If you really think about it, our sports teams are some of the closest relationships we have in our entire lives.
How many people in your life can compete with the amount of time and energy you’ve invested into your favorite team(s)? How many friends do you have more memories with than your team? How many times have your team or teams driven you to the heights and depths of your emotional capacity?
This may all sound very sad. I’m not here to tell you it isn’t — just stating the facts.
The truth is, sports fans have a hard time putting trust in their teams. Unless you’re from Boston, Tuscaloosa, Clemson or any one of the multitude of college blue blood towns, your team often ends the season with some sort of failure. Maybe it’s the failure to win a bowl game or in the playoffs. Maybe it’s the failure to even make the playoffs. Maybe it’s the act of getting so close to a championship, only to be the first runner-up (also known as the first-place loser).
Trust is something we only impart to those closest to us. It’s an act that requires two-way commitment — an implicit agreement that if we put our faith in someone or something, they’re expected to follow through. When’s the last time you actually had trust in your team, trust so strong that you had total confidence they were coming through for you?
Missouri fans may have never had this with a football team. Even in 2007 and 2013, Missouri dropped games they could’ve won — sometimes in devastating fashion. Even aside from program-changing seasons, though, is the existence of a “Mizzou curse” that a large portion of the fandom hangs on to. It’s this heavy, ugly feeling that the other shoe is always bound to drop. It dropped when Baggett doinked the upright. It dropped when Michael Porter Jr. checked out early during the Iowa State game. It dropped when Missouri couldn’t complete the comeback in Laramie just six weeks ago.
However, if any Tiger football team in program history had that trust from the fanbase, this one would seem to. While the Ole Miss win wasn’t the most dominating on paper, it showed that Missouri is good enough to not need its best game all the time. Even without All-American caliber linebacker Cale Garrett anchoring the defense, the Tigers should be able to simply show up, go through the motions and beat at least eight teams on the schedule.
Since the inexplicable loss to Wyoming, Missouri has outscored its opponents 202 to 58. After getting gashed for nearly 400 yards, only one offense has gone over 300 on the Tigers. After losing the turnover battle in embarrassing fashion, the defense has flipped its turnover margin to a plus-six.
And while the schedule is favorable, it’s not as if every team that has played Missouri is a cupcake. Look no further than Athens, Ga., where fans are still reeling from the loss to South Carolina — yes, the same South Carolina that got smacked in (the better) Columbia. By every measure — statistical, traditional and otherwise — the Missouri Tigers are talked about as one of the country’s best teams, one that could even challenge for the top of the SEC East.
However, just because the loss to Wyoming has been buried doesn’t mean it will stay that way.
You see, the thing about trust is that, while it can be regained, scars still linger. The phrase, “forgive and forget,” is so cliche because it’s impossible and unwise, ceding ground to the more appropriate, “Fool me once, shame on me...” and its variants. While we’re all capable of forgiving, we’re stay guarded when it comes to forgetting— especially in sports. Major sports disappointments are a special type of revolting heartbreak, and Missouri has taught us well to expect those over the course of its history.
Forgiving and forgetting also doesn’t tell the whole story. The act of forgiveness dictates that, while a wrong is being righted, the same mistakes won’t happen again. Expectations are reset to where they were before. You don’t erase the sting of mistakes’ past only to carry their lighter burdens. When you earn trust, you earn expectation. And when you betray trust more than once, those disappointments become harder and harder to swallow.
So as Missouri plows ahead into the second half of its schedule, every fan can find itself asking the question: do I trust this team? The results say that fans should, and the attendance numbers say they do.
But a warning to the 2019 Missouri Tigers: fans have been here before — just a few weeks ago, in fact! They’re familiar with disappointment’s bitter wages. And while everything seems to have been set right, all it takes is one misstep to bring the whole thing down once again.
No pressure, though.