COLUMBIA — Which matters more, belief or preparation?
Both factored into Missouri’s 36-27 victory Saturday against Oklahoma, the No. 1 team in the BCS standings. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel touched on the balance between the two after the game when he described how Dustin Moyer, his bodyguard and a member of the MU Police Department, planned Pinkel's exit from the field in the event of a victory against Oklahoma.
Moyer began planning two weeks ago, when most thought a Missouri victory was a long shot. That didn’t matter; he was prepared, and, in a sense, he believed.
Just like Moyer, Pinkel and his coaching staff devised a detailed plan for the team’s game against Oklahoma. Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert gave the coaches credit for that detailed preparation, but when the Missouri team rushed the field as the final horn sounded, the smiles on their faces showed only one thing: belief.
When the avalanche of Missouri fans filled the field, almost mocking the event staff that stood impotent in green shirts along the perimeter, the stadium shuddered with belief. No one cared about the plays Pinkel and offensive coordinator Dave Yost called; no one was thinking about the hours of practice that culminated in the win. For a few hours, belief was all that mattered.
“Keep believing, baby,” junior wide receiver Wes Kemp said. “M-I-Z.”
After Saturday’s game, the Tigers had one thing in common: the flashes of smiles, smiles so big they make your cheeks hurt just thinking about them. Even the usually somber Pinkel managed to unknit his brow and form something, maybe more of a wry grin, as he discussed the win.
“In all seriousness, I’m proud of our football team,” Pinkel said. “It’s great for the University of Missouri, for all our Tiger fans and certainly for our football team.”
Pinkel said he was especially proud of Gabbert’s performance, and the quarterback’s poise transferred from the turf to postgame interviews. Gone were his signature backwards cap and sweatpants. Gabbert, still in full uniform, looked every inch the star quarterback, the face of the Missouri team. That face is usually serious, almost blank, but on Saturday it too broke into a wide smile. Watching him, it was hard not to believe.
Gabbert, however, remembered that there was more to the game than faith and luck. For him, he said, the game was a sigh of relief, a sign that his hard work had paid off. Still smiling, Gabbert was already looking to the future. He spoke less about how it felt to win than he did about what comes next.
“We’ve just got to wipe the slate clean,” he said. “We’ve got to come in tomorrow and go to work.”
Kemp agreed, his almost ever-present smile seeming to swallow up the rest of his face. But though he was ready to focus on Nebraska, next week's opponent, he was also excited to celebrate.
“If you lose, you’ve got Sunday practice,” Kemp said. “And we said we didn’t want Sunday practice.”
Kemp and his teammates deserved a few hours to regroup, to piece together what they just achieved. He laughed, almost as if he couldn't quite believe what had just happened, and said that he needs to get over what he described as his heart beating out of his chest.
It wasn’t a game but a wild ride where all he could do was believe that his team could pull off the win.
“It was a Six Flags roller coaster — the Screaming Eagle,” Kemp said. “We were up and down, up and down, and just at the end, it was just a smooth ride in.”
Fellow wide receiver Jerrell Jackson reclined in a folding chair and looked smugly satisfied. He took in the situation around him, his teammates buzzing with shock and energy. He was calm and unapologetic. His team’s big win was the best game of his season, and he looked as though he never doubted this win could happen.
“I will not stop smiling,” Jackson said. “I may smile for a few more days. It feels good.”
They prepared. They believed. And now they can’t wipe the emotion from their faces.