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A little more than three years ago, on a cloudy March day in Missouri, I learned most of what I needed to know about Danario Alexander. I’d spent the past month accompanying Alexander to the University of Missouri training room, where he was rehabbing his fourth knee surgery in the past four years. This one had come during Senior Bowl practices, on a nothing play during a nothing drill, and it would be responsible for keeping him out of the NFL combine and from hearing his name called during the NFL draft.
It wasn’t the worst one, though. For that, you’ve got some choices — really, any of the three ACL tears Alexander suffered during his time in college. For most of his time at school, Alexander was a 6-foot-5, little-recruited, ultratalented wide receiver continuously betrayed by his body. Then, as a senior, he caught 114 passes for more than 1,700 yards. He was, likely, the best wide receiver in the country. When it came time for him to prove it, in the run-up to that year’s draft, there was his body, betraying him again.
We’d talked a lot about the first three injuries, how as he sat waiting for his third surgery he wondered if football was for him, and on that March day, as sweat dripped from his forehead as he worked out in the pool, I asked him whether he ever found this all unfair. He shook his head. “That’s just how it is,” he said. “I’ll fight however long. However long I have to fight, I’ll keep fighting.”
If I learned anything from The Grey, it’s that inevitable doom can be a big help with self-reflection. That’s why as I sat on my couch Saturday afternoon, waiting for Nick Saban to dismember my alma mater’s football team, I started thinking about how exactly it was that we got here. My four years at the University of Missouri were the most successful in the football program’s history. From 2006 to 2009, Mizzou won 38 games. In 2007, they spent a week as the no. 1 team in the nation. From 2009 to 2011, only Alabama produced more first-round picks than the Tigers. Still, when the dust from The Great Realignment Shakedown of 2010 cleared, and the Big 12 powers found their respective dance partners, Missouri was left at home, alone, in sweatpants.
No shade to Lehigh folks, but I never heard of the Mountain Hawks before they toppled Duke on Friday. And I’m sure Lehigh is a fine program and all, but the Spartans were a particular kind of Cinderella. Think less well-known, 1950s Disney production and more like the 1997 made-for-TV version.
Z-O-U indeed, Jon Hamm! YOUR MY Missouri Tigers, a 2-seed, are scheduled to tip off against 15-seeded Norfolk State at 4:40 p.m. Eastern on Friday. MISSOURI WALTZ ON REPEAT STARTING NOW.
I, for one, will be watching, and singing "Eye of the Tiger" with Robert Mays at halftime, and probably dancing like a Peanuts character in front of my horrified coworkers if Marcus Denmon & Co. obliterate the Norfolk State Whatevers today.
Don't laugh, man. I learned all my moves from this bright young thing:
Grantland has had a few pieces on Mizzou's path to NCAA glory this season. Mays visited Allen Fieldhouse for the final Missouri-Kansas game, and Shane Ryan took a look at Mizzou's big win over KU in Columbia. You'll find links to both stories below.
Despite running out to a 9-0 record under coach Frank Haith, the Missouri Tigers find themselves ranked eighth in this week's ESPN/USA Today poll. They’re behind four teams that have already lost, including North Carolina, which has lost twice. While Missouri doesn't have as much name recognition as Ohio State, Kentucky, or Duke, the Tigers might be the most complete team in college basketball. My definition of "complete" is pretty simple: It’s whether a team that can produce at a high level on both ends of the court. I think Missouri fits the bill better than almost any other team.
Have you followed the Jordan Jefferson saga? If you haven't, it's not measurably different from any of the other black marks on college football's name. The gist is that the LSU quarterback and some teammates were at a Baton Rouge bar in August when a fight broke out. Four people were badly beaten — one suffered three fractured vertebrae — and witnesses reported that Jefferson kicked another in the face. He was charged with felony second-degree battery, and that charge was reduced to a misdemeanor last week. Nobody seems to be denying that the alleged brawl happened, but a grand jury decided it didn't warrant a felony. As his lawyer argued, the injury wasn't serious enough. Jefferson was reinstated, and scored a touchdown in the first quarter of last week's win against Kentucky.
Fair enough. If you can't live with that storyline, you shouldn't be watching college football at all.
When I was a kid, before I knew any better, I rooted for Notre Dame football. You can blame the influence of my stepfather or my Catholic roots or the musty old books I found in the school library, with their whitewashed tales of Knute Rockne. It certainly didn't hurt that starting in 1991, every Irish home game was on television. In any case, one of the greatest moments of my young life came in 1993, when Notre Dame beat Charlie Ward and no. 1 Florida State 31-24 in the second-to-last game of the season. All that remained was to knock off Boston College at home, and the Irish would have a shot at a national championship.
But things didn't go as planned. The Eagles jumped out fast and held their ground. It took a furious 22-point, fourth-quarter comeback for Notre Dame to reclaim a slim lead near the end, but David Gordon, BC's left-footed kicker, found himself lining up a 41-yard attempt with seconds left to pull off a stunner. The kick wobbled, and appeared to be heading right. I still remember the tiny swell of hope as I let my mind map out the ball's trajectory. It would veer wide, wouldn't it?
No. Gordon had done his worst.
A year or two later, I realized there was no good reason for me to support Notre Dame. In college football terms, I became a man without a country. That's continued to present day, and it's actually quite a nice break from the usual stress of affiliation. But the melodic strains of those two weeks in 1993 have persisted, reemerging from time to time in my personal sports landscape. Ward played 10 seasons for my New York Knicks, including the ill-fated 1999 trip to the NBA Finals. After his starring role in my personal sports tragedy, Boston College coach Tom Coughlin later balanced his karmic output in one of my greatest triumphs — a New York Giants Super Bowl win against the hated, undefeated Patriots. And 17 years to the day after his kick, David Gordon married my elderly Aunt Gloria.
Just kidding on that last one. Nevertheless, the connection lingers. That's the origin story, and this is Gordon's Left Foot.