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October 13, 2013

Wearing the black hat



ATHENS, Ga. -- There's a delineation between the coach speak and the real speak of the Missouri football team.

The coach speak has a common talking point. Missouri's 41-26 road win over seventh-ranked Georgia is in the past. Because of the win, the next game becomes the Next Game. Every ensuing game is the biggest game on Missouri's schedule.

One game at a time.

The real speak was visible -- not audible -- after Saturday's win. It's Missouri at its most honest, most open. This game meant more. Saturday wasn't the next game. It was The Game.

As time ticked down to a 15-point victory, a handful of Missouri players turned to Georgia's crowd. They didn't talk a lot. Instead, it was a lot of posturing -- arms extended, sometimes in the air mimicking a successful field goal, sometimes outstretched to the side mimicking a redemption posture.

A lot of pointing to the score board. A lot of gesturing to the ears, begging Georgia fans to shout louder.

"This year, we had a statement to make," defensive end Shane Ray said. "We grinded all summer together. Everyday, we look on ESPN or on something, it's guys talking about we're not a good enough team, you know. We can't compete with these guys, and we got tired of that. Being able to beat this Georgia team, they're a great team, but it feels good to let people know that we're ready to play football.

"We're not going to be the bottom feeder of this conference."

The feeling, the reason for the gesticulations, was summed up by Missouri receiver L'Damian Washington, Saturday's star. Before the game ended, Washington stood on the sideline, carrying his seven catches, 114 yards and two touchdowns with him. He loudly said the same thing a few times.

"Can't deny that, dog," Washington said.

The Tigers won without a shutdown defense. The Tigers won despite their worst statistical offensive performance of the year. The Tigers won without their best defender.

The Tigers finished a two-score win without their quarterback, their best offensive player.

Missouri fans begin the S-E-C chant. It may seem in poor taste, in this league of Winning Right, to use the conference's signature chant against one of its own. Georgia fans, however, mocked Missorui in the same fashion a year ago. On Saturday, it seemed to be about more than that, though. Not necessarily an insult, but a reclamation.

Missouri, in the SEC since July 1, 2012, is finally in the SEC. Six-straight wins to start the season and two conference road wins drove that point home.

Washington showed that dichotomy between coach speak and real speak after the game. Asked about that post-game jawing, Washington agreed that it was more of a release of frustration following a 5-7 first-season in the conference. That spiral began with a 41-20 loss at home to the Bulldogs a year ago.

He said Saturday wasn't about Georgia. In the same sentence, he said Saturday was about Georgia.

"Not frustration towards Georgia, but last night, we watched a video of Georgia celebrating, saying, 'Grown-Man Football.'," Washington said. "That's cool. We can compete in the SEC. Period. We watched the video after we talked, the seniors played the video. We were walking out the room. Our team answered. Grown-man football. I mean, whatever. Old-man football. The team played the video and I left the room. The team answered."

The antagonizing of Georgia fans may be in poor taste. It won't be received well in the Southern Etiquette Conference.The swagger may be toned down with the uncertainty surrounding James Franklin's health going forward. But Missouri needed a hat to wear in its new conference.

At least for one game, Missouri found its hat, and it's a black one.

Someone has to twirl the mustache. Someone has to be the villain. In a league where Missouri's credentials are constantly questioned, that's the role Missouri takes just by winning.

On Saturday, in the waning moments of a statement win, Missouri embraced it.





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