When I met my new editor, Mark Barnett, I told him I’m the biggest Missouri football fan in Columbia. I generally leave good first impressions on my bosses, but Mark clearly thought his new columnist was insane.
Mark’s main beef was my longevity. Fair enough, I thought, but if there really are bigger fans I want to meet them.
My plan was to infiltrate tailgating hotspots Saturday afternoon before the Arkansas State game and crown the Ultimate Missouri Fan. I naturally assumed no one could steal the title from me.
But a funny thing occurred to me during my interviews. Most of these people are as nuts as I am.
So, instead of seeking the looniest of the loony, I psychoanalyzed the fan base and tried to find the cause of its madness.
It is easy to cheer for a perennial winner like Miami or Notre Dame. I want to know why people root for Missouri, which has won zero national championships entering its 115th year of football.
The Tigers also have lost in some of the most bizarre and heartbreaking ways possible. Remember the Fifth Down of 1990? The Nebraska Bicycle Kick of ‘97?
How can any rational person subject themselves to torture on a yearly basis? The promise of a new season means anything is possible. Frankly, a little booze doesn’t hurt.
Columbia resident Jake Cohen said he has been a Missouri fan for years, but he has more than pigskin on his game-day agenda.
“I’m willing to drink myself stupid regardless of win or loss,” he said. “It’s going to be a celebration either way, happy or sad.”
Looking around Reactor Field, it’s obvious many share Cohen’s fondness for cold beverages, though alcoholic consumption doesn’t completely explain Missouri fans’ behavior.
Historically, Tigers’ fans have been an overly optimistic bunch during the preseason, but it seems a lot of us are still recovering from the Missouri basketball team’s meteoric fall from No. 5 in the nation to a first-round exit in the NIT.
In my lifetime, the Tigers have entered nearly every season with low expectations. Fans either accepted our grim fate or blindly predicted, “This is the year.” That’s why many Tiger fans feel out of their element this season with a No. 18 ranking and a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback. The overly optimistic have become the cautiously optimistic, and the overly pessimistic don’t have much reason to complain.
Cohen’s father, J.B., said he was anxious for the season to begin but refused to predict the team’s record.
“It’s going to be great, but Mizzou has let me down too many times before,” he said. “I feel a little different about this team though, mainly because of (coach Gary) Pinkel.”
Only truly emotionally damaged fans like me turn pessimistic when they have every reason to be optimistic.
J.B. is right about Pinkel. The Tigers have improved significantly every year during his tenure. Given Pinkel’s tremendous recruiting, there’s reason to believe the trend will continue.
Then there’s Brad Smith, a truly special athlete and person. When your starting quarterback is as athletically gifted and cool under pressure as Smith, you should always like your chances.
It’s about time we Missouri fans end this schizophrenic behavior and embrace high expectations. Maybe it really is a great time to be a Tiger. Go ahead — call me crazy.