I like the Missouri football players. When they're down, I'm down. When they suffer, I suffer. When they're disgraced, I'm disgraced. Call me a bully, but I'm a bully for ol' Mizzou.
It is because of my deep-seeded love for those fightin' Tigers that I offer to them this humble, yet desperate, word of advice for Saturday's showdown against Nebraska: PLEASE DON'T PLAY THIS GAME, YOU'LL GET HURT!
I have concluded that abstinence this weekend is the safest choice for the Tigers. I realize this clashes with Larry Smith's basic coaching philosophy: "If at first you don't succeed, you get to start." But the seriousness of this weekend's battle transcends philosophies, it's a matter of life and death!
On Thursday, while Mizzou should have been figuring out a way to beat the two-time defending national champion Huskers, the team learned it had lost for the season Shad Criss, one of the Tigers' best defensive players.
Hip pointer? Nope. Sore ribs? Huh uh. Concussion? Not a bump. No, Shad Criss is ineligible for the rest of the games because he was arrested on suspicion of assaulting his girlfriend. Larry Smith suspended him. Good for you, Larry.
It seems these Tigers and these Huskers have more in common than we might think. There might as well have been two Nebraska team photos last year: side and front. But somehow, these brushes with the law didn't matter much.
You could lock up the whole Husker team and they'd beat the grunt out of us with their practice squad. I don't know if it's something in the Lincoln water or what, but any Nebraska squad with any players anywhere would pummel Missouri any day.
But I'm less worried about the score than I am the Tiger players themselves.
Readers of "Balls," I fear for the health and safety of our beloved Tigers on Saturday. Have you seen Braveheart? It was a good try, but a bad idea. Let's not make the same mistake Mel Gibson did.
I am hereby calling for all "Balls" readers to unite. For the love of Mizzou, for the pride of this institution, for the safety of our young fighters, do not let those Tigers get on that plane to Lincoln. This game must not go on!
Call Corby Jones. Call Larry Smith. Call the team physicians, equipment managers, waterboys, cheerleaders, scorekeepers and even that guy who stands in the end zone and yells really obnoxious things. Our voices must be heard. Sure, we hope for the best, but we fear the worst. Let's hope the Tigers aren't so caught up in this fervor that they can't see their fate.
Retreat young Tigers. There will be other battles. No, you won't win those either, but at least you'll be around to see them.
Alas, despite my urgings against it, I'm afraid the black and gold spirit is too overwhelming to stop these warriors. Because we can't stop them, I call for all readers of "Balls" to save a place in their heart for the 1996 Missouri football team.
They went out fighting.
Prediction: Nebraska 82, Mizzou 0