Tiger fans should relish ranking

Thursday, October 23, 2008 | 11:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:32 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 23, 2008

Whew! Thank goodness that's over.

No, I'm not talking about the presidential election. Our quadrennial reality show has a couple more weeks to run. I mean I'm relieved — as Coach Pinkel should be — that our football Tigers' latest ill-fated venture into the upper reaches of the polls has ended.

We veteran fans, as soon as we saw two weeks ago that our lads were ranked second or third in the country, said to ourselves, "This isn't going to end well." We knew that because it never ends well. Remember last year? The Missourian is still peddling posters from that week as No. 1. They're collectors' items, for sure. Nobody, at least nobody from here, made a poster to commemorate the game that followed.

The historians among us recalled then the Tigers' only other ascent to the peak. That one, a mere 47 years earlier, didn't end well either, with a defeat at the hands of the Kansas Jayhawks. (They cheated, of course, but nevermind.)

With only a sample of three to draw on, we can't be certain, but it seems pretty clear that our boys suffer from altitude sickness when they climb too high. How else can you explain the dazed looks on linemen's faces as first Cowboys and then Longhorns shouldered them aside, or the slow-motion reactions of defensive backs as orange-clad receivers raced past two weeks in a row?

Well, now we're back where we'll be more comfortable, in the second echelon. I feel confident in predicting a happier outcome Saturday.

Before the grumbling grows too loud, let me remind you that the second echelon is way better than the lower regions in which the Tigers dwelled for most of the previous 20 years. It's a respectable neighborhood.

Indeed, during the dreary falls of Stull, Widenhofer and Smith, if fans had been offered a promise of eight or nine victories a year, we'd have gasped in disbelief before handing a lifetime contract to the coach who could produce such wonders. The after-effects of altitude sickness are so disorienting that a lot of us will be bitterly disappointed with anything less than double digits this season.

And so what if the Heisman fantasy has vanished? I shudder to think of the unrealistic expectations for future quarterbacks that would have generated.

You may have seen, as I did, our two most recent quarterback alumni on television last weekend. Corby Jones, who is now a lawyer in Kansas City, was a smooth post-game commentator. Brad Smith was still running, only now as a receiver and special teams player for the Jets. Neither man's career seems to have been blighted by his having been only a local hero.

We fans celebrate their successes and barely remember their shortcomings.

In a few years we'll feel the same about this season's boys of autumn. We'll reminisce about Chase Daniel's throwing, Chase Coffman's hurdling, Jeremy Maclin's darting, Sean Weatherspoon's tackling. We'll relive the hammering of Nebraska in Lincoln.

BCS? That's not who we are. We're No. 15 and glad of it.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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