As Pete Scantlebury settles in, I’m getting ready to head out the RMN door. So consider this a valedictory series of sorts. I’ve been in Columbia for just over 20 years and just over 20 football seasons. Time to list some of my favorite things from that time. We started with Mizzou quarterbacks. Now let’s pan to the crowd.
Honorable mention: 1998 vs. Kansas, 2000 vs. Michigan State, 2002 vs. Oklahoma, 2003 vs. Texas Tech, 2012 vs. Georgia, 2013 vs. Florida, 2013 vs. Texas A&M, 2014 vs. Arkansas
5. 1997 vs. Nebraska
The best home crowds are aspirational. They’re the ones that think their team needs help and that they can deliver it. So if your main rival isn’t all that good — and Kansas, Mizzou’s primary rival for most of its existence, usually stinks — then a rivalry crowd is as tense and impatient as helpful.
But against the heavyweights, the home crowd tends to come through as long as it’s given a reason to. This was my fourth home game ever as a Mizzou student, and as was the case in 1999 and 2001, the home crowd brought it against Nebraska. The Huskers were obviously the top dog, and as of 1997 it had been 19 years since the Tigers had taken them down.
Unlike 1999 and 2001, though, there wasn’t an early knockout blow. The crowd kept willing the team forward. The atmosphere was electric — my favorite story (never to be proven right or wrong) is about announcer Brent Musberger running to the bathroom during a commercial break and basically patting everyone in the men’s room on the back and gushing, “Isn’t this great??” — and it remained so well into the fourth quarter. When Al Sterling all but intercepted a tipped ball with under a minute left, we in the student section involuntarily surged forward a couple of rows. When Scott Frost’s last pass of the evening was tipped away from Shevin Wiggins, we surged forward a couple more. (Not many of us noticed that a couple of players had randomly dived toward the ground and the ref’s arms had gone up.)
My ticket was in the 14th row, and I was in the fifth by the end of the evening. Almost 21 years later, I remember more about this game and that evening than almost any I’ve experienced.
(This should probably be more like No. 2 or 3, but it worked pretty well as a starter course, so go with it.)
4. 2013 vs. South Carolina
One of my favorite lines is that even on TV, you can tell what a crowd is like from the reaction shots. If something good happens, and they flash to the crowd and everybody’s cheering or raising their arms or whatever, fine. I’m sure they’re having fun. But when you flash to the crowd, and limbs are flailing in every possible direction, it’s chaos.
This may have been the single most chaotic home crowd I can remember. It was a night game, the weather was gorgeous (and the tailgates were extra long, if you get what I’m saying), Mizzou was up to No. 5 in the country (and no one had even come close to expecting it), Steve Spurrier was in town ... this was a party. For three quarters, at least. And for the few seconds after this play, it was a 67,000-strong mosh pit.
The crowd shots don’t do it justice. I didn’t even see the last half of the play. After the two defenders ran into each other, all hell broke loose.
Did I mention the tailgates had been extra long that day?
I couldn’t even be all that mad about the ending (or the haunting sound of Andrew Baggett’s field goal pinging off of the upright in a suddenly ghost-quiet stadium). I strangely moved on very quickly. This day had just been too much fun.
3. 2007 vs. Nebraska
This crowd gets a point deduction for doing the wave for like 20 minutes in the second half. But you have to understand: we were bored. The game had been over for a while.
By this point, beating Nebraska was losing its novelty — it was to be Mizzou’s third straight home win over the Huskers (and would be followed by a road win the next year) — but this was still to be Mizzou’s 2007 coming-out party. We thought we had a pretty good team to root for that year, but this was the night to prove it.
It was another day of perfect weather and extra-long tailgates, and the winner was expected to become a runaway favorite of sorts in the Big 12 North. (Kansas’ emergence would flip that story around a bit.) Mizzou fans were ready. This was a party, too ... only, one that didn’t have a catastrophic ending.
By the way, this game was the ultimate trend setter. It was the first successful “Gold Rush” game, and it was so successful that Mizzou just decided to make every game a Gold Rush game thereafter. And the “That’s another First Down ... M-I-Z” bit from the announcer? It started here, too.
2. 2010 vs. Oklahoma
Take everything I said about 2013 South Carolina, subtract the catastrophic ending, and add in a visit from ESPN GameDay, an even more perfect weather day, Homecoming, and one of those historic aspirational rivals. And Gahn McGaffie.
1. 2003 vs Nebraska
So I missed a really good friend’s wedding that day. I kept convincing myself that I should really try to attend it, but every time I tried, my brain just sort of misfired. How the hell was I supposed to miss Nebraska?
If Mizzou is missing anything right now in the SEC, it’s this sort of aspirational rival. There’s plenty of potential with Georgia — in six games against the Dawgs, two have been achingly close, two more were ultra competitive until the road team pulled away (Georgia in 2012, Mizzou in 2013), and, of course, UGA is a burgeoning college football heavyweight. The Dawgs are even nice enough to wear red for the full-on NU impersonation. But Athens isn’t quite as close as Lincoln, and you don’t have the same sort of town invasion when Georgia visits as you did when NU did.
Great crowds are still obviously possible at Faurot, but for now that has more to do with how Mizzou is doing and not much to do with its opponent. And that’s fine — as long as Mizzou’s holding up its end of the bargain and playing well, the crowds will come back, and it’ll be fun.
But Nebraska was one hell of a foil for a while there. Damn, those NU visits were fun.
Anyway, this crowd took everything the 1997 crowd had to offer and added one more heaping tablespoon of stubbornness. After the third quarter, I called a friend of mine who had gone to the aforementioned wedding — she was clearly a much better person than me, but I did serve the purpose of calling and leaving periodic messages. Nebraska had just scored 14 points to take a 24-14 lead into the final 15 minutes, and the Mizzou offense had stagnated. There was every reason to believe this game was going to turn out like every other MU-NU game of the last 25 years. But in the message, I remember saying, “I don’t know. I think we’ve got this. I think we’re fine.” For some reason, the entire crowd believed it, too.
What followed, of course, was the most perfect fourth quarter Mizzou fans will ever see. Mizzou touchdown, Nebraska turnover. Mizzou touchdown, Nebraska punt. Mizzou touchdown, Nebraska turnover. Mizzou touchdown, ZouDave and I meeting at the 50-yard line to make snow angels on the field.