Columbia, Mo. (KMOV) -- Today was the first Saturday I didn't wake up with excitement and anticipation. It was the first time I didn't immediately find my gold bandana to put in my pocket and hop online to discuss potential outcomes of the game with my friend in the media relations office.
There have been many postulations and analytical discussions between us, and without them, I always feared I would be lost -- as if by talking about it, we could influence the outcome. But when the alarm sounded this morning, all I could feel was the heavy weight bearing down on me that reminds one that something they love is at an end.
Today is the last home game at Faurot Field for the season. For me, and many people I've shared the last four years with, it's the last home game as a student.
Despite grimacing at the cold, I couldn't help thinking that the solemn gray skies were fitting for a day like this. It still stuns me that I can care this much about a team I knew nothing about four years ago. I was from Chicago, and the University of Missouri was the place I chose for my higher education, not my fandom. I came in blissfully ignorant of the Tiger woes, the fifth down, all the heartbreak and invisibility of Mizzou football in the late nineties and early 00's. I came in clean, and what happened over the next four years made me into a fiercely loyal fan that lives and dies with every down.
Year one I inherited Brad Smith, the "Hammer of Thor" as he was dubbed. I didn't understand the moniker, as watching Smith an exercise in lost patience and disappointment. Whether it was his fault, or he was a product unfair expectations, he seemed more like the Hammer of Bore and Missouri football looked like a futile enterprise. I remember hosting Texas that year, and with them, the greatest college football player in years, Vince Young. I remember Young answering a sack by running for a first down on 3rd and 25 and my jaw hitting the concrete as I watched him glide all over the field. It was watching that Texas team that I knew big time football was out of our reach.
Still, I remember charging the field after a 42-21 win over Nebraska. We tore the goalposts down and carried them out of the stadium. Like crazed Neanderthals, we hoisted it above us and marched downtown. We carried it into the heart of Columbia where bars rewarded us with beer and women. It was good.
In addition, in the Iowa State game, when Smith went down to injury, some kid everyone called "Chase Daniels" came in as back up. Trailing 10 points in the fourth quarter with 9:00 to play, this unknown backup came in at 3rd and 10. From the Tiger 25, he began a drive to save the game. On 4th and 7, he hit some other freshman named Chase Coffman to keep it going. A field goal and a stop later, we saw "Daniels" do what he would become famous for: 11 plays and 87 yards for TD and an overtime win. Little did we know that this undersized back up would be the leader we worshipped in years to come.
Sophomore year brought a rebirth, of sorts. The "s" was dropped and he had a Quarterback named Daniel. We won games. We ran a spread and scored touchdowns. We had a football program. I bragged to my friends about our resurgence, made wild predictions and bold assessments. I played out scenarios with my media relations friend over beers. We won eight games that year, and went to the Sun Bowl.
The pride was short-lived as the Tigers surrendered a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter to blow the game. I remember sitting in all black at the sports bar getting mocked for our loss. I wore everything I owned that was Missouri colored the next day in defiance. It's ok, though, because next year brought the kind of season you can only dream of.
See, best thing about college sports is that you have your own team. You can cheer for anyone, but only one team is definitively yours. No matter what happens, you're one of them. You see them on campus, you take tests with them, and do projects together. They are your players, your heroes and no one else can quite have that. In our junior year, we watched Missouri rise from the unranked to number one. Number one.
How many people can say they were part of something like that? Unranked to number one and a win away from a national title shot. We fell short that year, but it doesn't matter. We were here, we were part of Missouri history. We lived and died alongside the guys we'll talk about when we are old. In the cauldron of college football, great stories are lost, forgotten and replaced in an instant. But we have our own. Our one flash of glory amidst the ocean of drama in college football. Not everyone can say that.
So it comes to the last game at Memorial Stadium for me. I can remember falling in love with this team, screaming at interceptions and bowing my head at losses. I've missed two games, one to see a friend in the military off, and one because tequila had administered a humbling lesson the night before. I regret only the latter.
For those who fail to grasp how sad this can be, I offer only this: Through every day of college this team was here. Through all the break ups, hook ups, tests and missed classes, we could turn to our Tigers. They were discussed over drinks and cigarettes, cursed and loved, bragged about and revered.
Today is the final punctuation mark on all of these experiences. The call for all black in the stands is a perfect memorial for this last Saturday in Columbia. As for the team, I would like to say the only thing a fan should ever say to a team that's given them this much: Thank you , and good luck.
J.J. Bailey is a student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism