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October 31, 2012

Powered Up: It wasn't supposed to be like this

Just two months ago, there was so much hype. So much hope. So much anticipation.

It was less than two months ago when I walked through a crowd that had an audible buzz on my way to Faurot Field. There were as many Missouri fans as I'd ever seen, mingling with as many visiting fans as I'd seen since the Nebraska glory days. Georgia was in town and Missouri was in the SEC. All the speculation, all the nervousness, all the memories of the confetti falling inside the student union and Mike Slive welcoming the Tigers to their new home had faded. And it was time to play SEC football in Columbia.

And now? Instead of asking if Missouri can win at Florida this weekend, fans are asking if the Tigers can score. The traffic on this website is down (trust me, I've looked at the numbers). Earlier today, I heard a radio host say, "I can't remember the last time a Missouri fan called into this show."

I'm not blaming anyone. I get it. It's more fun to follow a winning team. Missouri has no mathematical chance to finish better than third in the SEC East. It has no realistic chance to finish that high. I understand the reasons. But it's strange.

Last weekend, I told my wife, "It doesn't seem like Homecoming." There was no buzz, no buildup. And it wasn't because the opponent was bad. I've seen Homecoming against Iowa State and Kansas State and some flat out awful teams. And it never felt as empty as it did last weekend.

This season that started with more excitement than I've ever seen now has so little.

It's not like I've never seen this before. I grew up as a Missouri fan when excitement for football was a phrase you weren't allowed to use after Labor Day. And maybe this is what it is like at places like Colorado and Kansas and Kentucky and Indiana. But it's just not what we're used to anymore.

It has been years since Missouri hasn't been playing for something this late in the year. Even in 2004, when the Tigers finished 5-and-6, the Big 12 North was so bad that Mizzou had a chance to win it up until week ten. From 1999 to 2002, the Tigers weren't any good, but they had been good recently. Everyone thought 1999 and 2000 were just bumps in the road. After that, there was a coaching change that got everybody pumped up again.

Realistically, the last November that felt like this was probably 1996. It was my junior year at Mizzou. The Tigers had gone 6-16-1 in the previous two seasons. They hadn't won more than three games in six years, hadn't won more than four in a decade (let THAT sink in if you think it's bad right now). I went to football games. I had to. I was working. A few other people went. But it was really just something to do.

Now, I'm not saying Missouri is back to those days, or even close, or even heading there. I don't believe that. Instead, I wrote those last two paragraphs to help us all realize just how long it's been since Tiger fans looked forward so little to Saturday.

There are plenty of reasons for why it's gone this way this year. And even though the record has been disappointing, even though the excitement seems to be missing, the seats are still being filled. There were nearly 68 thousand fans at the Kentucky game. There will probably be about as many for Syracuse. The average attendance will likely be Missouri's highest in a long, long time.

In addition, the Tigers still are playing for something. A bowl game would be big, and Missouri can get there. A winning regular season would be huge, and that's not out of the question. Hell, this column may look short-sighted and stupid by 2:30 on Saturday if the Tigers can pull the shocker and wade out of the Swamp with a win.

But this season, this fall, just seems hollow. It seems like so long ago everyone was so excited for that Georgia game. Fifty-one weeks ago, Missouri was officially admitted to the SEC. And for the next ten months, the excitement never stopped. The buzz was at a constant crescendo. When it's been so loud for so long, the silence seems even more silent.

I'm not sure how to end this. Honestly, I'm not even all that sure what the point is. I guess I just felt like saying, It wasn't supposed to be this way. Not this year.

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