In sports, like in life, we’re almost always afraid of the unknown.
As humans, our brains crave certainty... or at the very least, the idea of it. It’s why we love a good story with resolution. We can see the pieces put together to make up a beginning, a middle and an end. Our primal need for certainty can also be attributed to widespread fears of: death, the dark, the ocean and Nicolas Cage movies (yikes). Try as we might, we’ll never be able to probe all the mysteries these things hold. Uncertainty takes hold and we’re left looking for something else to put us back on solid ground.
Therefore, the very nature of sports make it a hilariously bad — but also weirdly good? — place for us to turn when seeking to fill this void. All sports are made up of a series of small stories (who scores first? who scores more? who wins more?) that end in glorious victory or abject defeat, each building on the last until one team hoists a shiny trophy and everyone else sulks. Then they all start over again.
The point is, we can never have certainty in sports until the very end. There will always be questions to ask, and the answers we get will be wholly unsatisfying in the light of the next set of questions headed our way.
That brings us to Missouri, a team seemingly engineered to bring out the fear of the unknown in its loyalists.
There are more than a few reasons to be certain, without question or doubt, that Missouri is Confirmed Good™ at football. Just look at this list: The quarterback has a championship pedigree, the tight end is a future NFL star in the making, there are a handful of all-conference talents on both sides of the ball, the coach has improved the team’s record in every season so far and has the same overall record through 40 games as his predecessor, one of the two great coaches the program has ever employed. See what I mean?
There are also a concerning number of reasons to be totally sure, without question or doubt, that Missouri is Confirmed Just OK™ at football. On this list: They’re prone to self-defeat, they oftentimes seem unprepared or unfocused, they have a history of struggling against both prey and predator teams, and while being fine isn’t the worst thing in the world of college football, it’s hard to get excited about a program that seems like one of many in the sport’s soft middle.
How you choose to look at Missouri’s first two games — and maybe the past few years as an extension — mostly depends on your general outlook on life. Do you need to see to believe? Are you comfortable investing yourself on the word of someone you barely know? Have you been burned one too many times? Are you throwing caution to the wind on the regular?
We tend to evaluate the ebbs and flows of a football season in a harsh dichotomy. One week leaves you feeling like you could wrestle a whole tide of crimson (I just now realized that doesn’t work), and the next leaves you certain you’d fall victim to the woeful likes of teams named after fake birds and volunteers. And when you get too high or too low, someone — your friendly neighborhood sports blog, perhaps? — comes along to remind you, “Hey, no need to fret. You just gotta keep livin’, man. L-I-V-I-N.”
The problem is, that’s not how our brains work. We long for a solid foundation on which to stand and drive ourselves crazy looking for one. So far, Missouri hasn’t offered one up. And until they do, every opinion is valid. We’ll all just be fumbling around in the dark, afraid and intrigued by what the next Saturday has to offer.