Sunday, June 04, 2006

Thrill of Victory, Agony of Defeat

By Tiger Fan

After a wild weekend of baseball, Mizzou is still alive in the Malibu regional (they have just knocked off Pepperdine 4-1 as I write to force another game on Monday). To say that the games were close would be an understatement. The Tigers lost a heartbreaker to Pepperdine 3-2 on Friday, won in 14 innings against Cal-Irvine on Saturday and slipped by UCLA 2-1 earlier today on the strength of a complete game by Rick Zagone. The Friday and Saturday games illustrated what is best (and worst) about college sports: the thrill of victory on Saturday, compared to the agony of defeat on Friday.

Both games went down to the wire as I listened intently on my computer. Friday night, Trevor Helms was robbed of the game-tying RBI in the ninth when the Pepperdine second baseman made a diving stop and threw him out by inches. A painful loss. Saturday, J.C. Field chugged home for the go-ahead run in the 14th and the Tigers sealed the victory with double play in the bottom of the inning. A thrilling victory.

Most fans have experienced both of these sensations and that’s what makes sports so great. You never know what is going to happen. Yes, it seems like Mizzou fans often get the agony more than thrill (see: Tyus Edney, the Fifth Down, the Kicked Ball… all before my time as a tiger fan), but we’ve had our thrilling moments too. It’s hard to say at this point where this weekend’s games fall in my history as a sports fan, but below are my 10 most thrilling moments (sometimes a moment, sometimes a whole game) and my 10 most agonizing losses. I’m sure some of the Tiger fans out there have shared these moments. Check out my list and feel free to discuss your own memories in the comments section.

Thrill of Victory:

  1. Mizzou-Nebraska – October 11, 2003

It had been 25 years since Mizzou beat Nebraska. But on a cold, rainy night in Columbia, Brad Smith turned in another electrifying performance and the Tigers came from behind to win 41-24. There are too many magical moments in this game to recount them all. We sat in the front row of Tiger’s Lair that night: shirtless, chests painted, freezing cold, soaking wet. We screamed so loud that Fannette’s vocal chords were cramping the next day. When it was over, we stormed the field and accompanied the goalpost to Harpo’s, where I personally cut off the piece of history that sits proudly on my desk. Somewhere around 1:30 in the morning as I was heading home, I realized I was still shirtless and covered in smeared paint. What a night.

  1. Mizzou-kU basketball – March 6, 2005

As a senior at Mizzou, I had endured four long years without ever being on hand to see the Tiger beat kU. After years of seeing talented Tiger teams fall apart against the beakers, I wasn’t optimistic when the highly ranked gayhawks came calling against the NIT-bound Tigers. But then Jimmy McKinney got hot. So did Thomas Gardner. Mizzou got out to a big lead and withstood a late kU rally for the 72-68. Yellow Suit Guy, The Nethead, Tiger Fannette and I helped lead the charge as the students rushed the floor. Truly an amazing way to finish up my college career.

  1. Texas A&M beats Kansas State for the Big XII title – December 5, 1998

The No. 10 Aggies (who I’ve cheered for since birth) trailed No. 1 by 15 as the fourth quarter began, but the Aggies tied it at 27 with just over a minute to play. The Aggies dragged down a K-State receiver at the two-yard line as time expired, sending the game to overtime. On third-and-17 in the second overtime, Aggie running back Sirr Parker caught a quick slant, eluded a tackle and raced 32 yards for the game-winning touchdown. I went crazy with my parents in my living room. Our dog was even jumping around. After that, all I remember is running through my neighborhood with a Texas A&M flag. It was bedlam.

  1. Mizzou-kU basketball – January 16, 2006

In the midst of another mediocre season, Tiger Fannette and I returned to Columbia earlier this year without much optimism as the Tigers took on kansas. For 38.5 minutes, it looked like we were right. With about 90 seconds to play, the beakers led by 11. They led by 7 with 30 seconds remaining. But Thomas Gardner, who scored 40 that night, was on fire and he tied the game with 5.6 seconds to play. kU’s Christian Moody missed two free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining and Mizzou won it in overtime, 89-86. Sitting up high, Tiger Fannette and I had to deal with abuse from kU fans for the entire game. Needless to say, they didn’t have much to talk about when the final horn sounded.

  1. Reds sweep the A’s to win the World Series – October 20, 1990

If I had been more than seven years old, this would probably be higher up on the list. The Reds weren’t supposed to have a chance, but they won four straight games instead. I remember that my grandparents were staying with me and I was allowed to stay up late to see the game, which was being played in Oakland. I watched the whole thing with a broom in hand… and when the Reds took a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning of game four, I got to start waving it around. One inning later, the Reds were world champs.

  1. 2005 Independence Bowl – December 30, 2005

Anyone who saw this game knows that it started out as an “agony of defeat” story. As I sat at my home in Cincinnati watching the game, I started making and receiving angry phone calls to and from my Mizzou friends. 21-0 in the first quarter? Are you serious? But I kept telling my family that I thought the Tigers could still come back. When it was 28-14 at halftime, my friends were urging me to head out for the evening, but I stayed put. Then the defense clamped down and Brad Smith started playing like, well, only Brad Smith can. When the dust had cleared, it was an unbelievable 38-31 victory for ol’ Mizzou. I finally headed out to meet up with my friends, but I did so sporting a Kellen Winslow jersey and a big smile.

  1. Mizzou-Oklahoma State basketball – February 24, 2004

In the midst of a disappointing season, I actually thought about not going to this game. I had to work at the Missourian all day, so I wasn’t able to get there in time to secure my usual front row Zou Crew seat. In fact, I got there right before tip off and watched my first and only game from the Hearnes Center upper deck. Early on, I couldn’t believe how out of it all the fans were up there. Some of them didn’t even seem to know what was going on. But by the time OSU’s John Lucas missed a jumped as time expired in the second overtime (giving unranked Mizzou a 93-92 victory over the No. 6 Cowboys), even the upper deck fans were on their feet and going crazy. It was a wild game and an electric atmosphere. As we sang the alma mater up in the rafters, I remember hoping that the last game played at Hearnes would be just as thrilling. Unfortunately, we all know that didn’t happen.

  1. Mizzou-SEMO baseball – April 30, 2003

This isn’t a game many people remember (mainly because there weren’t many people there – the official attendance was 619, but that seems hard to believe), but it’s one of my favorite Mizzou memories. The Tigers trailed SEMO 10-6 going to the bottom of the ninth and most of the fans who did show up started filing out early. But I stayed put with three of my friends and we were handsomely rewarded. The Tigers clawed their way back into it and Ryan Rallo hit a game-winning two-run homer into the left field bullpen with two strikes and two outs to give Mizzou an 11-10 win. We went crazy, running up and down the bleachers and screaming like crazy. The win was made even sweeter by the fact that the SEMO fans in front of us had been giving us a hard time all game long. Truly a great moment.

  1. Mizzou-SLU basketball – December 3, 2001

This was my first – and best – experience watching a Mizzou road game at a Columbia sports bar. As na├»ve freshmen, we had no idea that you needed to show up early at Buffalo Wild Wings to get a table to watch the big game. We rolled in right as the game started, only to discover that there was nowhere to sit. Luckily, they let us stand in the entry, and I’m glad we did. When Wesley Stokes hit the game winner at the buzzer, giving Mizzou a 69-67, the place went crazy. Drinks went flying. Everyone was high-fiving and hugging. And then everyone left, meaning that we could stay and enjoy some victory wings.

  1. Albert Pujols steals the soul of Brad Lidge – October 17, 2005

I’m not going to pretend to be a Cardinals fan. But I watching last year’s NLCS at Mike Duffy’s Sports Bar in St. Louis with a room full of Cardinals fans, I definitely got caught up in the moment. The Cards entered the ninth inning trailing the Astros 4-2, with the Astros just three outs away from clinching the series. The St. Louis fans were looking pretty devastated, but all of that changed with one pitch. Pujols crushed a three-run homer to left off Houston closer Brad Lidge and the place went ballistic. I was hugged by people I didn’t know. People were standing on tables. Pandemonium. Houston went on to win the series, but Albtert’s homerun will be remembered for a long time… and Lidge hasn’t been the same since.

-Honorable mention: Reggie McNeal completes a Hail Mary touchdown at the end of the first half against Oklahoma State, my alma mater Lakota East beats West at basketball for the first time in school history, MU beats kU in the 2003 Big XII Tourney, Mizzou makes the Elite Eight by beating UCLA

Agony of Defeat:

  1. A dagger in the heart of everyone” – January 8, 2006

The Bengals hadn’t been in the playoffs in more than a decade, but Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson led a high-powered offense that had Cincinnati fans believing again. After winning the division, the Bengals took on the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs in front of a sellout crowd of orange and black. The stage seemed set for the Bengals to make up for years of terrible play. Then it happened. On the second play of the game, Palmer unleashed a 66-yard completion to Chris Henry… and then Steelers d-lineman Kimo von Oehlhoffen landed on Palmer’s leg. I knew immediately that he was seriously hurt. I screamed at the TV. Things were thrown. Neighbors were probably terrified. As it turns out, Palmer tore both his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament. Game over. Season over. Dream over. The Steelers, of course, went on to win the game 31-17 and later won the Super Bowl. I actually think I went through the stages of grief on this one: This cannot be happening (denial)… Why is this happening? (anger)… Okay, I’ll accept this if Kitna can lead us to victory (bargaining)… Fine, I don’t care anymore (depression)… I still don’t think I’ve reached the acceptance stage over.

  1. The last game at Hearnes Center – March 7, 2004

The scene was set for a story-book farewell. The Tigers were playing the archrival beakers. Mizzou was saying good-bye to four great seniors (Rickey Paulding, Arthur Johnson, Josh Kroenke and Travon Bryant). We needed the win to make the NCAA tournament. It should have been a perfect ending to the decades of basketball at the Hearnes Center. For most of the game, it looked like things would go according to plan. The game was close, but AJ was playing out of his mind. He finished the game with a career-high 37 points and eight rebounds. Jason Conley threw down a dunk with 49 seconds to play to give the Tigers the lead and, after an Aaron Miles 3-pointer, Conley made two free throws to tie the game at 82 with 15.4 seconds to play. But someone forgot to tell kU freshman David Padgett how this story was supposed to end. He hit the game-winning basket over AJ with 2 seconds to play. The Tigers lost the last game ever played at the Hearnes Center, 84-82. All I remember after that game was stunned silence. We probably stayed in the arena for at least an hour after the game. We didn’t want it to end that way. But it did.

  1. Kirk (bleepin’) Hinrich – March 9, 2003

The AP recap of the game begins like this “Kansas needed two improbable long shots to wrap up its second straight Big 12 championship.” That doesn’t do it justice, but it gets the gist of it. Aaron Miles and Hinrich both made wild, buzzer-beating, garbage three-pointers in the final minute. Hinrich’s shot broke a 74-all tie with 23 seconds to play. Mizzou lost the game 79-74. It was the first home game we had lost all season and to be honest, we didn’t know how to react. I just remember sitting in stunned silence, wondering how it got away. Here’s what it looked like.

  1. Super Bowl XXIII – January 22, 1989

Again, if I was more than five years old, this might be a more traumatic moment for me. As it is, Joe Montana’s game-winning 92-yard drive with 3:02 to play against the Bengals is one of my earlier memories. To be fair, I don’t actually remember the game (although I’ve seen the highlights) but I remember three things: a) My favorite player at the time, Tim Krumrie, got hurt, 2) The Bengals lost, 3) Everybody we were watching the game with (I believe a church gathering) was really bummed. Now I understand why. The only thing I could think of that would be worse is if the franchise quarterback had his knee blown out on a freak play… oh wait…

  1. The Fake – October 5, 2002

It was Brad Smith’s coming out party. He carried the ball 26 times for 213 yards and two touchdowns while adding 178 yards and another score through the air. Mizzou trailed Oklahoma 23-7 in the second half, but Smith’s 25 scamper with 10 minutes to play put the Tigers ahead 24-23. The atmosphere at Faurot Field was electric. Mizzou had the No. 3 team in the country on the ropes. You could feel the upset. And then, OU faked the field goal. The defenders were there, but somehow freshman tight end Chris Chester managed to catch the ball between two sets of hands with 6:33 left for his first career reception. The Tigers never recovered. I was in the band then, so I had a clear view of Chester’s catch. There’s no way he makes that catch 99 times out of 100. The defense was perfect. An inch either way and it’s incomplete and the Tigers win… all right, I have to stop…

  1. The Unlucky Block – January 20, 2004

Let’s set the stage: Mizzou leads No. 14 Texas 61-58 in Columbia with just seconds remaining. Royal Ivey drives the lane and puts up a lay-up to put the Longhorns within one. Tiger center Arthur Johnson steps up and makes a huge block. The only problem? The ball lands in the hand of Brian Boddicker, who calmly knocks down the game-tying 3 with 6.9 seconds to play. Ivey went bonkers in overtime and the Tigers lost 79-75. I was quite upset after the game and when I got to my car afterward and found a parking ticket, courtesy of MUPD, I pretty much lost it. The whole thing actually led to a bit of a fight between Fannette and myself. Apparently, she thought I was taking the whole thing a little too hard. Me? Hard to believe.

  1. MU-kU football – November 20, 2004

Mizzou had everything to play for: a shot in the Big XII championship game, Senior Day, a rivalry game against the beakers, and a chance to overcome the embarrassment of blowing a 21-0 lead against KSU two weeks before. On a personal note, it was the last home football game of my college career. As usual, I braved the cold and stood shirtless in the front row of Tiger’s Lair despite the cold. Unfortunately, the Tigers failed to grasp the importance of this game. In fact, they pretty much didn’t show up. The Tigers trailed 21-0 at halftime and ended up losing 31-14. We took out our frustrations on small plastic megaphones that had been given out to the student section. When Rocky Mountain Tiger stopped by to see us near the end of the game, there was a graveyard of megaphones that had been crushed on the brick wall above Dan Devine’s name. Buried with them was Mizzou’s chance at a bowl game.

  1. MU-Iowa basketball

This one also requires the scene to be set: Mizzou entered the game 9-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country. So many students stuck around Columbia after exams that the Hearnes Center was oversold by thousands. The official attendance figure for the game was a sell-out, but there were students sitting with their feet over the balconies in the upper deck and we were jammed in shoulder-to-shoulder in the student section. The arena was rocking before the game and then, in the opening minutes, Wesley Stokes threw a sick half-court alley-oop to Rickey Paulding, who threw it down over two Iowa defenders. The place was going crazy… and then the Tigers stopped playing. They trailed by 11 at the half and ended up losing 83-65 to a team they had beaten just weeks earlier.

  1. MU-kU baseball – May 27, 2006

This one is only a week old. Playing for a spot in the Big XII title game – and presumably with their season hanging in the balance – Mizzou battled back to tie the game at 3, only to blow it in the ninth. The Tigers gave up the winning run without the ball ever leaving the infield. He reached on a walk and advanced to second on a bunt. Then, with two outs, he reached third on an error at third base by Zane Taylor (who was only in the game because Brock Bond had been thrown out after starting a bench-clearing brawl). Then, the unthinkable. On a routine groundball, Tiger shortstop Gary Arndt tripped over his shoelaces and the throw to first was (arguably) late as the winning run scored. The Tigers went quietly in the bottom of the inning. I was at home in Cincinnati, so the only way I could track the game was through the Tigerboard live chat. Needless to say, I had to bite my tongue to keep from yelling during that ninth inning, as everyone else in the house was asleep. There was lots of cussing in the chat room that night, but this is a rare agonizing loss that had a silver lining: As we all know, the Tigers not only made the tourney, but have a shot at winning the Malibu regional tomorrow.

  1. 2006 NCAA Championship – January 4, 2006

This may seem like an odd choice, but I hate texas so much that seeing them win in one of the greatest college football games ever played drove me crazy. I was watching the game alone at Fannette’s apartment (she had gone to bed) and I really had to bite my tongue to keep from waking her up. Pillows were thrown. The floor was pounded. What had started out as a casual night of sitting on the couch watching football ended up with me six inches from the TV, living and dying with every possession. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be a USC fan that night. Of course, I guess they do have another national title to fall back on… something I can’t say I have ever experienced.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

#1 Agony of Defeat

Tyus Edney goes coast-to-coast in 5.8 seconds to beat Missouri en route to UCLA's first NCAA title in 20 years, Boise, Idaho, March 19, 1995.