KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Other than the fact it ended around April 2015, the 2014 Cotton Bowl was all kinds of groovy, wasn’t it?
An in-game quarterback controversy — James Franklin or Maty Mauk? — that poured kerosene all over the Twittersphere. More fireworks by the freak of nature known simply as DGB. Gary Pinkel, the man Missouri fans learned to hate, then live with, then embrace again, anointed as the program’s all-time winningest coach. A trio of touchdowns by the unsinkable Henry Josey. A fourth quarter that featured 41 stinking points and a final 14 minutes that gave us two ties and two lead changes.
And it would’ve been three lead changes, too — if Oklahoma State cornerback Tyler Patmon’s pick-6 hadn’t gotten ripped off the scoreboard because of Patmon’s mugging of a Missouri receiver prior to that aforementioned pick-6.
But the last word of Tigers 41, Cowboys 31 belonged to the only man who should have had it all along. Like an engine in Frostbite Falls, it took a while for Michael Sam to turn over late Friday night. But when he did, brother, he roared.
With a minute or so left at the party, a friendly FOX infographic noted that Sam, Mizzou’s senior All-American defensive end, had only recorded two tackles on the night, which was a nice way of saying that he’d been public-library quiet, a non-factor. Especially for someone who’d racked up 10.5 sacks, 18 tackles for losses and 42 stops over the previous 13 contests.
The Tigers were clinging by their fingernails again, 34-31, with some 57 seconds to go when Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf dropped back for the 4,193rd time on a 3rd-and-7 at the Mizzou 23. The Cowboys had started from their own 25; Chelf had completed a 23-yarder on 4th-and-7 to get out of one scrape and scrambled for 23 on 3rd-and-10 to wiggle out of another.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to the red zone: The Oklahoma State pocket imploded, and there would be no escape. Sam, the undersized, two-star prep-recruit-turned-SEC-beast, the epitome of what Pinkel is purportedly all about, closed and pounced, cobra-style, reaching around Chelf and slapping the ball from his grasp. In a blur, teammate Shane Ray cradled the rock and was off to the races up the right boundary, a convoy of gold shirts happily trailing in his wake.
The ensuing extra point put the Tigers (12-2) up double digits with :55 to play and that, as they say, was that. In a sense, though, it was also the most completely apropos way to put a bow on the thing.
Because art, friends, it was not. This was a tilt that featured, combined, six turnovers, 15 punts, 14 penalties and at least three instant-replay reversals of incomplete Mizzou passes that flipped into catches. Woof.
Pinkel is loyal when it comes to his seniors, and loyalty is cute. For most of the first three quarters, quarterback James Franklin (15-for-40 passing, 1 interception, 36 rushing yards) was not. The Legend Of Maty Mauk grew with every high Franklin throw and botched Franklin handoff, especially the one late in the third quarter that led to the Pokes’ second touchdown, opening the floodgates for the wacky final 15 minutes to come.
Mauk’s 73 rushing yards (on three attempts) and feathery second-quarter touchdown pass to Marcus Lucas didn’t hurt The Legend much, either. No. 7 is the future, and that might’ve been the best thing coming out of this one for Tigers fans.
At least, it would have been, where it not for Sam’s clutch, game-changing, fumble-inducing karate chop. And if not for the notion that this defense, the one that had gone AWOL during the SEC title game in Atlanta, was, for three quarters and change, back — back and baring all kinds of teeth. The Tigers’ other defensive end, Kony Ealy, boomed up NFL draft charts on the strength of his first half alone.
The less said about the fourth quarter, mind you, the better. Except for that final, fateful minute, of course. They’ll be talking about that one for decades. Thousands will claim they were there. Thousands more will remember exactly where they were when Ray ran to daylight.
Just don’t ask them to remember if they were awake.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com.