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December 11, 2013

Powered Up: Seeing both sides



I would love to be your psychologist today. Let you lie down on the couch, get it all out and tell you why everything is much, much better than you think it is. You could scream about the five hundred and forty-bleeping-five rushing yards one more time and then we'd move on.

And there's going to be a point where we can all do that. But it hasn't come yet. Not for me anyway. And I suspect not for most.

Now, don't get me wrong. This was a fantastic Missouri season. An out-of-nowhere-shove-it-where-the-sun-don't-shine season for all the critics. One of the best, if not the best, in school history. The Tigers proved they belonged in their new league and proved on Saturday night they belonged in the title game. In addition, all but one team ends the year angry, and I think it is possible to have a damn fine season even if you don't win the national championship, although many seem not to view it that way anymore. I think we realize all of that. I know I do. But it doesn't make last Saturday hurt less for Missouri fans.

The day before I left for San Antonio in December of 2007, I told my wife and kids (then 10 and 5), "If Missouri wins, we're going to New Orleans." I didn't know how exactly we were going to pay for it. But I knew this: I had grown up in the middle of college football's Bermuda Triangle watching the Norman Conquest and whatever they called 73-0 against Texas A&M and plenty of other God-awful-over-by-halftime games. The way my alma mater was best known to most fans were the fifth down and the kick and catch. Not exactly the things you'd like to be known for.


So I didn't know how we were paying for a trip to the national championship game. But I knew we were going. Because I distinctly remember saying, "This has never happened in my lifetime. There's no reason to think it will happen again."

Of course, it didn't happen. Curtis Lofton made sure of that. And for the next few years, it honestly didn't look like it would happen again any time soon. But suddenly, last weekend, here we were again.


If 2007 was a surprise--and to some extent it was--2013 was like a monsoon on a sunny day. The 2007 Tigers were picked to win the Big 12 North. Eleven wins didn't come completely out of nowhere. And they got some chaos on their side to make Armageddon at Arrowhead and the Big 12 title game mean as much as they did. But these 2013 Tigers were the merry band of misfits picked to finish fifth in their own division. They were supposed to cower in the corner as the big boys of college football stuffed them in their locker on the way to the playground to sort out the best conference in the country between one another.

But the fact was, they made it. They were in Atlanta, facing off against an equally surprising Auburn team for the Southeastern Conference Championship. And the winner needed only a Michigan State win over Ohio State to make the national championship. It was a de facto semifinal. So, again, I thought, if they win and the Buckeyes lose, we're going. I knew tickets were about $900 apiece, and I knew I was also going to have to finance my staff of three going out to Pasadena. I didn't really know how that would happen, particularly if anyone I knew expected to get a Christmas present. But damn it, somehow, some way, my kids weren't missing the national title game.

This time, Tre Mason played the part of Lofton. Over, around and through the Missouri defense to the tune of 304 yards on what appeared to be pretty much the same play for most of his 46 carries. For about 50 minutes, answers came again and again from the Missouri offense, courtesy of James Franklin and Henry Josey and Dorial Green-Beckham. But eventually, Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson found a couple of answers where Dave Steckel never did.
 And then of course Michigan State twisted the knife four hours later.

And I saved a few thousand dollars and my kids won't miss any school for an early January trip to California and whatever other silver lining you want to invent for yourself. And we all wonder again, "When will it happen again?"

I'm not saying Missouri can't get back here. Maybe they can. I look at the schedule next year and I don't see a single game that screams out to me "That's a loss." And when you're in the SEC, if you can make it through the season with one loss or none, you're going to be in Atlanta and you're going to have a shot at the whole ball of wax. So, yeah, maybe Missouri gets back here and maybe it happens pretty soon. It looks a lot more possible than it did this summer. L'Damian Washington and Michael Sam and Gary Pinkel showed us this year that sometimes the unexpected happens.


But that's a lot of maybes. And that's why, nearly four full days after it ended, the hurt still lingers for most Mizzou fans. The next game is still four weeks away and all there is is the vast emptiness of "What if?"

Hey, the sun's come up the last four mornings. And this feeling is a whole lot better than the one you had about 12 months ago. But it makes you wonder what it feels like to wake up in Auburn, Alabama this week. And it makes you wonder if it will ever be your turn to wake up feeling that way.



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