The event had the makings of a highly-anticipated announcement. The lights were low, news stations’ cameras were set up and ready to go and there was a quiet buzz in the cozy Clinton Club at Mizzou Arena. The only problem was that the season ticket holders, members of the football program and members of the media who were gathered knew the news: Missouri was going to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, to play Oregon State.
Tables were set up for non-press attendees around a makeshift press conference area in the corner of the room. Coach Gary Pinkel entered the room, and people found their seats.
Chad Moller, Missouri’s director of media relations, jokingly said that the suspense must be killing everyone to start the press conference, and the fans, clad in Tiger emblems, laughed while munching Rice Krispie Treats and M&Ms that were provided.
Athletics Director Mike Alden was attending Big 12 Conference meetings out of town, so associate AD Mark Alnutt made the official announcement for him. After saying how pleased he was that Missouri was attending the Sun Bowl and what a quality bowl it was, he turned the floor over to Pinkel.
Still unwinding from the stress of the regular season, Pinkel was in good spirits. He talked about watching Oregon State play late on TV on Saturday night at Hawaii because he still wasn’t used to sleeping more than two hours a night. He also spoke about how Missouri is going to prepare for the game.
“I don’t know many details,” he said, “but I know (Oregon State is) good.”
He emphasized the benefits the game would have on building Missouri as a program. Texas is the school’s top recruiting priority outside of Missouri. The game will be televised nationally by CBS, while the NFL Network, not available on cable in Columbia, has broadcast rights to other games Missouri might have ended up playing.
Pinkel said situations in past bowls, particularily last season’s come from behind win in the Independence Bowl, gave the coaching staff “about 13 to 14 things” it wanted to change to better prepare the team.
“One of those things is less conditioning drills,” said Pinkel, his goal simple: “I don’t want to fall behind by that many points again.”
Thanking the fans for their support all season, Pinkel wrapped up the formal part of the evening by thanking fans and pumping them up to beat Oregon State.
Missouri’s path to the Sun Bowl was a complicated one. The lower bowls had to wait on the decisions of others, more specifically the Gator Bowl, before knowing for sure who they would take.
Oklahoma beat Nebraska to win the Big 12 championship game Saturday night, putting them in the Fiesta Bowl and Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl. Before the game took place, the Big 12 had worked out a deal where the winner would go to a BCS bowl with the loser going to the Cotton. The Gator Bowl decided to go with West Virginia, not Texas, after the Mountaineers defeated Rutgers on Saturday. The Holiday Bowl had already locked in Texas A&M, making Texas an easy choice for the Alamo Bowl. Without a sponsor, it needed to draw as many fans as possible to the game.
Since the Gator opted not to take a Big 12 team, the Sun Bowl had to. Missouri’s selection came after Sun Bowl organizers had said consistently they would select the Tigers. Quarterback Chase Daniel, a Texas native, and Missouri’s highly ranked offense was a big reason why.
The Insight Bowl nabbed Texas Tech’s high-flying passing attack, and then the Texas Bowl picked up Kansas State. The Wildcats lost some of the glamour they gained from beating Texas with an ugly loss to Kansas to end their season. The last Big 12 team taken was Oklahoma State, who came close to knocking off Oklahoma in the Bedlam series. They will travel to the Independence Bowl.
The lights from the cameras dimmed, and reporters mobbed the four captains, who were also at the announcement. Cameras, microphones and tape recorders were shoved in their faces, while fans lounged back in their chairs. The fans chatted about travel plans amongst themselves, while their children colored in pictures of Truman the Tiger.
Right guard Mike Cook talked about getting his friends and family into El Paso, even though it’s a 12-hour drive from his home in Houston. Middle linebacker Dedrick Harrington said that his friends had been saving for months just to be able to make the trip and see the game.
“I’m glad we’re playing there,” Harrington said. “I was hoping for Alamo Bowl, but this is great, too. A lot of people weren’t going to go if we went back to Shreveport (Louisiana for the Independence Bowl).”
With time, people began to get themselves ready to leave, bundling up before heading out into the biting night wind. They congratulated players, and tried to catch Pinkel, who was busy making his way around the room.
Standing up straight after hunching over to talk with a couple at a table, Pinkel straightened his checkered sport coat and adjusted his black Mizzou turtleneck underneath.
He carried a sense of pride about him, possibly because Missouri will be attending its third bowl game in the past four years. Fans noticed, whispering about just how gallant he looked.
Pinkel was enjoying every minute of it.