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July 14, 2013

Back to Birmingham





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Let's rewind 362 days.

Last July 17, in Hoover, Ala., Missouri's first go-round at SEC Media Days resulted in a lot of laughter and some chafing after T.J. Moe's turn at the podium ended.

(And applause. Moe received a standing ovation from the media, as well.)

Moe entered confident, trying to toe the line between respectful and arrogant in his interview session that turned into an improv-comedy lesson. Moe's description of the SEC ("... prettier girls, the air is fresher and the toilet paper is thicker") became a new unofficial slogan (before "Old-Man Football" stole the show two months later).

But it was his willingness to stand up for Missouri's credentials against the big, bad SEC that caused some media members to drop their jaws. It wasn't just Moe's comments, either.

"People act like we play a bunch of high school teams," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "We've played in a pretty good league."

Missouri's first season in the SEC really began on that Tuesday in Hoover. It began with confidence and bravado -- after all, Missouri was picked as the greenhorne ready to make a run in its new conference. It began with a narrative that would ultimately define or destruct the entire season.

Flash forward 360 days. Moe, an undrafted free agent, signed with the New England Patriots after the 2013 NFL Draft. Soon thereafter, he tore his achilles tendon, and is currently on the Patriots' injured reserve list.

At this moment, however, he's sitting in Las Vegas' McCarron International Airport. A trip courtesy of his agents in PlayersRep Sports Management just finished, and he's headed out of Sin City to continue his rehab.

But SEC Media Days begin in a few days, and Moe knows his performance a year ago will be a topic among the piranhas in the SEC media.

"I wasn't trying to offend anyone," Moe said. "Or cut any teams down. I said a couple of things that went too far, but I wasn't trying to insult anyone.

"I was just thinking about it a second ago," Moe continued. "We weren't afraid, coming into the league. I wasn't afraid."

In reality, the only person with at least some right to feel offended was Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope, about whom Moe quipped: "Apparently Ryan Swope is a god because he can come in and get first-team all-SEC. But that's fine."

(Moe later clarified his comments on Twitter, explaining that he didn't think the SEC would "give him that respect.")

A 5-7 season in 2012 makes those quotes seem more important or noticeable or offensive than they really were, at least to those with doctorates in the Tradition of Down South Football. But Moe knows his intent, no matter what spin gets put on his past words on Tuesday:

"That was their first impression of me," Moe said about the new faces in the SEC Media. "You all who covered Mizzou, I think you guys knew what I was saying. But what you've got to be careful of is being respectful of your comments. It was more fun being up there, like me, rather than some guy being a machine, saying things like, 'Well, we're going to go out there and compete everyday.'

"I had some fun, and did some things that made it fun for everybody, for reporters, but you've got to be careful."

Moe received no backlash from his coaches or teammates.

"I never got any talking to, by anyone. Not one negative word. They were proud of my confidence."

It was a calculated effort by the then-incoming senior, a captain on Missouri's team. He talked about "Remember the Titans", about a scene in which the high school team talked about putting on a united front. Moe said that's what the team was attempting to do that day.

"They know me and know what I'm doing," Moe said. "I just came out with some humor, confident humor."

Missouri brings seniors L'Damian Washington, Andrew Wilson and James Franklin this year to Alabama. Moe thinks Washington will be the go-to quote for the media, as he was a year ago.

"He's a really good talker and he's quick on his feet," Moe said. "He'll have some jokes ready."

Missouri's rebound won't begin until Aug. 31, but the season starts in two day days. Even after a sub-par 2012 campaign, Moe said he has no regrets about how his quotes were taken last July. He's hoping for more of the same from this year's group of seniors.

"You HAVE to come in and be confident, and it starts from the top," Moe said. "In 2009, if I had seen Danario (Alexander) and Sean (Weatherspoon) coming out and not saying anything, we wouldn't have won eight games.

"We can certainly compete. I still believe that."

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