When Chris Davis looked up into the lights and saw the ball barreling toward him, it was destiny. There’s that word they keep using, right? Destiny.
It was destiny when Davis’ team, Auburn, started winning Southeastern Conference games after losing them all last year.
It was destiny when that ball on 4th-and-18 bounced off two Georgia defenders and into the hands of a miracle touchdown with less than 30 seconds left. It was so much destiny, the term “immaculate deflection” was coined, the “prayer at Jordan-Hare.”
It was destiny on Saturday during the Iron Bowl, when Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon, ran out of bounds with a second left, instead of no seconds left.
It was destiny that Alabama went with an inexperienced kicker to attempt a 57-yard field goal with that second left. And it was destiny that the ball was kicked short and landed in the arms of a speedy little player who begged his way into playing time as a punt returner.
You know the rest. 108 yards between Davis and the end zone, between Auburn and destiny. Bang! Into eternity. Alabama’s three-peat evaporates faster than you can even utter the word “fate.” And there we have a play that challenges “the band is out on the field” or Doug Flutie’s miracle toss as one of the greatest all time.
Suddenly, college football fans across the nation don’t know what to do with themselves. They’ve witnessed more last-second and/or miraculous finishes than their brains were programmed to handle. Can it really get much better than, “It’s so good it hurts”?
Apparently it does. A mere three and a half hours later, Mizzou fans got a dose of that feeling: what it’s like to have their team win, to really win. No, not just “what it’s like to beat Kansas State” or “what it’s like to beat Tennessee” but really winning a football game.
The Tigers’ victory over Texas A&M wasn’t a statement. It was the exclamation point on a regular season that not even the optimist could have expected.
And yet here we are, Missouri on its way to Atlanta. I thought the chances of the Tigers going to Atlanta this year were high — for a golfing tournament, maybe.
Instead, Mizzou is on its way there for the most improbable of berths in the SEC Championship Game. On Saturday, it wasn’t heartbreak. It wasn’t “typical Mizzou,” or the fifth down. It was an exhilarating game, with a spectacular finish and a penultimate feeling of satisfaction.
Now, Missouri gets Auburn, the team of destiny.
But if you want to use that D-word, why not use it for Mizzou? After all, Auburn was in this spot just a few years ago, in a SEC Championship and the BCS title game. Sure, they went from “worst to first” this season. But Mizzou has gone from nobodies to relevant, too.
It was destiny that Missouri elected to depart the Big 12. It was destiny when, flying in the face of popular consensus or logical judgment, the school took the risk. It was destiny when that team entered its second season in a league many believed they weren’t ready for, and they started winning conference games. When we all doubted. When it went from us asking, “Can Mizzou make a bowl game?” to “Can Mizzou win the SEC East?” It was destiny.
Now we’re here: “Can Mizzou win the SEC next weekend?”
Yeah, sure, when you have two miracle touchdowns that will live on in sports history forever in just a few weeks, you’re going to think you’re a team of destiny.
But in my books, Mizzou is a destined team. One that earns its victories without miracles. Mizzou didn’t need an immaculate deflection to beat Georgia. It dominated. It didn’t need a wild, 108-yard missed field goal return to win its division in the last game of the year. They’re the real Cinderella story, more so than Auburn is. And they do have what it takes to win.
When the Tigers meet the Tigers this weekend, be thankful, regardless of the outcome, for this has already been a year that will be relished for decades to come. Remember how good it feels to have a legitimate winning football team.