Column: Instant classic

As I walked around campus Friday and saw several tours of prospective students, I couldn’t imagine there was a finer campus to be at than Missouri’s this past week.

The weather was perfect, ESPN’s College GameDay was set up in the Quad, Homecoming decorations were abundant, and Tiger pride swelled in anticipation for the weekend’s football game against the Oklahoma Sooners.

Fast forward to Saturday night, just a few minutes before Missouri knocked off the Sooners for the first time since 1998 and only the second time since 1983. As I was planning my exit strategy from the wave of humanity about to descend upon Faurot Field, the team’s recruits walked up next to me in front of the Tigers’ locker room with the same look as those prospective students from earlier in the week.

Their glazed eyes said it all.

“Wow.”

The scene in Memorial Stadium was breathtaking, as flashbulbs popped throughout the 71,004 gold-clad fans who stuck around until the end, ecstatic that this time, Missouri finished the job. This time, the Tigers defeated the No. 1 team in the country for the first time ever. This time, the party wasn’t going to stop anytime soon.

This time, those goal posts never stood a chance.

I can’t imagine those recruits wanting to have been anywhere else this weekend.

As big of a game as this was for the fans, it had equal impact on the team itself. Head Coach Gary Pinkel, who smiles as often as Halley’s Comet makes an appearance, shared an emotional exchange with junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert on the field among the sea of gold, knowing how much this win meant for the program.

“It’s huge,” Pinkel said afterwards, accompanied by a laugh of disbelief. Understatement of the night.

What this win means for the players, especially seniors like center Tim Barnes who were previously 0-3 against OU, is that they can hold their own against anyone else in the country.

“It really meant a lot to knock down that door and beat them tonight,” Barnes said.

For Pinkel, now 1-6 against Oklahoma in his career, the win represents a reprieve from critics who claimed he couldn’t take the Tigers to the top level.

“If you want to notch up your program respect-wise, you have to win games like these,” he said. “We’ve fallen short several times. It gets frustrating. But it starts with me. And I’m a competitor. I’m a fighter.”

Pinkel likes to keep a reserved persona, always focusing on what the team can do to improve. And in this cruel schedule of college football, he’ll need to prevent a letdown at Nebraska this week.

Of course, the team had its chance to celebrate once everyone used their GPS to find their way back to the locker room, evidenced by loud cheering and laughter. But all the players mentioned how they only had Saturday night to reminisce about the instant classic, because there were only six days to prepare for the Huskers.

That attitude will allow Missouri to go a long way this year, and give it a chance in Lincoln on Saturday, where the fans won’t be as friendly.

Keep Nebraska’s star freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez in tow, and the Tigers might just be causing a few more tears to be shed in CoMo bars Saturday.

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