The Missouri Letdown
I tried explaining the “Missouri Letdown” to my father two weeks ago, after the Tigers beat the Florida Gators handily and gained long-awaited recognition with a #5 spot in the BCS polls.
Look, it just always happens. We look good, and I’m fully invested and optimistic – then something awful happens and absolutely crushes my soul.
He told me I was being dramatic, pessimistic, and made some comment about me not being a true fan.
That’s not it. I am a fan. I want them to go 13-0, and I honestly believe they can, it’s just like…I don’t want to jinx it…I don’t want to get my hopes too high because then comes the letdown…it’s inevitable.
The “Missouri Letdown” is difficult to explain. It’s not what would be described as a roller coaster with gradual ups and downs. It’s much more instantaneous. It’s not the suspense that follows the slow decline of the roller coaster into a cave of complete darkness….
What now? Will we go up? Down? Is there a dropoff? Is there water on this ride? Who is touching my dingy?
No, it’s more like a Jack in the Box. You can twist the knob as slowly or quickly as you wish – but at some point, that clown bastard is going to pop out of the box and make you mash your britches. You’ve heard the stupid song a million times and every time that clown pops out of the box. You know that it’s going to happen – but even with this knowledge, it still surprises the hell out of you.
This is what it’s like to be a Missouri Tiger fan. It’s like playing with a Mizzou themed Jack in the Box. You slowly twist the knob as the Missouri fight song plays, becoming more and more excited as you wonder if maybe it won’t pop up this time, until finally Truman the Tiger pops out of the box and punches you in the testicles, then taunts you further by vigorously thrusting his hips, air humping while pointing at your wife. I believe this perfectly describes Missouri’s 2011-2012 basketball season.
Oh, look we’re 30-4! Oh yeah, Big 12 Tourney Champs! Holy crap, #2 seed in the tournament! This is when you think maybe this is our year. No “Missouri Letdown!” But then Norfolk State shoots 98.7% from 3 and you hate everyone for a week.
My father didn’t believe my “Missouri Letdown” theory, and he actually made me question it myself. Maybe my pessimistic attitude is hurting our juju? After hearing the talking heads after the Florida game proclaiming Mizzou as “legit,” I decided I needed to be all in. Forget the curse. Forget the stupid letdown. This is our year! Next up was the South Carolina Gamecocks (haha, cocks!) – and the game landed on what should have been the greatest day ever.
Saturday, October 26th was my birthday. I awoke at the crack of 11, and my wife thrust a bag in my direction. Apparently she’d been hiding this surprise for weeks, so as soon as I awoke it was time to unveil…. tickets to the Bulls vs. Pacers game in November! Absolutely! I rode the anticipatory high of seeing two of the top three Eastern Conference teams live all the way to IHOP. Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity? Hell yes. It’s my birthday, bitches.
The next event to celebrate the day of my birth was the Class 3 Missouri State Softball Championship – in which my mother was the head coach of my high school alma mater, the Centralia Panthers. What better way to celebrate? Twenty-four years ago to the day, I put my mother through the most pain she could possibly fathom, pushing a real live human out of her body (it was me!) – so supporting her championship quest was the least I could do. The Panthers jumped out to a hot start with a three run-homer in the bottom of the first. This was followed by a colossal melt-down of the opposing team's pitcher: walk, single, and a hit-by-pitch, leading to a 2-out grand slam putting my mother’s team up 7-0 in the first. They rode the momentum for the remaining 6 innings, and an hour and a half later, my mother and her Centralia Panther softball team hoisted the state championship trophy for the third year in a row. THREE-PEAT! MY MOMMA MADE A DYNASTY!
As we filed out of the stadium, I ran into many people I knew from my hometown that congratulated me. Some said happy birthday (thanks!) which I considered a fairly normal thing to do, being my birthday – but there were also people congratulating me on the win, as if I had something to do with it. Sure, my mother is the coach, and my wife’s cousin is on the team – but I don’t even know half the girls’ names (nor do I know half the rules of softball). However, it was my birthday – so I was the king. The next quest for the best birthday ever? Driving back to Columbia for the Tigers' game against the Gamecocks (haha, cocks!).
UPDATE: Birthday boy. Bulls tickets. IHOP. Three-peat for my high school and mama. Yoo-hoo shitbirds, it’s the best day ever. Now it’s time for Mizzou to beat some coc...I mean South Carolina.
We somehow magically made it back to Columbia before kickoff, but I wasn’t worried, because it was the perfect day, nothing could go wrong. What do you know? Mizzou cruises into halftime up 14-0. Yes, it is the best day ever. At halftime, the announcer came over the speakers informing the crowd of a $1,000 give away to the team store for a random fan if they could successfully hit a 30-yard field goal. As the selected participant trotted onto the field I leaned over to my wife, “No way he hits this.” She asked if it was hard, and I tried to explain that for any random person to make a 30 yard field goal would be difficult (no way I could), and that some actual kickers miss field goals from around 30 yards (this is called foreshadowing). But the football gods smiled down upon Regular Joe as he lined it up, proceeded to take three steps and drill the 30-yarder. Hell, it would’ve been good from 35. Whatever, it wasn’t his birthday so let’s get back to my story.
Mizzou received the kick to begin the second half and was forced to punt, but then a long South Carolina drive was stifled by Mizzou’s defense ending in a turnover on downs. Missouri responded with a long drive of their own, capped off with a field goal. As possessions traded without any scoring, the fourth quarter began with Mizzou leading 17-0. This was the point that I began arguing with myself:
Now, now! A game at a time. Don’t get cocky, don’t look ahead. Let’s finish this fourth quarter strong! We don’t need a letdown.
“Missouri Letdown?” Not this year! We could run the table! Alabama in the SEC Championship!
We still have a solid Tennessee team AND A&M. Let’s take it slow.
Take it slow? We’ve beaten EVERYONE by more than 15 points! We’re #5 in the BCS poll. This is our year! SEC Championship here we come! Undefeated! National Title Game!
South Carolina did score, but we were up 10 with 10 minutes left. Grind some clock, play defense, whatever – it’s my birthday. Missouri’s fourth quarter offense was absolutely atrocious. Loss of 1 last play? Might as well run it again. The play calling was so conservative I thought we may actually punt on 3rd down. The defense didn’t look much better, as South Carolina ran slip-screen after slip-screen to out defense's utter confusion. I’m sure we’ll make a goal line stand to win, I thought… but we didn’t. South Carolina did whatever they wanted to end regulation tied 17-17.
Doubt starts creeping back into my mind.
With both teams scoring in overtime, I was certain we’d finish things the second overtime, especially after holding South Carolina to a field goal. The first play of the Tigers' possession in the second overtime resulted in a Marcus Murphy 17 yard rush. First and goal from the 8? We got this. Punch it in. But we did not punch it in. After a failed rushing attempt, incomplete pass, and 2 yard keeper, we were faced with 4th down from the 6-yard line. Whatever, just take it into the 3rd overtime and then we’ll finish it. Really, everyone’s thought process was this nonchalant, as if the 24-yard field goal was a gimme (24-yard field goals are gimmes).
However, it was time.
Jack does not stay in the box.
I’d spun the handle -- watching early season games against pitiful competition as I wondered what kind of team this could be.
I’d listened to the music – the song was familar but I fell into a trance watching Mizzou beat Vandy, Georgia, Florida. This was the year that the music continued! There would be no surprise!
BANG! sounded the Jack in the Box as the 24-yard kick hit the left upright.
It was not the best birthday ever.
The bitter irony is that a random fan made a field goal longer than the one that would have prolonged Missouri’s undefeated season.
I felt I was partially responsible for the loss. I was too optimistic. I was looking too far ahead. I got my hopes up.
This is just another chapter in the book of the “Missouri Letdown.”
*This loss should not be blamed on the kicker. Missouri was up 17-0 in the 4th quarter, and this game never should have come down to a field goal. Plus the snap/hold wasn’t great. Twitter threats and trash talk toward Andrew Baggett on Twitter are absolutely asinine. This game was lost by the coaching staff, with perhaps some of the blame falling on the defense as well – but Andrew Baggett, you just listen to the wise, wise words of Joe Dirt and keep on keepin’ on!