View Full Version : MU coach's dream becoming a reality in Big 12 championship game

11-30-2007, 11:36 PM
MU coach's dream becoming a reality in Big 12 championship game
The Kansas City Star

SAN ANTONIO | Missouri coach Gary Pinkel walked into the Alamodome on Friday afternoon as if he had been here before. As if his No. 1-ranked Missouri Tigers football team belonged.

They do, of course, at 11-1 and champions of the Big 12 North. Although Missouri played its biggest game in school history last week against rival Kansas, tonight goes down as its most important.

Mizzou takes on No. 9 Oklahoma, winner of the Big 12 South, at 7 tonight, and a win sends the Tigers to the national championship game.

Pinkel on Friday remembered a special moment when this game was only a dream: July 24, 2007, when Pinkel had the cabdriver take a detour to the Alamodome on the way to the San Antonio airport following the league’s football media days.

“I remember (my players) looking at me, saying, ‘Coach, this is where we’ve gotta be,’ ” Pinkel recalled.

On the streets of San Antonio, awash with thousands in black and gold, the Tigers are the subject of conversation. Random Oklahoma fans — here in what are expected to be even larger numbers — are showing evidence of the strain.

“M-I-Z, Z-O-U. M-I-Z, Z-O-U,” one woman dressed in an Oklahoma sweatshirt complained to friends as they strolled the Riverwalk on Thursday night. “I’m getting sick of hearing that stuff.”

But, hey, who can blame them? This is new territory for the Tigers. This is a chance for Missouri to win its first conference crown since the 1969 team shared a Big Eight championship with Nebraska.

Of course, the Tigers have their eyes on a bigger prize.

Win, and Chase Daniel and Co. will finish atop the final BCS standings to be released Sunday and play for the national championship on Jan. 7 in New Orleans. But a Missouri loss — oddsmakers installed the Sooners as a three-point favorite — is where things get interesting and could provide more Border War fireworks.

It seems the Fiesta Bowl, one of the BCS (major) bowls, has become a big fan of Kansas, and the Jayhawks could be headed there no matter what happens at the Alamodome. That’s not a problem for the Tigers if they win. They’ll be playing for the game’s biggest trophy. But if the Sooners win, Kansas could face Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, leaving Mizzou out of the BCS bowl picture.

Missouri, not having been the nation’s top-ranked team since spending a week ranked No. 1 in 1960, is the focus of many college football fans.

A Southwest Airlines flight attendant, seeing a contingent of people dressed in Missouri garb, said: “I wish your team well, but I hope you lose.”

The flight attendant, it turns out, was an Ohio State football fan. The only way the Buckeyes can make the national championship game is if Missouri or No. 2 West Virginia lose this weekend. West Virginia plays pitiful Pittsburgh. So the Ohio State folks are cheering for Oklahoma.

”Everybody in the state of Ohio wants me to lose this game,” said Pinkel, like Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops a native of the Buckeye State. “I can guarantee you that.”

Big 12 officials said Friday afternoon that about 5,000 tickets remained to be sold in the 65,067-seat Alamodome. So MU fans are doing their best to paint the Riverwalk black and gold, while the rest of Tiger Nation braces for an all-night party if MU prevails in San Antonio.

At a pep rally in Columbia on Thursday night, MU sophomore linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said it best.

“Saturday, we play OU,” Weatherspoon shouted to thousands of students gathered around the south steps of Jesse Hall on the MU campus.

“Saturday, we beat OU.”

Do that and Missouri’s dream season has exceed Pinkel’s daydream in July.