Missouri eases nearly four decades of disappointment with win over Kansas
KANSAS CITY, Mo.-- What does euphoria bottled for 38 years sound like?
It sounds like the roar that reverberated through Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night when Chase Daniel touched the knee of his gold pants to the grass one last time, and the clock drained, and delirium supplanted age-old disappointment.
For the first time since 1969, the Missouri Tigers won a championship. Today the Big 12 North, next week perhaps the Big 12 in its entirety. And if the Tigers can beat conference kingpin Oklahoma, they'll play for inconceivable stakes by modest Missouri standards.
They'll play for it all.
The voters and computers can tussle over whether West Virginia or Missouri should be No. 1 in the new BCS standings. The important thing is being in the top two, and this is the duo of the moment.
A moment that's been a long time coming for Mizzou.
Since winning a share of the Big Eight title in '69, Missouri has only been an unwilling accomplice to other championships. It was victim of the fifth down that enabled Colorado's co-national championship in 1990. It was victim of the kicked pass that enabled Nebraska's 1997 co-championship. It has been trampled by Thomas Lott and Mike Rozier and Jamelle Holieway and Vince Young and others on their way to glory.
Now it's the Tigers moving another step down an improbable path toward their date with destiny. That's why the roar was that loud and that proud when the Tigers gathered around coach Gary Pinkel at midfield and accepted the trophy for beating hated rival Kansas 36-28 in the Border Showdown.
But if you want to know why it happened, cut to the Chase.
Away from the midfield throng, America's savviest college quarterback was hearing Heisman chants as he settled into a chair and faced ESPN cameras. Lee Corso sat to his left, Chris Fowler to his right, and a national TV audience had him front and center.
Here was the intersection of two improbable dreams. Chase Daniel, considered too small by some to ever occupy such a celebrated spot, has jarred Missouri loose from seemingly insurmountable program inertia.
Pinkel and his staff have surrounded Daniel with a lavish receiving corps, a reliable running back and a rock-solid offensive line. But it is the little man that makes the remarkable Missouri machine hum.
"This guy is special," Pinkel said. "America got to see how special he is."
America got to see Daniel complete 40 of 49 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns. America got to see Daniel make plays that erased his teammates' mistakes, overcoming a slew of Missouri penalties (14 of them for 141 yards) to keep drives alive. America got to see Daniel do what his gritty counterpart from Kansas, Todd Reesing, could not do: avoid major mistakes all night.
Reesing threw his first two interceptions since Oct. 6 on Saturday night. Daniel threw no picks and made almost no errors of any kind.
Quarterbacks coach Dave Yost did come up with one: Daniel screwed up a protection call on one play in the first half. That was it. In 93 high-pressure snaps with the entire season on the line, Daniel damn near pitched a perfect game.
"He's made seven or eight mistakes all year," Yost said.
Yost is Missouri's recruiting coordinator. He was the guy who offered Daniel his first college scholarship, got his oral commitment and nursed him through signing day when schools like Texas showed late interest. He's the guy who works with the insatiable competitor every day in practice.
So when he saw Daniel flanked by Corso and Fowler and waiting to go on air, Yost rushed forward to congratulate his pupil -- only to be forcibly body blocked by two cops trying to keep the air space clear behind the three.
Understand, Yost doesn't much resemble a prototypical college coach. His mop of unruly blonde hair and soul patch suggest Venice Beach more than Boone County, Mo. The cops could be forgiven for body-blocking this stray surfer dude on his path to the star quarterback.
Once the interview was over, Daniel verified Yost's credentials by bear hugging him and leaving the field together.
"He's one of a kind," Yost said.
Tim Tebow is America's finest physical specimen at quarterback. He'll run over linebackers to find the end zone. He'll throw lasers for touchdown passes. He's the guy who grew up being compared to Superman.
Chase Daniel? He's closer to Clark Kent. Yeah, he's got good wheels. And his arm ain't bad. But it's his combination of pinpoint accuracy and rapid-fire decision-making that makes him a master of the spread offense.
Daniel so often finds the right guy in the right spot at the right time that it he seems like he's playing against JV defenses. He buys time with his feet, sees the whole field and knows where the soft spots are. On those occasions against Kansas when he tried to jam the ball into double coverage, his accuracy prevented disaster from occurring.
That's why Missouri felt comfortable attacking Kansas with a game plan Daniel described as "throw it and throw it and throw it. The first 15 or 16 out of 20 plays on our script were passes."
Before the first quarter was over, Daniel had delivered the ball to six different receivers. Before the game was over he'd thrown it to nine, with five guys catching at least five balls.
It quickly became clear that Kansas' soft diet of Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo, Florida International and the lower two-thirds of the Big 12 had not prepared it for what Missouri brought to the table. That schedule helped the Jayhawks go 11-0 for the first time, but it wouldn't allow them to get to 12-0.
Kansas couldn't stop Mizzou and couldn't run on the MU defense. The Jayhawks showed some mettle in coming back from a three-touchdown deficit, but at one point, Missouri had six scoring drives in seven possessions. The only thing that slowed down the Tigers most of the night was the Tigers themselves.
"It's going pretty good right now," said Daniel, after leading Missouri to its 12th 30-plus-point game in 12 outings. "We've got a pretty good attack going. We've just got to keep it up."
Keeping it up against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game figures to be considerably more difficult. The Sooners beat Missouri 41-31 Oct. 13 in Norman, aided in large part by four Missouri turnovers.
"We let one slip away," Daniel said.
Now they have an opportunity to grab it back, on a neutral field in San Antonio.
After this triumph, Pinkel spoke from a podium with a crystal trophy in front of him, the award for winning the Big 12 North. Someone asked the coach about it and he said, "I'd like a rounder one."
The crystal football, perhaps? Bestowed on the BCS national champ?
"I'm talking about the Big 12 championship trophy," Pinkel corrected. "We have a picture of it in our locker room. Let's not jump the gun here."
Sound advice. After 37 years of winning nothing, Missouri should first pause to revel in ruining its archrival's perfect season and earning a division title. From here on out, everything is black-and-gold gravy.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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