DALLAS — When Missouri coach Gary Pinkel first discussed arrangements for the Cotton Bowl, he told his players practices would take place at Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. Pinkel said his players’ eyes grew big at the prospect of practicing on the Cowboy’s home turf, especially when he described his first experience at the facility as a receivers coach in the early days of his career.
“I remember the first time I came here, and we had a coaches’ convention and the head coaches had a get-together,” Pinkel said. “I remember just looking out at the field and just being in awe of it. It’s a great historical stadium and we are excited to be here.”
The Tigers worked out in lightweight pads and sweatpants during Thursday’s practice, the team’s first since arriving on Wednesday afternoon in Dallas for its 2008 Cotton Bowl showdown with the Arkansas Razorbacks. The light practice session was much like a Sunday practice during the regular season.
“I want us to have real good practices, and then I want my players to have a good time,” Pinkel said. “I think it’s a reward, and we know the hospitality of the Cotton Bowl, and what they do for our players and their families. That’s the kind of approach we take is staying 100 percent focused in practice intensity.”
Some Missouri players from Texas had fun at practice by paying homage to favorite players from their beloved Cowboys. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon made a trek to midfield following stretches to have his own Terrell Owens moment. A hard-core Cowboys fan who never misses a game, Weatherspoon positioned himself in the middle of the Cowboys logo with his arms up, out and proud just as Owens did as a member of the 49ers against the Cowboys years ago.
While a Cowboys’ defender immediately tackled Owens, Weatherspoon’s end result was a little better.
“Pig (Brown) said, ‘OK, I see you’re T.O.,’“ Weatherspoon said. “That’s all that was said. I got a few chuckles here and there.”
Missouri will play in its first New Year’s Day game in 38 years after the school’s first 11-win season. With the magnitude of the bowl game comes appearances at Dallas area hospitals and other events. Weatherspoon had his own celebrity sighting Wednesday night. He and some teammates saw NBA star LeBron James cruising through Dallas’ West End.
Excitement aside, the No. 7 Tigers went about their business of preparing for their New Year’s Day encounter with the Razorbacks. But players acknowledged their temporary practice facility made them somewhat giddy.
“I’ve played here 12 or 13 times and practiced here and everything, but it still gives you chills,” said quarterback Chase Daniel, who played in Texas high school state championships at the stadium. “There’s just a lot of history here.”
It’s history chronicled by the Cowboys Ring of Honor that adorns the second level of the stadium. Etched in white letters are legends like Roger Staubach, Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman.
Some Missouri players hope to have that sort of recognition one day for their efforts on the field. For others, just being at Texas Stadium is good enough.
“I heard (defensive end) Stryker Sulak say, ‘I don’t want to play in the NFL. I just want to be a janitor in this stadium,’” defensive lineman Lorenzo Williams said.