COLUMBIA — Sometimes, Gahn McGaffie wishes everybody would just forget about that one big play.
Missouri football fans know the one. The Tigers went into their 99th Homecoming game in 2010 with a 6-0 record, hosting both the ESPN College GameDay crew and No. 1-ranked Oklahoma on the same fateful Saturday.
By the time Oklahoma’s Patrick O’Hara unleashed the game’s opening kick shortly after 7 p.m., the sea of gold-clad fans bordering all sides of Faurot Field had worked itself into a frenzy.
The foundation of Memorial Stadium seemed in jeopardy, as students jumped up and down in unison, shaking the bleachers and raising decibel levels with each choreographed cheer. It was too loud to think, too crowded to sit and too surreal to imagine that anything like the next play was even possible.
McGaffie, then a sophomore with five total catches in his Missouri career, was an unlikely hero in an unlikely scene.
Meant to be a blocker on the play, McGaffie snagged the wobbly kick on a bounce at the 14-yard-line. He worked his way slowly up the right side of the field, before hitting a seam around the 30 and breaking through into the open field.
The rest, as they say, is Missouri football history.
Now a redshirt senior receiver for the Tigers, McGaffie still fields questions about the scoring play that cemented his place in Tigers football lore. But while he acknowledges its significance, he says a single play shouldn’t define his career.
“Usually, when I get a reporter talking to me, that’s always a question that they ask. ‘How did it feel?’ and everything,” he said. “I’m just trying to step out away from that, because that was only one touchdown in the game. Yeah, it was a big play, but it was only one touchdown. We didn’t win by a touchdown.”
One way McGaffie can distance himself from the play is by making a lot more of them. With slot receiver T.J. Moe out for much of fall camp with a sore hamstring, McGaffie’s role has increased.
Since a shaky start on the first day of camp, McGaffie has stood out as one of the offense’s top performers. He’s caught nearly everything that has come his way, building a rapport with quarterback James Franklin and displaying the same shifty moves in the open field that landed him in the end zone against the Sooners.
The coaching staff has acknowledged that McGaffie — experienced, fast and reliable — shouldn’t be seen as Moe’s backup. Even when Moe returns, McGaffie will get his opportunities.
“From day two (of camp) until now, he runs great routes, he catches everything thrown at him, he gets himself open and he can kind of be a security blanket for the quarterback because you know where he’s going to be,” offensive coordinator David Yost said. “He has a great understanding of the offense, and he plays with speed and physicality.”
McGaffie’s hands, which are now so reliable that he has been practicing as a holder on field goals and extra points, weren’t always a sure thing. The shoestring catches and leaping grabs that have turned heads in two-a-days are a testament to the work put in behind the scenes.
“That’s something that you develop off the football field when nobody’s watching,” fellow receiver L’Damian Washington said. “I think Gahn goes out every Saturday, Sunday and every day during the week and catches passes. He’s on the JUGS machine. He’s catching tennis balls. He’s a guy who has really worked on his hands, and it’s paid off for him.”
In practice Friday, the results were on display. Needing two big plays to give the offense a rare win in the day's scrimmage, McGaffie caught a short pass from Franklin on the left sideline, making a move to dart past the overmatched safety.
After being pushed out of bounds, he leapt to his feet, yelling emphatically as his offensive teammates lifted him up in the air in celebration. The next play produced almost identical results, as McGaffie caught another ball and again was hoisted into the air by a slew of appreciative offensive linemen.
There weren’t 70,000 fans there to witness this celebration.
But these are the plays that matter most to McGaffie. While he’ll never forget that scamper against Oklahoma, he prefers to look ahead. After all, he still has time to top it.
“I know that’s going to be stuck with me for the rest of my life. I’m accepting it as far as that,” he said. “But yes, I’m trying to step in there and make more plays this season.”