Tigers vs. Colorado Buffaloes
October 25, 2008 (5:30 p.m.)
Tiger AP ranking: 16th
October 25, 2008 (5:30 p.m.)
Tiger AP ranking: 16th
A friend of mine tells a story about starting out as a junior advertising copywriter in the 1980’s. He was asked to travel to St. Louis and interview the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, Whitey Herzog, for a promotional book on baseball strategic tips. So he flew down to the Gateway City and caught a cab to Busch Stadium. Nobody had told him how to find Herzog—or how to get into the ballpark, for that matter. So he roamed around the perimeter until he found an unlocked gate, then worked his way through the bowels of the stadium. Eventually he found a door that looked like it might lead to the clubhouse. He could hear yelling coming from the other side. He thought about leaving, but he had his assignment.
He nudged the door open and was treated to the sight of one of the greatest managers in the history of baseball, wearing only a jock strap and flip-flops, pounding a bat on a table and berating the Redbirds for their lackadaisical play. Herzog turned to the intruder, screamed, “What the fuck do you want??!” and sent my friend to his office for what he assumed would be the end of his short career. Eventually Whitey showered, dressed, and walked through the door, reintroducing himself. “Pretty loud, huh?” the manager smiled. “You gotta do that sometimes. Not that those assholes listen.”
Sports history is rich with lectures, tongue-lashings, brow beatings and dressing-downs. Sometimes, like a mythical cleat to the rump, they propel a team to scale previously unfathomable heights. On other occasions the team doesn’t respond, often because they’re too high to remember what the coach said. There are even instances where the hollering is just for show, like the “lollygagging” scene in Bull Durham.
On the Monday following the Texas crapathon, word began to leak out that Coach Pinkel had delivered his team an ass reaming of biblical proportions. All signs pointed to the fact that none of it was just for show. Players were contrite during media day, deflecting questions and robotically answering that the only thing that mattered was “5:30 Saturday”—the starting time of the Colorado game. You didn’t need a deerstalker cap and calabash pipe to deduce that the furious pinning back of the players' collective ears had something to do with the fact that while the Texas kickoff took place at 7 p.m., most players sashayed in around 8:37 or so, empty bowls of ice cream in their wake.
Pinkel’s ire seemed justified. Missouri fields an incredibly talented team, and Texas embarrassed them, particularly their defense. Had the Tigers been staring schmoopy-eyed at their press clippings? Reading aloud the gushing mash posts on tigerboard.com? Whatever the reason, ten defensive starters returned to the team from 2007, and after seven games it would be difficult to argue that they hadn’t regressed. Can a team return too many starters? Is that even possible? “From the press box, it appears to this reporter that the 2008 Missouri Tigers are suffering from a pronounced surplus of experience. We may need to expand the roster with some athletes who have no idea what they’re doing.”
My friend the Dude had volunteered to drive his gigantic BMW from Chicago to Columbia, and I gave him no chance to change his mind. He grew up in Detroit and his dad worked for Motor Trend magazine. In other words, he’d drive around 90, pass people on the right whenever expedient, and sniff out smokey like a latter-day Burt Reynolds. We made the 389-mile trip in about 45 minutes, the Dude executing a perfect bootlegger’s turn into an illegal parking place upon arrival.
It was homecoming weekend. The University of Missouri is credited with inventing homecoming in 1911 when alumi were invited to “come home” for the Tiger-Jayhawk game. Festivities that year included the crowning of a homecoming bale of hay and emptying a cannon into the Kansas fan base. Refinements were added in the ensuing seasons.
In the 2008 version of homecoming, the streets of Greektown were cordoned off as young and old alike ooo’ed and ahhh’d at the colorful house decorations—“house decs” for short—assembled on the lawns of the fraternities and sororities. The Dude and I went to the bars.
Last season’s 12-2 record rendered the many past seasons of Mizzou futility to something of a quaint, ancient history in many fans’ minds. But back-to-back losses had brought the fumbling nightmares marauding back. The Oklahoma State game represented a mild upset, but the generally consensus was that they were a quality team who caught us on an off night. When Texas followed that up with a good old-fashioned prison raping, the faithful began rechanneling the dark days of the 80’s and 90’s in vivid, Woody Widenhofer Technicolor suckage. Still, hope, like a Weeble, would not fall down. And as the band marched through Harpo’s, more fans than normal knew that the game would start at 5:30 p.m.
The Dude was excited as only a man who had left his wife and two small children in Chicago could be. He insisted that we do a Jager bomb (Jagermeister and Red Bull, mix well, hold the dignity). My steadfast policy is that shots are never a good idea. They shorten your evening and make the next morning a brutal one. The Dude persevered, insisting that we’d be out for a while and that the caffeine in the Red Bull made this shot actually a wise investment. Not a well-constructed argument, but I didn’t want to argue, so I drank it. Not ten minutes later, bellying up to the bar for another round of beers, four cute senior coeds asked me to join them in a toast to their promise to return for next year’s homecoming. I smiled, threw down a shot of tequila, and gratefully accepted a trampolining hug from their generously-endowed leader.
Awakening Saturday, I realized that I’d need every minute leading up to the 5:30 kickoff. The large pepperoni and onion Italian pie we’d inhaled at Shakespeare’s had proved a worse idea than the shots. But if Lee Corso could stick his squash in a smelly Buckeye mascot head (GameDay was at Ohio State), I could pull on my old Missouri sweatshirt and get some fresh air.
The weather continued its pattern of perfection on Mizzou 2008 game days. The sun was out and, while the leaves hadn’t hit full flame, there were plenty enough on the ground to provide a crunchy fall soundtrack. The air was fresh and crisp—ideal conditions for ducking inside a dark, dusty old man bar. We met more friends at Booches and watched as Texas Tech dismantled Kansas, dilly-dallying it until it was time to honor Coach Pinkel’s tirade.
If the Tigers had been unceremoniously plunked from the national championship picture, none of the tailgaters seemed to mind. The Dude and I tried to hook up with Norm Stewart, the legendary basketball coach, and his wife. The Dude works with Coach Stewart’s son-in-law, and we’d been given directions to his tailgate. When you ask people where you can locate arguably the most recognizable face in town, a man who won over 700 games and whose name adorns the floor of the basketball court, they look at you a little funny. No, they haven’t seen him. Have you? We found out later that we were looking in the wrong lot and that Norm and Virginia Stewart had been expecting us. I settled for my brother’s tailgate. I love my brother, but he hasn’t won one goddamn basketball game.
It was 5:30 p.m.
To say that the Tigers showed up would be like saying that General Sherman attended a little cookout in Atlanta. Mizzou scored a touchdown on their 4th play from scrimmage. They scored another on their 7th. Chase Daniel spread the ball around like Jackson Pollack splattering a canvas, leading scoring drives on nine of 11 possessions. Chase Coffman—one of the players who, with 140 yards in catches, had nothing to be ashamed of in Austin—caught seven more, eclipsing the all-time NCAA record for receptions by a tight end. When the announcement was made, the ovation felt warmly deafening.
But as well as the offense performed, the story of the game was a defense that played like an angry mob in a Frankenstein movie. We cringed as much as we cheered from the carnage that unfolded 53 rows in front of us. Four sacks. Collisions that made receivers hear Sasquatch footsteps. Hits that bruised distant relatives.
The final score was 58-0, the first conference Tiger shutout since 1988. With the Buffaloes driving into Mizzou territory late in the game, Pinkel replaced his scrubs with his starters to preserve the shutout. An angry but understandable coaching decision. Sometimes you need to grab your pride back. This defensive unit had spent the last week watching Colt McCoy use them for his personal Heisman campaign mannequins.
With the Tigers regaining their swagger, Downtown Columbia was swamped. We bypassed the usual haunts, which were, in the overheard words of a fan on a cell phone, “retardedly crowded.” We walked down to the Flat Branch microbrewery. People think that you get better suds at a microbrewery, but there are crappy microbreweries, too, where lackadaisical brewschlockers toss their lunch wrappers into the vats. I had an ESB so bland and flat that I drank it only because I felt compelled to celebrate. The Dude had a green chili beer that tasted like, you guessed it, green chili. He drank the entire thing, effectively daring himself not to shit his pants.
We left the Flat Branch, looking for something to eat or at least a dinner mint to remove the wrung out sweat sock aftertaste. But there were no seats to be found in any of the bars and restaurants. Screw it, we’re old, we decided, let’s turn in. Then, as we pulled into the lot of the Quality Inn, we saw a billboard for Hooters. Certainly, Hooters, as their slogan once suggested, would make us happy. Upon arrival, though, every one of their 900 television sets was tuned to the same Ultimate Fighting match. This while there was a World Series game being broadcast. There’s something disconcerting about a large room of burly men cheer for two other, shirtless burly men who are grappling and rolling around embracing. I’ve seen “Deliverance.” It was time to hit the scratchy, who-knows-who’s-slept-in-them sheets.
The next morning, after skillfully-prepared omelets at the Broadway diner, we hit the road back. We encountered some weather that included sheets of rain and wet snow, and watched a couple of workers struggle to keep an inflatable “McCain/Palin” promotional balloon inflated in the deluge. With the Senator from Arizona trailing badly in the polls and only 9 days remaining before the presidential election, the symbolism seemed almost too heavy-handed.
Somewhere around Normal, Illinois we stopped for gas, and I ducked inside to use the always lovely service station bathroom. Inside, I noticed a 25¢ “Cologne at a touch” spray machine. Returning to the car, I buckled up. As we pulled back onto I-55, the Dude turned to me and said, “Are you wearing cologne?” “It’s not ‘cologne,’ I corrected him. ‘It’s Obsession.’”