athletic department as a whole. From coaches all the way down to a pretty awesome graphics and marketing team, Mizzou sports are cool again. Yes, I know that’s coming from a 32-year old man who goes to bed before 10 p.m. every night, but there’s just a different aura around these teams right now.
It’s not perfect. Missouri isn’t suddenly competing for national championships or even conference championships in the Tier-I sports, but it as assembled a group of individuals, from coaches down to the players, that seem to want to be here, that want to lay foundations and build and build and build.
That’s stability, and considering what Missouri fans have been through over the last few years, that’s the greatest Christmas present of them all.
Merry Christmas, everyone.