Jason Simpson has long been considered Missouri’s unofficial player spokesman; the man to talk for an anecdote or analysis, an obscenity or an outburst.
Perhaps the senior safety’s most impressive talent, though, comes in his ability to form the most curious of analogies. A lax defensive effort, for instance, was once compared to speeding (“You do it long enough, and sooner or later you’re going to get caught”).
But Sunday evening, upon receiving the news that Missouri would be traveling to Shreveport, La., for a spot in the 2005 Independence Bowl against South Carolina, Simpson dropped maybe the most interesting analogy of his four-year career. When asked how he expected his team to handle the pressure of this year’s trip to Shreveport, compared to that of its last trip to the city against Arkansas in 2003, Simpson thought for a moment.
“If you jumped off a 15-foot building,” Simpson mused, “the chances that you’re going to do it again are pretty high, because it’s not as scary the second time around.”
Whether or not Simpson, a known wild-man in a sport filled with them, is speaking from experience remains unclear. But as Missouri prepares for its Dec. 30 showdown with the Steve Spurrier-led Gamecocks, Simpson was, in a Simpson-esque way, merely stating the obvious: This time around, Missouri should be better able to deal with the hype surrounding a postseason game.
Fifteen players on Missouri’s current roster saw playing time in the team’s 27-14 bowl loss to Arkansas two season ago, while seven players, including 2005 team captains Brad Smith, Tony Palmer, and Derrick Ming, started. So when the team arrives in Shreveport the day after Christmas, it won’t do so with the same deer-in-the-headlights demeanor that many players say it did in 2003.
“The awe of it all is gone,” said senior quarterback Brad Smith, who passed for 155 yards and rushed for 96 and a touchdown two years ago against Arkansas. “It was one of the first times we’d been to a bowl in a few years the last time we went, and people were just excited to be able to go. And this year, we’re playing to win. And that’s the exciting thing about it.”
Behind running back Cedric Cobbs’ 141-yard, one-touchdown performance in the 2003 Independence Bowl, the Razorbacks went into halftime with a 21-7 lead over Missouri, holding on to prevent the Tigers from ending their promising 8-4 regular season on a winning note.
“It’s definitely more important to win this one,” senior offensive lineman Tony Palmer said. “We went there last time and it was a great experience for us. We went up against a very good team, but leaving there with a loss left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. So we definitely want to go out there and come out with a W.”
In the weeks leading up to the announcement, there had been speculation that Missouri could end up either in Shreveport or in the Champs Sports Bowl, held Dec. 27 in Orlando. But while Colorado and Clemson were picked up by Champs, Missouri will head to Shreveport for the second time in three years.
“Some guys were leaning towards Orlando,” Smith said. “They like the warm weather. But we’re glad to go to Shreveport of course, and to be able to go down there. we’re going to have fun no matter where we go and no matter who we’re (paired) with.”
Others weren’t as PC in their responses. Said senior cornerback Calvin Washington, in mock disappointment, “I definitely wanted to go to Disneyland.”
But the team’s players, especially after dropping three of their past four regular season games, seemed more than happy for the opportunity to continue their season, even if that opportunity won’t come in sunshine-laden Florida. And, as Simpson pointed out, it isn’t as if Shreveport is without its perks.
“I’ll actually get to gamble this time,” said Simpson, who was underage in 2003. “Like everybody else did last time, while I was watching TV in my hotel.”
While players insist their focus lies in capturing Missouri’s first bowl victory since 1998, there also seems to be a laid-back vibe coursing through the team. The hectic nature of the Missouri’s regular season practice schedule has been cut down for the next two weeks. Coach Gary Pinkel appears less combative than in recent weeks, and plans are in the works for some off-the-field, team-oriented events while in Shreveport.
“I didn’t really do anything last time,” Simpson said. “We talked about having more events, more things to do as a team this year. It’s not like we’re going to Orlando and riding jet skiis or something. But we want to have different events and festivities that we can do. Pretty much the whole week is practice in the morning, going to the media events that you have to go to, dinners and press conference stuff. But after that you have tons of free time until about 11 o’clock when you got room check.
“It’s just fun. That’s all bowl games are about. You know, you put in your work and then you get to have fun. One last hurrah before the offseason.”