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By: Aaron Tallent
No one expected Missouri to be playing in the SEC championship game this Saturday. The usually spot-on Phil Steele had the Tigers finishing sixth, just ahead of Kentucky. However, Mizzou overcame an injury to quarterback James Franklin and an overtime loss to South Carolina to finish 11-1. If the Tigers beat Auburn and either Ohio State or Florida State lose, they will be playing for the national title. Not bad for a program whose odds of winning a national championship at the beginning of the season were 250-1. Then again, the Tigers surprise so often that they should proverbially wear black trench coats, carry sawed-off shotguns and smoke Newports.
While there are many metaphors for SEC teams, no one has crossed the greatest conference in the land with “The Wire,” the greatest television show ever made. There are some no-brainers. Alabama is Marlo Stanfield, the ruthless kingpin who controlled the drug trade by systematically eliminating anyone who stood in his way or spoke ill of him. Tennessee is Bodie Broadus, the Barksdale captain who ran the project towers but was eventually relegated to one corner. And Mizzou would be Omar Little, the renegade, principled drug thief who would come out of the shadows to wreak havoc on Baltimore’s most infamous villains.
Relax, Mizzou fans. It’s a compliment. There are many worse characters (Florida is Cheese Wagstaff, Proposition Joe’s disloyal, jerk-store nephew who remains high in the game because of his relative.). In Omar, it was hard not to love a character who would steal the drugs from a convenience store/stash house, but pay for a pack of cigarettes.
There is a great scene in the first season where two hit men are going to kill a lone dealer from a rival crew. As they creep down the street, they hear the words, “Hey now,” and Omar emerges, killing one of them and wounding another. While the program has had its ups and downs, that kind of sums up Mizzou. Over the past several years, it has emerged from nowhere to attack college football’s powers when they didn’t expect it. Here are Mizzou’s three best Omar Little moments along with Omar’s famous lines.
3. November 8, 1997: Nebraska 45, Missouri 38
“It’s all in the game.”
The undefeated Cornhuskers found themselves trailing the Tigers 38-31 with 7 seconds left. Mizzou fans were ready to storm the field, but Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost threw a pass across the middle to Shevin Wiggins that was tipped. As the ball dropped towards the ground, Wiggins kicked it over his head as he fell backwards and Matt Davidson made a diving catch. Frost ran 12 yards into the end zone on the third play of overtime and then Mizzou was unable to score on its possession. Nebraska finished the season undefeated and shared the national title with Michigan. Wiggins would later admit that he purposely kicked the ball – thus making the catch illegal – but stuff happens. Nevertheless, no other team gave the Huskers more of a fight that year than Mizzou.
2. November 24, 2007: Missouri 36, Kansas 28
“You come at the king, you best not miss.”
The oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi reached its apex in this game. Neither team started the season in the Top 25 but when they met in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas was 11-0 and ranked second in the country and Missouri was 10-1 and ranked fourth. The winner would be Big 12 North champion and still in the running for the national title. Mizzou made Kansas look downright pedestrian as Chase Daniel tossed three touchdown passes to put the Tigers up 28-7 in the fourth quarter. The Jayhawks fought back, but the lead proved insurmountable. Mizzou lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship the next week and while Tigers’ fans were dejected by not playing for the BCS title, I’m sure they took solace in the fact that Kansas wasn’t either.
1. October 6, 1990: Colorado 33, Missouri 31
“The game is out there and it’s either play or get played.”
When you lose a game because the referees can’t count, you’re the one who got played. Colorado’s national championship season included a loss to Illinois, a tie with Tennessee, and a game-winning punt return by Notre Dame’s Raghib Ismail that was called back in the Orange Bowl. However, its ugliest moment was a win over a fired up Missouri team that came courtesy of a fifth-down. Down 31-27 on Mizzou’s 3-yard line with 31 seconds left to play, Buffalo quarterback Charles Johnson spiked the ball on first down. Then running back Eric Bieniemy was stopped short of the goal on second and third downs. Johnson spiked the ball again on fourth down. He was mistakenly granted a fifth down and ran into the end zone on the game’s final play. In the end, Mizzou may have had the last laugh. While fans in Boulder may remember 1990 as a magical season, fans everywhere else remember the five downs.
Omar’s greatest foil in the series proved to be a 10-year-old punk named Kenard, who was just as stealthy as Omar himself. Mizzou will be playing the SEC’s version of Kenard this Saturday in Auburn. From foregoing the hiring of Turner Gill for Gene Chizik to the most polarizing Heisman candidate this side of Jameis Winston to the firing of Chizik two years after winning the school’s controversial title, no program has been as blatantly obnoxious as Auburn. As Chris Davis returned Adam Griffith’s missed field goal to upset Alabama, he might as well have screamed, “Package up my ass, gump.” But unlike their corresponding characters in the television series, neither program will be able to sneak up on the other this weekend.