Gahn McGaffie’s underpants were on backwards for a reason.
It wasn’t for comfort, and it wasn’t for style. It wasn’t because he thought that was the correct way to wear them.
It was for Batman, his mentor and hero.
“When I was younger, I used to always wear the Batman underwear, but the action stuff (cartoon) was on the back,” McGaffie said, smiling shyly. “So I used to kind of wear them backwards sometimes, just so I could see the front of them.”
Years later, McGaffie has Batman on his back.
Now, the fifth-year receiver’s back is covered with a large Batman tattoo, stretching from shoulder to shoulder. The bat symbol is outlined in black, the edge of each wing stretching out to his shoulder blades. Underneath the larger bat, five smaller bats flap around it.
Batman, he explains, is a symbol of something greater.
“I’m a fan of Batman because he’s the only hero that’s just an ordinary guy. He’s just an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things,” McGaffie said. “So I’ve just been a really big fan of Batman, because he’s the only superhero that’s a regular person.”
On the football field, that’s McGaffie. He isn’t tall, standing only 5 feet 10 inches. He isn’t the fastest, and he isn’t the strongest, either.
He’s an ordinary guy trying to do extraordinary things.
After three years in which he only caught a total of nine passes, McGaffie wanted his final season to be different. He knew he was capable of more; he just needed a rallying cry to help him fulfill that potential. Then he saw the movie "The Dark Knight Rises" this summer, and suddenly, his purpose was clear.
The word, which served as a theme for Batman’s resurrection and triumph in Christopher Nolan's latest film installment, has been adopted as McGaffie’s personal credo. It’s written on all of his gloves: a reminder that as a fifth-year senior, he doesn’t have time to waste.
He needs to take advantage of his opportunities, and he needs to do it now.
“It’s written on all the gloves that I have that I play in, and it’s just a reminder,” McGaffie said. “In case I have a bad play or something like that, I just look down, stretch out my gloves and it just reminds me that I need to get the next job done.”
Slowly but surely, McGaffie is rising.
He has 22 catches in 2012, more than two times his output in the previous four seasons combined. In Saturday’s win over Kentucky, he caught four balls, one being more memorable than all the others.
In the first quarter, freshman quarterback Corbin Berkstresser released a pass downfield just as he was hit. The ball fluttered into the air, seeming to hang there forever as anxious defenders circled underneath.
McGaffie saw the ball, backpedaled a few steps and, like the caped crusader, took to the sky.
“That one ball kind of fluttered out, when Corbin got hit. I’m watching the ball and I’m not sure who’s going to get it. Then, all of a sudden he comes up and snaps it out of the air,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “Wow.”
McGaffie’s reliability is something his quarterbacks can count on. He’ll never be the most popular or flashy receiver; T.J. Moe, Marcus Lucas and Dorial Green-Beckham seem to have that covered.
But if you throw him the ball, he’ll catch it – even if he has to take a hit to do it.
“He does a great job of catching them all and getting up field,” quarterback James Franklin said. “I don’t know if the defenses overlook him or not, but he makes a lot of plays, more than I think people expect.”
After four years of relative insignificance at Missouri, McGaffie is finally starting to make an impact. He could have left the team after they moved him from quarterback to receiver as a freshman. He didn’t. He could have lost hope after being cast aside as Moe’s backup in the previous three seasons. Instead, he kept working.
He could have given up, but that’s not who McGaffie is. And that’s not who Batman is.
“Batman, he’s just a guy that never gives up,” McGaffie said at Missouri’s media day on Monday. He was dressed in black sweatpants, a black sweatshirt and a black beanie.
Finally, after years out of the spotlight, he was a dark knight of his own.
“And I kind of take pride in that, never giving up in anything that I do.”
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.