December 16, 2009

Powered Up: Pinkel's biggest win

The other day, I was talking to a friend about the Missouri recruiting class, the upcoming season and the one gone by (believe it or not, I do have discussions that don't revolve around Missouri sports, but most of them seem to be with my wife). Anyway, I made the following statement: "I think the win over Kansas might be the most influential win Gary Pinkel has had at Missouri."

Now, before we get into the reasons, let me state unequivocally that it wasn't the biggest win Pinkel has had. That is, was and will remain the 2007 game against the Jayhawks. The 2003 and 2007 wins over Nebraska were bigger. But as far as impacting the direction of his entire program, I don't know that Pinkel has ever had a more critical win.

Think for a just a moment how different you would feel if something had gone wrong in the final 180 seconds against the Jayhawks. You all know the sequence of events. With three minutes left, Derrick Washington tripped over Blaine Gabbert and turned third and a half yard into fourth and four. Pinkel punted the ball away and anybody who bleeds black and gold was swearing at the television and wondering why Pinkel-who by most measures is among Missouri's three most successful coaches-was about to go 3-and-5 against Mark Mangino. How can they lose to a team that's lost six straight whose coach is about to be fired? What the HELL?

And then there was perfect punt and the safety and the return by Carl Gettis and the drive and the run of redemption by Washington and the kick by Grant Ressel. And all was good. In 179 seconds, an offseason full of hand-wringing and angst was gone.

I'm serious. Those three minutes changed the outlook of an entire fan base. And, more important, probably the outlook of an entire program. After the game, Pinkel spoke of the 2008 Border War, a last-second 40-37 loss. Even though the Tigers won the North, won the Alamo Bowl and had six players drafted, the sting of that one never went away.

"It's like a cloud hanging over you," Pinkel said. "It's always there. Even when you're smiling, you're not."

For just a second, look at things if Missouri had lost. The Tigers are sitting 7-and-5. They'd have a losing record in league play and would have lost two in a row to their most bitter of rivals. The two games that matter most to Missouri fans (Kansas and Nebraska) would have been losses...and even worse, losses in which Missouri blew fourth quarter leads. You'd be looking at a team that limped into the Texas Bowl based mostly on its non-conference schedule that was losing its best player on offense and defense.

Face it, you'd be scared and mad.

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