LINCOLN, Neb. — Andrew Gachkar took four steps onto the speckled red carpet before he was swarmed.
About 50 media members created a three-person-deep semicircle around Missouri’s senior linebacker. Only the tips of his sweat-drenched, spiky black hair were visible from behind the huddle. Cameras, recorders and questions engulfed him.
Gachkar patiently explained his feelings after the Tigers’ first loss of the season. His eyes, always blank, stared out in the distance, never back at the reporters.
His voice rumbled an octave deeper than usual. Words left his lips just a bit slower.
But he stood tall in the heat of the fire as Missouri’s first player to address the media.
As his teammates began to trickle into the interview room, reporters quickly scattered away to grab more quotes. Finally, those outside the huddle could see Gachkar.
His eyelids drooped like they were too heavy for him to hold up. With his hands buried deep in the pockets of his charcoal workout pants, he gently rocked up and down on the balls of his feet.
“It’s disappointing,” Gachkar said. “They outplayed us today, but we felt like maybe on another day we would have them.”
He was crushed, and there was no hiding it. His defense gave up 24 points in the first quarter, and, despite a better performance throughout the rest of the game, Missouri’s offense could never catch up. Eventually the Tigers fell 31-17.
Of course the loss had Gachkar down. Explaining to a group of virtual strangers how his team let down thousands of fans was just about the only thing that could make him feel worse.
“It sucks,” he said. “I didn’t want to come in here, but people want answers. I just try my best to hold back. That’s all I can do.”
Gachkar said all the right things. He filled reporters’ notepads with lines about rebounding, focusing and next week's big game against Texas Tech. It was enough to make any public relations director proud.
Everything other than Gachkar's words told the real story. The story of a team that, even for the tiniest split-second, dreamed of running the table after knocking off former BCS No. 1 Oklahoma. That dreamed of marching into Lincoln and saying goodbye to Nebraska with another monumental win. That dreamed of a National Championship.
But now all of that is gone.
Deep within the bowels of Memorial Stadium, Gachkar and a handful of his teammates were trapped. Low ceilings made the room feel more crowded than it actually was.
“It just sucks to lose in general," said junior defensive end Aldon Smith. "It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing. It just sucks to lose.”
But still, with their stomachs full of knots, Missouri’s players knew they had to move on quickly.
“It’s difficult,” junior tailback De’Vion Moore said. "You think about how this feels. Each and every last one of us, we know what this feels like. We know what it feels like now. You use it. You use it to go out and get better. We got to thank Nebraska. It’s early in the season, they come out and play a great game. We have to learn from it.”