It kicked off an eventful, rage-filled week for Tiger fans, with the NCAA finally, finally announcing days later that they were sticking with all of their initial ruling against Missouri. More on that in a bit, but in a tough stretch for Tiger fans, my mind keeps going back to that grind of a game in the cold, and all the people who hung on, watching and hoping.
These were the fans who wouldn’t go away, despite a bitterly disappointing season, and the indignity of having to fight and block field goals and recover fumbles just to hang with a 5-5 Tennessee team. But stay they did, because of grim loyalty, because it was their school and team, because maybe they’d somehow see the Tigers win for the first time in weeks.
It was a reminder for the next time you hear someone talk down to the rank-and-file fans. There were fans sticking it out till the bitter, and I mean bitter, end of that game who will still be going to Tiger games long after all these players have graduated, and even after every coach on the staff has moved on.
This is their program, our program, and our sport, as much as they are the programs of millionaire coaches and big-shot boosters. Whether you watch in person or on TV, you help make college football the rich sport it is.
Those of us who were at that game, staying till the end as the outcome remained nominally in doubt, were subjected to a Tennessee touchdown to take the lead with 22 seconds left in the third quarter, and then a cold-hearted TV timeout, with LITERALLY 22 SECONDS of game time left before the end of the third quarter TV timeout was due. We endured relentless ad copy being read as we tried to do the traditional “M-I-Z, Z-O-U” sides of the stadium chant after Tiger scores. We witnessed the paradox of the north end zone video board reading “Quiet: Offense at work” while the stadium public address system engaged in subterfuge by blaring music at the same time, even as Kelly Bryant called out signals ahead of the snap.
It was that “can’t get out of your own way” kind of night, with Missouri coaxing 20 points out of its offense, like wringing every drop of water out of a mostly-dry towel, only to lose for the fifth time in a row, 24-20.
Last year, Missouri fans watched as their team hung 50 on the Vols in Neyland Stadium, with an exciting Tiger offense firing away. There were some disappointments about last year for sure, but that team could be fun to watch. “Fun” probably isn’t the word to describe watching the 2019 Tigers, at least not since mid-October. What a difference a year makes.
The NCAA did not take a year to rule on Missouri’s appeal, but they did preposterously wait until three days before Missouri’s do-or-die chance to make a bowl to rule that the Tigers, indeed, can’t play in a bowl. The biggest sting of the bowl ban is probably the millions Missouri loses from the SEC bowl share. One shudders to wonder how much Mizzou will have to charge for booze and roast beef at games to make up for the lost briefcases full of cash.
There are a lot of reasons to be ticked off about this whole NCAA situation getting to this point, and I can’t really add much other than liking enraged Tiger fans’ tweets. Maybe the program will channel that anger and make 2020 a vengeance tour. But first, we have this odd little game with Arkansas on Black Friday.
It’s been a grim season for the Razorbacks. So far, Arkansas has lost to Mountain West Conference bottom feeder San Jose State, lost every SEC game, and got hammered by Western Kentucky, which was using an Arkansas transfer at quarterback, the college football version of grabbing someone’s hand and hitting them with it while saying, “Quit hitting yourself” over and over.
The Hogs’ interim coach is Barry Lunney Jr., so we can call this the Barry Bowl, if the NCAA will allow that. Missouri is a big favorite, but this season has taught us that often doesn’t matter, and there are too many weird factors surrounding this game to really know what to expect. Either way, drink up, cause it’s our last Mizzou football till Labor Day weekend of 2020.