Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Mizzou Experience in a Nutshell

On second thought, maybe CBS should have just ran wall-to-wall coverage of people looking at a big wooden box containing a deceased head of state. It would have been more enjoyable as a whole than watching Mizzou's linebackers and secondary look at their lead dissentigrate.

Yesterday's expected meltdown basically sums up the experiences I've had as a Tiger fan thus far, as well as my collegiate experience in Columbia, in a well-wrapped, shiny, corporate-sponsored box. Yesterday started out promising enough - a lead built on a well-executed game plan and superior personnel. Oregon State had absolutely no answer for ginormous tight ends Coffman and Rucker, were getting torched by the not-really-light-speed-fast Tony Temple, and Chase Daniel was his smart, efficient self.

Suddenly, most of the second quarter is blacked out so that Katie Couric can claim some sort of victory by broadcasting the local funeral procession for Gerald Ford. Not much was missed though - just the sloppiest football of the game, in which no points were scored but each team managed to turn the ball over.

Individual performances, isolated in nature, shimmered throughout the second half, and victory seems imminent for the visibly trashed Tiger fans in El Paso, Mizzou alumni, and the lonely fan watching the game by himself, hundreds of miles from anyone else who gave a shit about this game's outcome. That's me, by the way.

Then, Gary Pinkel and company remember that they are, in fact, Gary Pinkel and company. Oregon State methodically gnaws away at the Tiger lead, make a gutsy, smart call to decide the outcome (2-point conversion) and Mizzou leaves the field, defeated. Many Tiger fans at the game are undoubtedly so drunk they don't realize they lost, and continue their binge alcohol consumption until January 17.

Allow me to paint the parallels to my experience here at Mizzou. The pedigree for a great overall experience is there - big school, seemingly lively nightlife, THE journalism school for undergrads, Big XII sports, etc. Looking at the roster, many individual performances shine, too - whether it be faculty or friends. Like the second quarter, some of the time here has been blacked out and replaced by malted hops and brief summaries of poor decision-making, as dictated by peers with equally fuzzy memories. I look like I've built a nice lead in my first few semesters, putting together a good GPA, accumulating a solid circle of friends, and getting closer to what seems to be an ideal experience.

But something is always missing. Like the football team, the experience never seems cohesive and doesn't quite click. Maybe it's the overall apathy towards society that seems evident on campus, the disconnect between most people I've encountered and the rest of the planet, or something else I can't pinpoint. We look good on paper, but it just doesn't feel right.

Eventually, the major you thought was cutting edge and ahead of the curve seems wandering and creates perpetual confusion. Your outcome grows more and more in doubt, and eventually Oregon State has figured out how to stop the only two running plays in your glossy, 600-page playbook you spent three years slaving over and are getting the ball back with enough time to beat you.

Needless to say, yesterday's loss sucked, but it wasn't totally unexpected. I go to a school that gave a football coach a contract extension despite the fact that he didn't win one game in which the players on the field weren't clearly more talented than their opponents. Tiger football, from my three years of analysis, has been built on average recruiting classes, with records and middle-tier bowl appearances made possible by scheduling arsenals of cream-puff out-of-conference teams. Brad Smith carried the offense in the past few years, now Chase Daniel will do the same for the next two. We'll win 7-9 games a year, never beat Texas, OU or a revived Nebraska, and go to the Meineke Car Care bowl or Texas Bowl or some other student/alumni-robbing experience for the immediate future.

Meanwhile, their fanbase is delusional. Hardcore fans think they should be in the Big 12 championship every year, when in reality, they're already years behind a Nebraska program that has crumbled and re-built itself SINCE Pinkel took over. The rest of the student body sees the mediocre football program as a social experience, which is why many are back to tailgating in the second half, and much of the student body that surrounds me and my friends is shouting annoying nonsense during the game, thoroughly inebriated. It's hard to become a big fan (I had no Mizzou ties before I came here) when the gameday experience is hampered by idiocy and/or apathy.

Kansas State will probably be better than Mizzou next year, too, and this is just in the weak side of a now-soft Big XII conference. My preliminary, realistic prediction for 2007 is another 8-5 campaign, 3rd in the Big 12 North.

But maybe I'll feel differently tomorrow.

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