COLUMBIA — Call it what you want.
I'll admit it. Blaine Gabbert wooed my football heart.
After Gabbert's 319-yard, three-touchdown performance against Illinois, I wasn't quite ready to proclaim him the next John Elway. But I wasn't too far off. Phrases like "unprecedented skills" and "cannon for a right arm" were tossed around without a second thought.
My editor told me to sleep it off. It was an intense game he said. Get some rest. Reevaluate in the morning.
It was no help.
A few days later my feelings still lingered. When asked whether I'd rather have Tim Tebow or Gabbert there was a noticeable delay in my response, which I fervently stood behind.
Then the trouble in quarterback-crush paradise.
Gabbert stumbled through the first quarter against Bowling Green, and the Missouri offense stalled on each of its drives. No big deal, I thought. It was a fluky 15 minutes that would soon be forgotten. But as Gabbert finished the first half just 10 of 21 I realized there was no escaping it. I had spoken too soon.
Seven days after looking like God's gift to quarterbacking, Gabbert looked like a sophomore taking his licks.
The thing about that? That's exactly what he is.
In my defense, Gabbert makes it easy for any football enthusiast to get worked up.
The physical stuff is entrancing for anyone with a scouting eye. He looks more like a defensive end than a quarterback. A handshake with Gabbert makes me feel like a toddler. He threw a pass against Illinois from the left hash-mark to the right sideline that was coming so hard it hit his intender receiver in the face. In the face!
Gabbert has every attribute of an elite quarterback. And if he puts them all together he may end up being the best quarterback in the history of Missouri football. Heck, he might end being the best quarterback in the history of the Big 12 for all I know. But right now, he's neither.
The Missouri coaching staff tried to say it. Gabbert would be given the reins to a similar portion of the offense that Chase Daniel got as a sophomore. Gary Pinkel pointed out that Gabbert still hangs on to the ball too long. And that he still puts too much pressure on himself to make plays, even if a play isn't there to be made.
Gabbert is a quarterback, but good quarterbacking comes with time. And often time is not something those supporting the Missouri football program are willing to give.
A freshman quarterback named Matt Barkley led Southern California to a last-second win in Columbus last weekend against Ohio State. Another frosh named Tate Forcier is busy trying to restore the glory at Michigan. Knocking off a ranked Notre Dame team is a good start.
The difference between them and Gabbert? They play at schools with a combined 20 national championships. Gabbert plays at Missouri.
Five-star recruits and top 10 rankings are commonplace among the schools that usually snag players like Gabbert. Missouri is still a team finding its foothold in the upper echelon of blue chip high-schoolers.
After almost four years in Columbia the culture of impatience might have crept into my own expectations. I got ahead of myself a bit.
Players like Gabbert are a sign that Missouri is moving in the direction of being a top program rather than a blip on the national radar. Now it's time to understand that there is no need for an inferiority-complex-driven need for immediate legitimacy.
Blaine Gabbert isn't going to be Johnny Unitas after one start. He's just Blaine Gabbert. But with time, that might be plenty.