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Why Not Now: A realist’s reflection on optimism and Mizzou Football

The naïve hopes of 4-year-olds can be trampled with repeated disappointment. But, occasionally, that youthful hope can be rekindled.

I grew up in Columbia. My grandfather was a professor at the University so my dad and uncles grew up around the program and, inevitably, so did I.

When you’re young, you don’t know anything and are super impressionable so when I got to see practices and watch what the gigantic armored-clad gentlemen were doing, I thought that this was the greatest collection of athletic talent ever assembled. This was all the 1990s when Missouri was continually one of the worst college football teams on the planet, mind you.

Fast forward.

It’s November 8th, 1997. Columbia, Mo. has been buzzing with raw energy as the number one team in the country visits Mizzou for what should be yet another routine beat down of the scrappy Tigers of Missouri. However, Corby Jones, Brock Olivo, Ron Janes, Devin West, and Earnest Blackwell have run roughshod over the vaunted Blackshirt defense and are clinging to a 38-31 lead with a 1:03 left. This is the first time that I’ve understood what a victory like this could mean and it’s the first time I ever remember being emotionally wrapped up in a tornado of intensity that 60,000 of my closest friends are sharing, especially the group in Section NN of Faurot Field who are way more excited than I’ve ever seen them before.

For the first time in my memory people are standing. Jumping. Screaming. Willing their team to a defensive stop. My grandfather - a strong proponent of “you sit down to enjoy the game” - is actually standing in support of a depleted but inspired Missouri defense. My father - born with the black and gold interwoven into his DNA that he subsequently passed on to me - is the most animated that I will ever see him in a single game. In the row in front of me a curmudgeonly older man - who stands out in a crowd of curmudgeonly older men, mind you - has his arms crossed during this massive calamity and shakes his head while yelling to his adult son next to him, “Mizzou can’t do it, I’ve seen this play out before”.

His son, taking a quick pause from leaping and yelling turns, and says something I’ll never forget: “Pops! Things change! Why not now?”

F*** you, Matt Davison

“Why not now?”

It’s a phrase that bounces around in my head, more fervently and fiercely around this time of year when the summer is still bleaching fields and making life miserable for us regular folks while 120 young men put on plastic pads and black helmets and start colliding with each other.

“Why not now?” is a question I asked myself among the countless practices I visited as a kid, watching guys who seemed like giants efficiently practice their drills, leading naïve-little me to thinking, “How could anyone that works this hard ever be bad at it?”.

“Why not now?” was at the forefront of my thoughts at halftime of December 1st, 2007. And leading up to a lackluster night on December 6th, 2008.

“Why not now?” was racing through my brain as James Franklin uncorked a 69-yard bomb to L’Damian Washington in the 3rd quarter on September 9th, 2012. And I couldn’t help but think it as I watched two upstart teams land nothing but haymakers on December 7th, 2013.

I’ve watched too much Missouri football to know how most seasons go. I’ve seen promising seasons undone in the first two weeks; promising careers undone by injury or foolishness; promising coaches undone by hubris and inflexibility. I’ve seen, in person, the most improbable loss in college football history multiple times. I’ve written on this website and said on our podcast repeatedly: I’m a Missouri fan; you can’t hurt me or surprise me with disaster. I say that to protect my fandom from the inevitable letdown because, hey, you can’t be disappointed if you knew it was coming, right?

But here’s my secret: to this day, I still have that hope of the 4-year-old watching wide-eyed as his favorite team plays in front of him and believes that they are the best.

It’s a little irrational part of my brain that will forever believe that Missouri is one or two pieces away. And that every year could be a magical year. Or that this season - no matter the players, coaches, opponents, whatever - is the season that the Tigers throw off the shackles of mediocrity and kickstart a run that rivals those dynasties of the blue bloods of yesteryear.

And all the raw and advanced numbers - as well as pure probability - that I study let me know that clearly it’s not going to happen, and I know that in college football even small cracks in the armor can be busted open and exploited for 6 and 7-loss seasons. So I focus on those, point out the flaws that need to be fixed, put my shield up, and just anticipate either the most brutal loss possible or the most mediocre season imaginable.

But deep down - way past any rational thought or logical explanation - is that annoying little 4-year old kid with that optimistic belief.

“Why not now?”

Frankly, holding on to hope is what fans are supposed to do. It’s a continuous flame that unites all of us, from our elders who suffered through 30 years of some ups but mostly downs, the folks my age who’ve been shown flashes of promise but no sustainability, and those more recent fans who have only known a world of .500 football records. Holding on to that flame of belief is important, especially for the fans who hoped and prayed and wished to see a run like we saw in ‘07 and ‘13 but never had the opportunity. And I’ll admit, that flame still carries on in me, especially for the people who taught me about the game and the fandom and kickstarted an interest that became a hobby that became a job. I carry it for my fellow alums and current members of Marching Mizzou. I carry it for my original fan support system from the folks in Section NN.

And I’ll keep that flame of hope alive because the possibility - that a mid-tier college football program can rise up and change the lives of its fandom forever - is what unites all of us, regardless of who we are as individuals.

And this year I’m letting that flame of belief breathe with full oxygen. Every question this team had at the end of 2022 has been addressed and answered. I believe in this staff. I believe in these players. I believe that this could be the year that gets foisted into the pantheon of magical years that keeps fanbases going.

I - and every other Mizzou fan - have been patient in this staff’s building with the promise of a breakthrough in Year Four. And now I’m done waiting for “next year” to turn the corner.

This is Missouri’s year. It’s our year.

It’s August 31st, 2023. Why not now?