The day started in Lawrence, kansas. For the love of God, please stay with me.
On the evening of December 28, I lay in bed of my AirBnB thinking of how strange it was that for Mizzou’s biggest bowl game in a decade, I’d be spending the day in Lawrence of all places. Don’t blame me for having family ties in the area — it’s part of who I am.
When kickoff time came around, I happened to be on the road back home, my wonderful wife taking the evening drive shift so I could watch the game. And for the first three hours of the trip, my viewing station — hunched over in the passenger seat of a minivan looking at my phone — seemed appropriate for the level of performance taking place in Arlington, Texas. Not that I expected an explosion of offense — Ohio State does play an abysmal, yet successful brand of football, in my opinion — but I wanted something a little more than 28 passing yards and a Riley Williams showcase.
As it so happens, the three hour mark of our trip back home took us through Columbia. I looked out my window as we passed the exit for Stadium Boulevard — an area I lived for several years during my time at Mizzou — and thought, “That’d be something if Mizzou turned it around just after we passed through CoMo.”
A few minutes later, Brady Cook connected with Marquis Johnson for a 50-yard post route. A few minutes after that, Cody Schrader punched in the decisive touchdown.
The confluence of events happening on my roadtrip probably had nothing to do with Brady Cook’s accuracy, Cody Schrader’s ever-pumping legs or Daylan Carnell’s ability to reach the quarterback at Mach 10 speed. But I’d be lying if I didn’t feel like they were all cosmically aligned for just a second.
And that’s just how much of Mizzou Sports felt in 2023. Dennis Gates led a ragtag bunch of transfers and an unlikely first-round NBA draft pick to the program’s first NCAA Tournament win in 13 years. Brian Smith led his wrestling program to yet another top finish at the 2023 Championships and has them in great position to make a run at the top in 2024. Jocelyn Moore perfected the vault. Dawn Sullivan took a floundering volleyball program and immediately brought it back to the NCAA Tournament in her first year. Hell, Kerrick Jackson came back to Mizzou and even brought Tim Jameison with him!
But perhaps no program at the university epitomized the feeling of magic better than this Missouri football team. Consider...
A minuscule percentage of the historical human population has been able to kick a ball 61 yards through a pair of uprights. Even fewer have done it in the dying seconds of a game.
A sophomore business major, who also happens to share punting duties on the football team, tossed a 40-yard touchdown at a hostile stadium where Mizzou hasn’t been able to buy a win in about a decade.
Mizzou had a win probably swing of over 700% in the final 90 seconds of their game against Florida, mostly due to the 4th & 17 that has since entered the Tiger fan lexicon.
A former walk-on, who took DoorDash jobs to prepare for a life without football before coming to Mizzou, set the program’s single-season rushing record and was voted a consensus All-American.
Again, all of these things probably had nothing to do with each other and especially not with the great stuff happening in the other athletics programs. That’s not how sports work.
Or do they? After all, sports aren’t necessarily rational by nature. Statistical anomalies are happening all the time. Underdogs are a feature, not a bug. Untimely delay-of-game penalties that lead to more dramatic last-second field goals are, by definition, still mistakes. They just happen to be mistakes that add to the charm of the memory.
So go ahead and roll your eyes at me for believing a lit bit of CoMo magic rubbed off onto me and was technologically transported to the team in Arlington via my ESPN+ stream. At the very least, you can agree that it got the kU stink off me.
But I also happen to believe that something magical was taking place in Columbia in 2023. And who’s to say how magic can and cannot work?