COLUMBIA — Mark Godich’s plans fell through.
His book, “Tigers vs. Jayhawks: From the Civil War to the Battle for No. 1” was scheduled for a fall 2012 release, just in time for the five-year anniversary of the epic 2007 football clash between Missouri and Kansas.
Where: Rally House
When: 4 p.m. Friday
Where: Barnes and Noble
When: 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25
"Tigers vs. Jayhawks: From the Civil War to the Battle for No. 1" is available locally at Rally House and the MU Bookstore. It is also online at ascendbooks.com and Amazon.com.
But there was a complication that cut much deeper than a rewrite or a stubborn source.
On Aug. 1, 2011, Godich’s wife, Leigh, was diagnosed with a grade-three brain tumor that halted everything.
“Our world got rocked,” Mark Godich said. “We just stopped our lives to take care of Leigh. She’s an inspiration to me, and she’s the reason this book got done.”
He thought about simply giving up on the project, but Leigh wouldn't let her illness derail Mark's plans.
“Just go finish the book, would ya?” Leigh encouraged him one day.
And finish the book he did. In reality, the timing could not be better. Instead of releasing “Tigers vs. Jayhawks” during Missouri’s underwhelming 5-7 campaign last season, the book was released 2 1/2 weeks ago, on Oct. 1.
Missouri was 4-0 at the time, and has added two Southeastern Conference wins to that total, as the Godichs set off on their promotional tour. Leigh is now healthy, and the Tigers are playing some of their best football since that 2007 team that won 12 games and spent one week as the No. 1 team in the nation.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Mark Godich said.
Godich's book breaks down the Missouri and Kansas football rivalry: from Osceola — to Bleeding Kansas — to one of the first football games played west of the Mississippi — to the 2007 contest that determined the No. 1 team in the country.
That season, Godich was the college football editor for Sports Illustrated and to this day he still can’t believe that Missouri and Kansas played the biggest game of the year.
“Almost half the teams in the country got at least one 25th-place vote (in the preseason Associated Press poll), and Kansas didn’t get one,” Godich said. “That’s how highly they were regarded. To go from that to — the last Saturday in November — No. 2 in the country and 11-0, it’s pretty amazing.”
Missouri wasn’t ranked in the preseason poll that year either, but Godich, a 1979 MU graduate, found the 2007 Tigers team more worthy of space than the Jayhawks.
“I wouldn’t have written the book if Kansas had won the game,” Godich said. “I did go in thinking 50/50 (in terms of Missouri/Kansas content), but the more reporting I did, the more intrigued I became by the Missouri story. I just thought there were so many fascinating elements to the Missouri side that it was worth expanding on.”
Godich’s research began in July 2010, when he met with Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and sports information director Chad Moller. The next day, he stopped by a charity golf tournament run by 2007 linebacker Lorenzo Williams and knew he had something special on his hands.
He asked another former player why 15 teammates showed up for the event.
“We’ll follow 'Zo anywhere,” the athlete responded.
“Tigers vs. Jayhawks” is an intimate look at how coach Pinkel took an underachieving program with minimal in-state recruiting ability to the top of the college football heap over the span of seven years. Those years were the basis for what Pinkel calls the "Missouri family."
Two moments were key to the program's ascension: a meeting between players and coaches before the 2005 season that established new goals for relationships within the program, and the death of freshman linebacker Aaron O’Neal in a summer workout that year.
Godich argues that Pinkel and his staff would not have survived O’Neal’s death without having established their relationships with the players beforehand.
“I don’t think they would’ve gotten through that Aaron O’Neal tragedy if they hadn’t connected with those players,” Godich said. “I originally had Aaron in the middle of the chapter about the 2005 season. It became apparent to me that Aaron was such an important part of the team that he deserved his own chapter. He had such an impact on the team.”
The Godichs spent Tuesday at O’Neal’s former high school (Parkway North in St. Louis) at the request of coach Bob Bunton. Godich spoke with the team and toured the locker room, which includes an empty locker in O’Neal’s memory, as well as a poster of the former standout on the wall.
Tuesday was also the first day of the book tour. The Godrichs spent time in Springfield on Wednesday before stopping in Columbia on Thursday for an extended stay.
The positive reviews have poured in, and an excerpt was even published in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, but Mark and Leigh Godrich were happiest about one piece of feedback as they began their journey.
“We just got another great report from the doctor two weeks ago,” Mark Godich said. “Leigh’s doing well.”
Excerpts from chapters 9, 12, 14 and 16 are available below. You can zoom in using the slider on the right-hand side.