I'd like to take a minute to extend a sincere thank you to Gary Pinkel. In fact, I'd like to thank his entire football program. I'd like to thank the Tigers for making college football fun again.
It seems to be a little bit taboo that members of the media talk about sports being fun. We spend so much time trying to convince everyone that we're just doing a job, that we have no interest in who wins, that sometimes we forget why we do this for a living to begin with.
Now, part of that is true. With few exceptions, you're not going to hear groans or clapping in the press box. Whether the team we cover wins or loses, we're still going to do our jobs and we're going to keep the stories as impartial as we can.
But, still, sports is supposed to be fun. I got into this profession for one very simple reason: I wanted to work around sports. Sports was the only thing I have ever had a true passion for. I don't read the front page of the newspaper, I very rarely watch the national or local news.
I can track different stages of my life based on sporting events. I remember the 1985 World Series, the 1988 Final Four in Kansas City, Missouri's unbeaten Big Eight season in 1994. I remember watching the 1998 U.S. Open and Adam Vinatieri's Super Bowl-winning field goal and just about every NCAA Tournament game for the last 25 years. If you give me a few minutes, I could name every Super Bowl, World Series and college football and basketball national champion going back to about 1984, the first year I was really old enough to remember following sports.
Deep down, some deeper than others (and it probably has a lot with how long you've been at your job), we're all fans. Sure, it's work, but who stays at a job that they hate? Not many and not for long.
And this season covering Missouri football, man, it's been fun. Yes, that has a lot to do with the fact Missouri is winning. Trust me, I've covered a couple of really bad seasons, a few decent ones and one great one. And the great one was by far the most enjoyable.
In the last three weeks, here are just a few highlights of what I've seen: I've seen Missouri fans take over a quarter of the stadium at Vanderbilt and spent a weekend in one of my favorite cities in America covering a football game. I've taken my first trip between the hedges (am I supposed to capitalize that?) with a friend whose 12-year-old son will forever remember watching the Tigers beat Georgia with his dad. I've seen Faurot Field as full as I've ever seen it (yes, there have been more people, but I've never seen less visible grass on the hill) and watched the entire East side of the stadium doing the Gator Chomp in unison as We Will Rock You blared through the stadium sound system.
This week is Homecoming. There will be hundreds (thousands?) of Missouri fans who make the trek to Columbia for the only time this year. They will come to eat at Booche's or at Shakespeare's, to have a beer at Harpo's or to get a Trops to go on the walk to the stadium. They will come for house decs and the parade.
But beyond all of that, they will come to watch this football team. This team that improbably--damn near impossibly--is ranked fifth in the country. This team that, if it keeps winning, can reach heights never before reached by its 123 predecessors at Ol' Mizzou. This team that was knocked down, kicked, and trampled over, hearing again and again that it flat out didn't belong in the best football conference in America.
They will come to see Pinkel, stoic on the sidelines, his demeanor masking the urge to scream "I told you so!" at each and every one of his detractors (I have no proof that Gary Pinkel wants to do this, but after the last 15 months, he wouldn't be human if some small part of him didn't). They will come to see Michael Sam, the two-star defensive end from Hitchcock, Texas who is playing as hard as any Missouri Tiger I've ever seen and is the frontrunner for SEC Defensive Player of the Year. They will come to see L'Damian Washington, the kid who had to help raise three brothers after his mother died and has turned into not only the spokesman and emotional leader of the No. 5 football team in America, but also one of the best receivers in the country. They will come to see Henry Josey, a kid who most of them thought they would never again get to see on a football field. They will come to see Maty Mauk, the precocious, scrambling redshirt freshman who stepped in at quarterback against one of the best defenses in America and made that defense look like Arkansas State. They will come, secondarily, to see Jadeveon Clowney and wonder if he's even the best defensive end on the field on Saturday (and because of the way Sam is playing, that's not an insult to Clowney).
More than all of that, they will come to see the biggest game at Faurot Field in close to half a century. They will come to see if Missouri can continue its rise from the SEC deathbed to the SEC Championship game.
I will have the seat I've had for 64 of the last 65 games at Faurot (I missed Western Illinois in 2011 for a family wedding). I will do the same job I've done for the last ten-and-a-half years. But I'll also take a couple of minutes to enjoy what's going on around me.
Sports is supposed to be fun. And it doesn't get a lot more fun than this Saturday. Well, unless Missouri wins. If that happens, the fun is just getting started.