COLUMBIA — Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel was having a hard time holding back the tears as the 15 seniors on the Missouri football team lined up in the tunnel before their final home game Saturday.
It wasn't really a goodbye, the Tigers still have three more games to play, but as the seniors were introduced, one by one, Pinkel let go — his eyes red, his cheeks wet and his face as somber as the November weather.
"That's real hard for me," Pinkel said after his teams 38-28 win over Kansas State. "You're connected to all those guys, and very thankful."
As the Tigers ran out of their locker room on Saturday, the seniors paused in the tunnel before being introduced, but most were unable to hold back their emotions before running onto Faurot Field for one final game.
"It was very emotional, sitting there thinking about it, all the summers I've been here and going with these guys," safety Jasper Simmons said. "I love these guys, so when it comes to the last time, it was hard to go."
As the seniors were introduced, they hugged a choked-up Pinkel and shared a private moment with their coach.
Senior linebacker Andrew Gachkar was able to hold off the tears while in the tunnel, keeping his chin high, not allowing his eyes to show the emotion of the moment. But as he ran onto the field, his feelings overcame him.
"Coach Pinkel was crying and it got to me," Gachkar said. "Yeah, it hit me hard. I didn't think I was going to cry or anything like that. It was something special, so it's something I'll remember for the rest of my life."
Carl Gettis didn't even try to stop his emotions. As he stood near the back of the single-file line of seniors, Gettis' face looked as if he had just come out of a rainstorm.
Gettis' teammates had joked that he would be the first to start crying. During a team meeting on Friday, Gettis said he was just barely able to hold back the tears.
Sure enough, Gettis was the first to break down in the locker room on Saturday. Jerrell Harrison and Simmons were also unable to hold back their tears. It didn't matter how many times they blinked, the tears kept coming.
"I was like 'nah, I'm not going to (cry)'," Harrison said. "Then you see the rest of the seniors get emotional, and coach Pinkel was getting emotional, and it got to me too. I've never seen coach Pinkel like that, he's always business, straight forward, so it was cool seeing him like that."
"It was a lot of love," Simmons said of his embrace with Pinkel. "And to see a grown man cry like that in front of me, that felt good too."
The senior captains were the last to be introduced. Center Tim Barnes said he knew the emotions of the moment would get to him — he was just trying to hold them off for as long as he could.
"I didn't want come out there just gushing, but I had some tears coming out a little bit,"Barnes said. "I wasn't Superman out there.It was special for me, all the coaches come up to you beforehand, and they're like your parents there for five years ... It was very emotional, and once I got out to my parents it was hard to keep it in too."
Kevin Rutland, overcome by the moment, held Pinkel longer than any other player.
"It was like a hug that put in about five years of love into it," Rutland said. "I told him I loved him, and he told me he loved me."
Because of a knee injury, senior linebacker Luke Lambert was unable to play in what should have been his final home game. Even so, Lambert gave each of his classmates a tearful embrace.
"It's extremely tough," Rutland said of Lambert being unable to play. "Luke is an excellent player, and he's great guy. We all love him, and it really hurts you from a personal standpoint and from a football standpoint."
Pinkel has greeted the players before introductions for the past six seasons, a suggestion of current wide receivers coach and former Missouri player Andy Hill. Pinkel sarcastically called Hill's suggestion "beautiful," but said he feels no shame for the emotions that flowed as his seniors took to their home field for the final time.
"Those guys have been so committed, no one understands, I really don't think anyone really ever understands the amount of time they put in their commitment in coming to school here in their three, four, five years," Pinkel said. "And they come here to graduate from college and be a Missouri Tiger football player, and the commitment to do both good, people have no clue how important that is.
"You pass the baton, great leaders, great kids and very very appreciative of what they have done for Mizzou. That's why it was also huge to win this game.