COLUMBIA — It wasn't much different in the beginning. The newest group of seniors met during the spring and began the brainstorming sessions that seem to happen every year.
They did their best to avoid the cliches and the worn-out messages. They wanted a new mantra. A mantra of their own. A mantra to define their team and their mission. Eventually, Beast M.O.D.E. was born.
But unlike years past, the slogan of this season's Missouri football team hasn't lived the reclusive life of post-practice cheers and weight room motivation. Thanks to Nike's Pro Combat uniforms, and to the subsequent advertising campaigns that have gone with it, Beast M.O.D.E. has permeated the locker room walls and found its way into the minds and vocabulary of fans. Saturday afternoon Beast M.O.D.E. will make its television debut as a part of Missouri's uniforms. The seniors responsible for its conception still won't reveal what the acronym means. But that's less important now. Whatever it was supposed to mean, Beast M.O.D.E. has become much more.
It was a puzzle for Kurtis Gregory. The senior offensive guard and his senior teammates came up with the idea for an acronym, and after laying out the possible combinations of inspirational words in front of him, the challenge became piecing them together. Eventually, he came up with the four words that would comprise M.O.D.E. and left it to the other seniors to come up with the rest. He says that when Jaron Baston and Sean Weatherspoon threw "Beast" in front of it, he knew they had something.
"I thought, 'Hey. Beast M.O.D.E. That's pretty darn catchy,'" Gregory said with a laugh.
The seniors presented the slogan to the rest of the team over the summer, and initially several of the underclassmen focused more on the "Beast" than Gregory's calculated combination of words.
"I didn't think about the acronym," sophomore wide receiver Jerrell Jackson said. "I just thought about playing crazy, playing like a beast."
Beast M.O.D.E. was given a similar treatment to the slogans of years past. There was a sign put up in Daniel Devine Pavillion. Players were given wrist bands with the words engraved in them. Weatherspoon said he wanted the term to become the team's football lifestyle.
"It was accepted," Weatherspoon said. "They got it real quick."
What it is they each "got," however, depends on the player.
Blaine Gabbert says that it's about not letting his teammates down. Derrick Washington says it's about transforming into a completely different person. Kevin Rutland says it's about channeling the animal instinct everyone has inside.
Whatever it was supposed to mean, and whatever it's meant to each player over the course of the season, Beast M.O.D.E. means even more this week.
As fans filed out of Memorial Stadium last Saturday, they got their first preview of how Beast M.O.D.E. would change for Saturday's Border Showdown against Kansas. On the video board in the north end zone a short commercial was shown for a T-shirt with "beast mode" written across the front. Each line of the ad states how the shirt says more than "beast mode." The players saw the ad for the first time on Sunday. Kevin Rutland said that when it claimed that "This shirt says this game is played in Kansas City, Missouri, and not Kansas City, Kansas," his teammates erupted.
The shirt, the ad and the bold statements both make are indicative of the burden Weatherspoon says has been placed on his team. The new Nike Pro Combat uniforms that the Tigers will wear on Saturday are emblazoned with "Beast Mode," both on the inside collar and on their gloves. Having a slogan as a part of actions and motivations are one thing. Having one as a literal part of him on gameday? That's something quite different.
"Whenever you've got writing on your uniform, that's bold," Weatherspoon said.
"If you're going to write something like that, you better play hard."