The date was November 10th, 2012. I was a sophomore at Mizzou and a few of my friends and I made the trip out to Knoxville to watch what was certain to be a terrible football game between two dreadful teams. It didn’t turn out that way. In fact, it was a pretty damn entertaining game between two 4-5 teams. The Tigers came out victorious in a double overtime performance against Tennessee that doubled as “The DGB Game.”
That’s not why most college football fans remember that day, though. Most remember it for something very different. Frankly, the only reason I remember that day is because of what took place elsewhere in the SEC later that day.
My friends and I were getting ready to sit down for dinner at Calhoun’s On the River when the SEC’s headliner game came to its conclusion. I couldn’t believe what we just witnessed.
Johnny Effing Football had done it.
It was a moment that created a sensation. One day. One game. A lifetime of memories.
To really understand what took place that day, we need to remember what Alabama football was at the time. The Tide had lost four SEC games in the previous four seasons, combined. Only two of those losses came at home; against top-ranked LSU in 2011 and against Cam Newton’s eventual national champion Auburn team in 2010.
This was a good Texas A&M team, but they had already lost twice that season. Beating Alabama? On the road? In the Aggies’ first season in the SEC? C’mon, now. Don’t be ridiculous.
We now know how the story ends. Johnny Manziel had the performance of a lifetime, racking up 250 yards through the air and another 90 on the ground. Texas A&M, a 13.5-point underdog, went into Alabama and did the unthinkable.
The Aggies toppled the best program in the country on their home field.
This was a moment Texas A&M fans will remember for the rest of their lives. It’s a story fans of the team will be telling their grandkids. Heck, it’s a story I’ll be telling my grandkids and I don’t even like Texas A&M.
It didn’t matter that the Aggies finished the season 10-2. It didn’t matter that the Aggies had no real chance to make it to the SEC Championship.
This was a moment. One none of us would soon forget.
And that’s what college football is all about. Or, at least, that’s what it’s supposed to be about. I’m not someone who yells at the clouds about transfers or NIL money or anything of the sort. But what I do get frustrated about is our collective inability to appreciate a successful season for what it is.
Not every team can aspire to be a national champion every year. It’s not realistic. In fact, most teams will never win a national championship. Only 14 teams have appeared in the College Football Playoff since its inception in 2014. Only seven teams have appeared in the title game. Trying to crack that group is like trying to accumulate generational wealth in one lifetime. Sure, it’s technically possible. But the odds are remarkably low.
So, why watch? Why invest all of this time and money and energy into a program when the best-case scenario is for your favorite team to end up in a bowl game in which half of the team’s best players will opt-out?
For moments like this.
Texas A&M had their moment. Only one other team (Stanford) has gone on the road and defeated a top-ranked AP team since Texas A&M did so against Alabama. Ironically enough, it actually took place the very next week.
In the decade since, nada.
College football fandom is built on these moments. Think back in your memory bank about some of your favorite Mizzou football moments. The game that came to mind probably didn’t propel the Tigers into the national title game. But, on that day, it felt like the most important thing in your world. It provided you with some hope. It filled you with a sense of pure, unbridled joy.
These moments spark something inside of you that keeps you coming back, waiting for the next moment that makes you feel the way you did that day.
Those days are fleeting. They are few and far between. Very rarely does a program like Missouri have a chance to provide its fanbase with this kind of moment.
I’m about to turn 31 years old, and my Mizzou fandom goes back about 20 years. For me, the games that come to mind that gave me this kind of feeling were 2003 Nebraska, 2007 Kansas, 2010 Oklahoma, 2013 Georgia, 2020 LSU (I know, I know), and the K-State game earlier this season. There are others that stand out, no doubt, but those are the games that immediately come to mind for me.
Beating Georgia in Athens has the potential to rise to the top of that list. It’s the kind of win that would lead SportsCenter on Sunday morning. It would be the talk of college football fans across America by Monday. Your water cooler conversations? Yeah, they’ll all start with, “so, how about those Tigers?!”
Mizzou is a significant underdog. We all know what the likely outcome is when the Tigers take the field on Saturday. But that won’t stop us from watching, because we’re all chasing the next moment that can make us feel the way the last one did.
This is what college football is all about. It’s about moments. Moments that lead to memories. Memories that last a lifetime.
Missouri can create that moment on Saturday. I’ll be watching from the couch with my 4-month-old baby boy. Will you remember where you were watching this game 10 years from now? We’ll soon find out.