The scene outside the Missouri football team’s locker room Saturday at Kansas’ Memorial Stadium could have easily been confused with a late-autumn funeral.
Young men with red eyes shuffled toward the team bus. Noses pointed directly at the asphalt. Some of the recently concluded game’s participants struggled to put into words the flood of emotions.
But by Monday, three days after the Tigers’ 13-3 loss to Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., the team’s third straight loss to the Jayhawks, most of the disappointment, according to many players, had been all but extinguished.
“The only reason it sucked so bad,” an upbeat Jason Simpson said, “is because we lost to Kansas.”
Kansas, in this case, was pronounced in the manner a stock-holder might pronounce the name Kenneth Lay, or a cameraman might use to describe Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers.
Simpson spoke in the past tense, however, which should be an encouraging sign to Missouri fans. As the Tigers head into the homestretch of the 2005 season, how quickly they can shed their disappointment from Saturday’s debacle could determine whether the season ends in Manhattan, Kan. (Nov. 19 against Kansas State), or in one of a number of bowl games.
“It just doesn’t do any good to carry it with you,” said coach Gary Pinkel Monday. “And you’re talking to the worst guy in America (at letting losses stay with him). ... Let’s move on. The only thing that’s going to make it feel better is winning a football game.”
Missouri will get its first chance to do that Saturday when it heads to Boulder for a 2:30 p.m. game against No. 25 Colorado. With a 23-20 win over Kansas State on Saturday, the Buffaloes moved to 6-2 (4-1 Big 12) this season and into sole possession of first place in the Big 12 North Division, making Saturday’s game, already one of the season’s most vital, even more important.
Nearly to a man, Missouri’s players are sure they can overcome the bump in the road that last week’s struggle presented.
“What happened against Kansas can’t happen again,” receiver Sean Coffey said. “That’s how I feel and that’s how the rest of the guys on this team feel. And we’re not going to let that happen again.”
Said strong safety David Overstreet: “All the things that we wanted to achieve are still out there. Going undefeated is gone. Beating Kansas is gone. But we have the opportunity to go out there and play good ball for the next couple of weeks. Everything’s still there for us.”
Underneath the positive exteriors, though, there has to be a feeling of unease running through the Missouri football program. Although the team, in its first two losses this season, could be considered a victim of circumstance — the team was missing receiver Sean Coffey against New Mexico, and Texas is, well, Texas — a loss to Kansas, a team that had scored a single touchdown in its three games leading up to its game against Missouri, is a little harder to rationalize.
The Tigers were thoroughly held in check for nearly each of the game’s 60 minutes. Quarterback Brad Smith managed only 38 rushing yards on 20 carries, while Missouri amassed 180 yards of total offense, the lowest total in Pinkel’s four-plus years at Missouri.
As receiver Brad Ekwerekwu put it, minutes after the game: “It seemed like they were ready for everything we threw at them. It was unbelievable.”
Then there’s the shadow of last season’s disaster, when the Tigers jumped to a 4-1 start before a loss to Texas kicked off the team’s now-notorious five-game losing streak, which smashed any hopes of a second-consecutive bowl trip.
But for weeks, the 2005 Tigers football team has insisted that it’s different from last year’s edition. More confident. More tested. More willing to put egos aside for the good of the group.
And more able to overcome a mid-season disappointment like Saturday’s and move on.
“A lot of people act like they haven’t seen us do things before,” Coffey said. “And it’s like that when you lose. Everybody’s talking about what we didn’t do. We just have to come back and show them. Everybody plays bad. Nobody wants to play bad. But it happens.
“But you can’t do anything with these words that I’m telling you until we show you guys that we’re going to bounce back and do something about this.”
With that, Coffey turned to leave, making his way toward the exit of the Tom Taylor building. But then he paused and turned back, a wry smile spreading across his face, and with glee he said it.
“And I hope you’re at the game Saturday.”