Try as it may, the media is hard pressed to get Gary Pinkel to admit any game is more important than any other. Even last week, with the Big 12 North title likely at stake, Pinkel said his team would not pay much attention to that aspect of the showdown with Colorado. But this week, without even being asked, Pinkel admitted is a little bit special.
"You know, this season's real important for me for those guys, personally. They're our first class and they mean a lot to me so I certainly want them to end their career the right way here at Missouri and that's more important to me than anything," Pinkel said of his senior class. "That certainly adds more to this football game than just a regular home game."
Fourteen Tiger seniors will play their final home game on Saturday against Baylor. As important as it is for Pinkel to send that class out with a win, the players want a victory for their coach as well. The class has amassed a record of 23-and-22 through its time on campus. The fact that the Tigers' record continues to hover around the break-even mark has some fans questioning whether Pinkel should be around for another senior day.
"We all got each other's backs here and that's one thing that we focused on," said offensive guard Tony Palmer. "This is a tight family, nobody can come between us. We'd definitely like to get a victory for him, for our teammates and most of all for A.O."
"Things happen, seasons don't always go perfect, there's ups and downs and the first thing people want to do is criticize and they're criticizing Pinkel right now," said cornerback A.J. Kincade. "We want to finish the season, we still got two games left, both of them we're very capable of winning. We want to make sure we focus hard, come out of these last two games with victories."
Pinkel has made his adoration of this class no secret. At various times during the year, he has called Jason Simpson the best on-field leader he's had, Brad Smith the most humble person he's every been around and Palmer, a person who "gets more hugs than any man I know."
"They put an awful lot into this program," said Pinkel. "For me, they're a real special group of guys. I can't say enough about them."
The seniors hope to pay their coach back with a win that would make Mizzou eligible for its second bowl win in three seasons and, they hope, set the stage for more.
"We were part of his first class and we feel very proud and privileged," said cornerback Calvin Washington. "We've seen this whole team grow over the years. Coach Pinkel taught us a lot. We definitely want to win to make this program go off in a good direction."
The seniors have at least two, maybe three, games left in their Tiger careers. But the game at Kansas State won't be televised. For many Tiger fans, this may be their last chance to see Smith, Palmer and the rest of the seniors. But, as is stressed in this program, in many ways, it's just another game.
"It's still about the win," Jason Simpson said. "The win will make us a lot happier in the end."