KANSAS CITY – The Tigers are headed to San Antonio to play in the Big 12 Championship.
It wasn’t easy and it sure wasn’t pretty, but the Tigers (11-1, 7-1 Big 12) grabbed an early lead on the Kansas Jayhawks (11-1, 7-1) and held on at the end to beat their border rivals 36-28 in front of 80,537 screaming, freezing, bipartisan fans.
This game was the most anticipated game in the 116-year history of the MU-KU rivalry. And with good reason.
The stakes had never been higher. For the first time since 1960, when KU ruined MU’s perfect season, this game was for more than just a silly bass drum.
Both teams were all in. This game was for all the chips.
To the winner, a first-ever appearance in the Big 12 title game on Dec. 1, a possible No. 1 ranking in tomorrow’s BCS standing, the overall lead in the series and a chance to continue a magical dream a little bit longer.
To the loser, the end of a national title run and the stinging loss that will forever taint an otherwise wonderful season.
MU fans get to keep on dreaming.
But not today. Today is for celebrating. Today is for bragging. Today is for Tiger fans to forget the 5th down, forget Tyus Edney and The Kick.
Today is reserved for Tiger fans to remember the biggest win in MU history.
The game was electric from the start. A sea of blue KU fans flooded the western side of the stadium while a black hole of MU fans occupied the eastern. Fireworks went off before the game, as if it needed something to ignite it.
The Tigers were a little to amped at the beginning. They went three-and-out on their first two drives for the first time this season. They looked out of rhythm.
But like championship-caliber teams often do, the Tigers responded. They calmed down.
Daniel was on point, darting lasers that helped boost his Heisman profile. Running back Tony Temple, a Rockhurst High product, played inspired in his homecoming, rushing for 98 yards and a touchdown.
“We were out of sync a little bit,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said. “But Tony was great for us and allowed us to settle down.”
The Tigers committed a season-high 14 penalties 141 yards. Many of the penalties were downright stupid and either halted MU drives or extended KU’s.
It didn’t matter. The MU defense dominated the Jayhawks, stuffing their running game and causing two game-changing turnovers. In their first three trips to the red zone, the Jayhawks came away with zero points.
“We were mature enough to focus and get through (the penalties),” Pinkel said. “The turnovers were huge.”
As Pinkel spoke after the game, he clutched the Big 12 North trophy like it was a newborn baby. His eyes were tired; they glistened like the full moon that lit up the Arrowhead sky.
“This (win) means an awful lot to me and all my players and staff,” he said. “But I’d like to have the rounder (trophy).”
He was talking about is the Big 12 trophy. There is a picture of it in the Tigers’ locker room.
Six weeks ago, the trophy was a mirage. The Tigers lost at Oklahoma, and they needed a perfect finish to have a chance for a possible rematch.
They were perfect. Now the Tigers have a good shot to clutch the real version. And if they win that game, a chance to play for an even shinier trophy in the national championship game.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.