COLUMBIA — It’s just a simple star.
Something that sends your eyes plunging toward the bottom of the page in anticipation of a footnote.
But diehard Tiger football fans need no explanation for the asterisk that has been etched into the Telephone Trophy.
The events of Nov. 18, 2006, tell the story of why the asterisk landed next to that all-too-memorable “ISU 21-16.” Records say Iowa State beat Missouri that day, but plenty of Missouri fans disagreed.
But in spite of that, earlier this week Missouri team spokesman Chad Moller and coach Gary Pinkel spoke and decided to have the asterisk removed, regardless of who originally had it engraved.
“We both agreed, it’s not right for that to be on there,” Moller said.
When the Tigers travel to Ames on Saturday, the Telephone Trophy will be asterisk-free.
“That’s fine, it’s good that it’s off,” said Tom Kroeschell, Iowa State sports information director. “But it’s not a big deal.”
Team officials wouldn’t reveal whose workshop would be re-engraving the curious piece of hardware.
Just as mysterious is the identity of whoever originally engraved the trophy. Someone evidently disagreed strongly enough with the result of that Missouri-Iowa State game to carve the asterisk. The only question that remains is, “Who?”
Today, members of the Missouri Tiger football team say the game no longer matters. They say they’re past it. They say two years is a long time. But it’s hard to imagine that the reminders of that nightmare won’t be everywhere when they trot back onto the field at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday for the first time since that disputed game.
“We know we won the football game,” coach Gary Pinkel said on the Monday after his team lost, acknowledging that the record books wouldn’t agree, and despite an apology from the Big 12 Conference for what it ruled an incorrect call.
The Tigers were three feet away from avoiding the embarrassment of a loss to a team that was winless in the Big 12 that season.
Fourth-and-goal on the 1-yard line, 26 seconds to play. Missouri’s ball.
“I just remember it was cold, I had my eyes closed and I was just waiting for the end result,” said Ziggy Hood, a sophomore at the time.
The call for a quarterback draw came in from the sidelines after a timeout.
“We knew it was coming,” said then-Cyclone linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, who transferred to South Florida after the 2006 season.
It didn’t matter. Quarterback Chase Daniel took the snap from the shotgun and burrowed his way across the goal line, giving the Tigers a 22-21 lead and silencing the 39,631 Cyclone fans who wanted to see outgoing coach Dan McCarney ride off into the overcast Ames sky on his players’ shoulders.
Cooper Castleberry, the referee on the officiating crew, unexpectedly gave the Cyclone faithful newfound hope, when he tossed a flag from the offensive backfield.
Holding. Offense. No. 71.
“I didn’t hold him,” said Monte Wyrick, the right guard who prompted Castleberry to throw the flag.
After the game, Pinkel said he had never seen a hold called on a fourth-down run on the goal line in 30 years of coaching.
McKenzie, the player who the referee said had been held on the play, sides with Castleberry.
“I was held, you can go see the pictures online,” said McKenzie, who recorded 121 tackles last season at South Florida.
It was shot from behind the end zone and shows Wyrick’s right arm entangled with McKenzie’s right arm, and Wyrick’s balled fist on McKenzie’s back.
One person added some snarky text at the bottom of the photo.
“Let’s see,” the photo reads. “Wyrick has McKenzie’s arm hooked and has a fistful of jersey...you’re right Gary (Pinkel), no holding.”
Still, only Wyrick really knows if that fist contained a chunk of red jersey.
“I got tangled up with the center on the play,” Wyrick said. “I went down, looked up and Chase was in the end zone.”
On Missouri’s final play, after the penalty, quarterback Chase Daniel got sacked. The Tigers hung their heads. The scoreboard read 21-16.
Few scoreboards have spots for an asterisk, so it’s doubtful the final score on the stadium’s display featured one.
“I don’t care if it’s the Super Bowl or the peewee championship, any official hates to make a call that changes the outcome of a game,” said Castleberry, who owns a furniture store in Lufkin, Texas. “But if you don’t have the courage to do that, then don’t even put the striped shirt on.”
After Missouri sent in tape of the play to Big 12 officials, the conference issued an apology, acknowledging that the call was incorrect and admitting the officiating crew “blew it.”
Missouri fans angered by the loss and frustrated with a team that had lost its fourth game in five tries targeted Castleberry.
“I got some anonymous phone calls from people, saying ‘You’re pitiful, you’re terrible,’ that type of thing,” Castleberry said. “But my life wasn’t threatened or anything like that.”
So who, then, would feel wronged enough to engrave an unauthorized asterisk on the trophy?
Before this week, Missouri officials, including Pinkel, said they were unaware of its presence, as were officials at Iowa State. Only the athletic departments of each school handle the trophy, so scratch an unruly MU student organization with bushels stocked full of sour grapes off the list.
Don’t bother pinning the deed on an ambitious, stealthy player, either.
“That was a long time ago, they beat us,” said senior defensive end Stryker Sulak. “Whoever put it there has their reasons, but there’s no way we can change it.” Somewhere in a dark Missouri alley, a sketchy man with an etching kit might disagree, considering the trophy’s future.
Most players weren’t even aware the asterisk is on the trophy in the first place.
“I didn’t know that,” junior receiver Jared Perry said. “This is 2008. We’re just going to have to flush that.”
Said junior guard Kurtis Gregory: “We’re not supposed to talk about it, so I’m not going to talk about it.”
The one player who did say he knew the asterisk was there couldn’t have been more fitting.
“Yeah, I knew about it, somebody told me about it a while back,” said Wyrick, the Missouri player said to have committed the penalty that cost the Tigers that 2006 game. “I don’t remember who, but I think it was after last year’s game.”
But should the asterisk be on the trophy at all?
“You can go look at the trophy for your answer,” Gregory said on Monday.
Junior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon disagrees. “Those guys played hard, and beat us on that day,” he said. “So I think the asterisk should be taken off.”
On Tuesday, Weatherspoon’s wish came true, after Moller and Pinkel’s conversation.
But could the trophy’s handlers have had a sneaky hand in the act of engraving the asterisk?
Missouri’s equipment manager, Donald Barnes, said he only ships the trophy and that it wasn’t him. Several local engraving shops also said they had nothing to do with the asterisk, and a couple of them said they didn’t even know what the Telephone Trophy is.
The Tigers earned the Telephone Trophy in 2007 after a 42-28 win over Iowa State in Columbia.
Iowa State officials were adamant that the trophy’s former blemish wasn’t of prime concern.
“It’s not a big deal,” said Kroeschell, the sports information director. “So don’t make it a big deal.”