Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Fine Day for a Parade

In the hangover haze of Mizzou’s Orange Bowl snub, my buddy The Boy makes a pertinent point: the problem isn’t the BCS – it’s the bowls.

He’s absolutely right. Expecting the bowls to cultivate championship consensus is like expecting ice cream to cure cancer. They were never designed to deliver the desired result.

Bowl games aren’t playoffs, they’re pageants. They’re exhibitions, relics of a bygone era, designed to boost local economies. It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s where you play the game.

The BCS idea, initially, was well-intentioned and more effective than people would now have you believe. Under the old regime, this year’s slate would put #1 Ohio State vs. #7 Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl; #2 LSU vs. #3 Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl; and #4 Oklahoma vs. #5 Georgia in the Orange Bowl. In the absence of a playoff, the BCS at least gave us the one-versus-two matchup that everyone wanted by breaking the grip conference tie-ins had on the games, and allowing each of the Big Four Bowls to serve as the de facto title game once every four years.

But now that we have a dedicated, non-bowl, championship game pitting one versus two, you have to ask: Why exactly are the bowls still part of the process?

Because they’re more resilient than rats, more constant than cockroaches, more deeply rooted than giant redwoods.

Bowls still matter because they still want to matter. They are the HAL-9000 of sports, dictating the mission despite the wishes of those of us along for the ride.

And no one can fix the problem because no one is in charge. It’s like the Food and Drug Administration regulating the research and production of pharmaceuticals only to cede authority to the Federation of Deranged Anarchists when it comes to distribution. We play NCAA football until December, and then it just stops, with a confederation of parade planners and conference commissioners taking over from there. And the NCAA is powerless to act because it is nothing more than the sum of its badly fractured parts. With such a powerful voting bloc – the twenty-one schools of the Big Ten and Pac-10 – suckling off the Rose Bowl’s lucrative, milky breast, there will be no Tournament of Touchdowns so long as there’s a Tournament of Roses.

I’m through being outraged at the Orange Bowl’s pick of Kansas over Missouri, and truth be told, I was never all that outraged to begin with. The decision, on its face, was too comical to raise genuine ire, and it illustrated the epic chasm between the words “Bowl” and “Championship” in “Bowl . . . Championship Series.” This game has no more bearing on crowning a college football champion than my drive to the grocery store has on determining the Indy 500 winner. And lest anyone think that the bowls could be part of the solution, the Orange’s teaspoon-shallow reasoning – they preferred a one-loss team – should disabuse all but those who would prefer Manute Bol to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar because of Bol’s superior height.

By falling to Oklahoma last Saturday night, the Tigers ensured that their next contest would be no more than a consolation game, an exhibition to allow long-sufferers like me to experience a New Year’s event for the first time, no matter where it was held. Missouri’s game in Dallas will mean the same as the Jayhawks’ game in Miami. It will mean that someone just had a parade.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Curses, Foiled

I am prone to belief in the divine, but not the supernatural. I recognize the existence of coincidence, happenstance, and random events of bad fortune. Never in my life have I believed in curses. Except when it comes to the Missouri Tigers.

There are the lightning bolts of cosmic scorn that even casual fans know: Colorado’s fifth down, Nebraska’s kicked ball, Tyus Edney’s zero-to-heartbreak in 4.8 seconds. There have been other moments, equally powerful but more obscure, like first round NCAA flameouts against Rhode Island and Northern Iowa back when I’d never heard of Rhode Island or Northern Iowa (geography, alas, was not a strong suit). And then there were those times when we were made to pay for our prosperity, like when the undefeated, top-ranked football Tigers lost their shot at the national title by falling to Kansas in the 1960 season’s final game, only to have the game futilely forfeited back later. Or Norm Stewart being blindsided by cancer at age 54 in the midst of a season in which he had one of his best and toughest teams. Or 2002, when an ascending basketball program welcomed Ricky Clemons to town and became a national punch line. Sadly, I could go on. There’s more where that came from.

Despite what rational thought tells you, sometimes you have to believe your eyes. When water falls from the clouds, it’s rain. When calamity pours from the sky, it’s a curse.

After one remarkable week in Kansas City, though, I proclaim Mizzou to be cleansed. The curse is over.

It started on a Sunday night, in a reborn downtown, in a shimmering building, when Norm Stewart took his place in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. As the coach stood at the podium nearly nineteen years after beating cancer – and helping countless others do the same through his charitable efforts – you knew that he was blessed. He was surrounded by family, including Virginia, his wife of fifty-one years, and his son Lindsey, who gave a world-class induction speech, full of the humor and fire he inherited from his dad. Coach Stewart also was joined by the other starters from his high school basketball team, and by members of the Stalcup, Faurot and Devine families who brought him back to Columbia in 1967. And he was surrounded by his players, Tiger titans like John Brown, Willie Smith, Steve Stipanovich, Jon Sundvold and Derrick Chievous, who won eight league championships and eleven conference tournaments (five old holiday affairs, six post-season events) in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. To see this living history mingling in the same room, it was plain that the good times have far outnumbered the bad, and hard to fathom that we might ever have considered ourselves unlucky, let alone cursed.

It continued the next night in the same building, when the Tiger basketball team played eleventh-ranked Michigan State. I had heard laments that years of scandal and mediocrity had crushed fan enthusiasm, as evidenced by only 5,000 turning out to see the Tigers play Central Michigan on a Monday in Columbia. But what I saw in the Sprint Center suggests that the problem might be playing Central Michigan. On a Monday. In Columbia. In Kansas City, against a top-flight opponent, an overwhelmingly pro-Mizzou crowd of more than 18,000 turned out, and those fans were fierce and hungry for success. And though the Tigers’ rally from sixteen points down fell just short, they played with purpose, and the crowd loved them for it. The next night, when those fans returned to see the Tigers drill Maryland – a program with a national title this decade – it was plain that Mike Anderson’s team is immune from the voodoo of Mizzou’s recent past.

Then, on Friday, already surrounded by a family of Tigers in town for Thanksgiving, I drove to the airport to meet my friends Scott (in from Denver) and T.J. (New York). In recent years, with the demands of careers and families, our gatherings had been limited to weddings and funerals. But with our alma mater’s football team set to play its arch-rival in the year’s biggest game, we ran out of excuses not to get together. As we caught up and remembered winter nights at the Hearnes Center and spring Saturdays at Simmons Field, I realized that the Missouri Tigers had blessed me with the chance to share time with these great friends.

And then, of course, came Saturday night. I’ve never seen a stadium so electric, or a Tiger team so self-assured. From my perch on the verge of 40, it’s easy to forget how young these guys are. Chase Daniel and Martin Rucker are barely old enough to remember the past’s great disappointments. They don’t believe in curses, they believe in each other. When Stryker Sulak and Lo Williams fell down like hard rain on Todd Reesing to secure a heart-stopping triumph, I looked to my right at my wife, who has shared the joy and despair of Tiger sports with me for nearly two decades, and I saw relief. I looked left at my father-in-law, who played on that star-crossed 1960 team, and I saw vindication. Then, as I thrust my hands in the air and looked up into the night sky, from which no calamity had fallen, my mind drifted to the elegant toast T.J. made at Scott’s wedding. Traditionally, he said, the guests bless the newly wedded couple. But when a bride and groom like this share their moment, they bless us.

Missouri Tigers, you bless us. The curse is dead.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Greatest Week in the History of Time

Sunday: Attend Norm Stewart's induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

Monday: Visit spanking-new Sprint Center to see Mizzou hoops team play Michigan State.

Tuesday: Attend Coach Stewart's Hall of Fame lunch; back to Sprint Center for Tigers vs. UCLA or Maryland.

Wednesday: Rest.

Thursday: Give thanks.

Friday: Pick up buddies Scott and T.J. at the airport, head down to Tiger Rally at the spanking-new Power & Light District.

Saturday: Game of the Century.

Life is downhill from there.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Game On!

How do you articulate what you can’t even fathom? How do you express what you can’t comprehend?

This week, in my hometown, on the last day of the regular season, the Missouri Tigers and Kansas Jayhawks will play a football game, and the winner will be one game away from playing for a national championship.

There, I’ve written it, put it on the page, stared at it. And I still don’t quite believe it. The Missouri-Kansas game is the center of the football universe. In the best rivalry in sports, in the town that serves as the front for the border war, these two universities will play the biggest game in more than a century of hostilities.

I’ve written it again, and it’s starting to sink in. But I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it.

Still, I like it.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Gotta love the coach

On the broadcast of the exhibition game against UMSL, Norm Stewart referred to field goals as "fielders," making him the first person since Grantland Rice to use the term. Regrettably, he did not comment on modern players and their baggy pantaloons, nor on the unfortunate abandonment of underhanded free throw shooting.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Bookmark these

Steve Rushin and Joe Posnanski, two of the very best writers on the subject of sport, are blogging. Rushin's blog is here, and JoePo's is here.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

My Mizzou basketball season tickets arrived today, and I've started to daydream. How's this for a festive holiday season scenario? Thanksgiving week kicks off with Norm Stewart's induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, followed by the Tigers playing Michigan State and UCLA or Maryland at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, just days before the football Tigers beat Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium to clinch the Big 12 North and advance to the league title game. Then its Christmas in St. Louis for a long-awaited Braggin' Rights victory, followed by New Year's in the sun belt at a BCS bowl game.

Please don't wake me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Charlie Henke, Hall of Famer

When I heard that former Rat Pack funnyman Joey Bishop had passed last week at age 89, my first reaction, regrettably, was “Joey Bishop wasn’t already dead?!?”

My reaction was much the same upon hearing that Charlie Henke had been elected to the Missouri Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame. “He’s not already in?” I asked, incredulously.

For many if not most of us, the men who played basketball for the University of Missouri before Norm Stewart became head coach in 1967 are largely forgotten. But Charlie Henke, from tiny Malta Bend, Missouri, remains one of the best ever to wear the black and gold.

Henke, who played from 1958 to 1961, was a star for Sparky Stalcup in the coach’s waning days at Mizzou, and he certainly would be better remembered if he had been surrounded by better talent. But statistically, Henke has few peers among Tigers of yore. On February 18, 1961, he sank a shot against Kansas State to supplant Bob Reiter as Mizzou’s all-time leading scorer, and his 1,338 career points stood as a Missouri record until John Brown surpassed it twelve years later. Henke’s career averages for points (18.1 per game, fifth all-time) and rebounds (9.8, also fifth) make him one of the most productive Tigers in history.

Despite those impressive credentials, Henke may be best remembered for his role in the most violent spectacle in Missouri lore. Entering the final game of his career, Henke was engaged in a fight for the Big Eight scoring championship with Kansas’s Wayne Hightower for the second straight year (he had finished second to Hightower the previous season). The Jayhawks invaded Brewer Fieldhouse for the season’s last contest, and the animosity between the programs was greater than ever before. KU’s football team had beaten top-ranked Missouri less than four months earlier, costing the Tigers a national title, but had been forced to forfeit the result for playing Bert Coan, a running back who was ruled ineligible. Kansas’s basketball team had also recently been placed on probation, and some in Lawrence believed that Missouri athletics director Don Faurot had snitched on them. The Jayhawk fans’ fury boiled over when the Tiger hoops team visited Allen Field House in February, and they showered Mizzou’s team with such hostility that pre-game introductions were called off. When the teams met again in Columbia, it was a nasty, physical affair, but Henke was sensational, scoring over Hightower with ease, and clinching the scoring title. But early in the second half, Hightower intercepted an outlet pass thrown by Henke, drove to the hoop, got fouled, and then sparked one of the wildest scenes ever on a basketball court.

Henke was ejected for his role in the riot, an unfitting end to one of Missouri’s finest careers.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Maybe I Should Be Flattered . . .

It has come to my attention that two copies of True Sons are available through Amazon Marketplace - one listed at $299.99 and the other at $499.89. Now, it's a pretty damn good book if I do say so myself, but it's not made of diamonds.

If you'd like a copy, save yourself a few hundred bucks and buy online here, or stop by any Borders Bookseller in Missouri, or the Tiger Team Store or University Bookstore in Columbia.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Random Thoughts from a Football Weekend

I officially declare it the Greatest Homecoming Weekend Ever! Glorious weather, good friends and a thorough dismantling of a nationally-ranked team made for a fabulous 48 hours . . . . I met Homecoming Grand Marshal/Football Hall of Famer Roger Wehrli and his wife Gayle (remarkably lovely people) twice over the weekend, and confessed that, when I was a kid, my favorite book was All-Pro Football Stars 1977 (it sorta still is, actually), in which Mr. Wehrli was recognized as one of the NFL’s top defensive backs. I also told him that my father-in-law wore number 23 for the Tigers just a few years before Roger and Johnny Roland did, and that we like to say that Bruce’s number was retired, which is half true . . . . A streak continues: the Tigers have never lost a Homecoming game after I’ve eaten a Heidelburger the preceding Friday night. . . . While waiting for the parade to begin on Saturday morning, I saw Gary Leonard dragging a three-wheeled red wagon along a Ninth Street sidewalk. While it might appear peculiar to see a seven-foot man captaining such a defective vessel through the streets of a mid-sized Midwestern town, with Gary it somehow seemed normal. . . . Columbia’s West Junior High School band has a scrappy cymbal player who overcame a broken strap/handle to provide the event the proper fanfare. . . . The parade’s most prolific candy-thrower, by far, was Rocky Alden, wife of Mizzou’s athletics director Mike Alden. . . . Noted without comment: A group of adult people dressed in some oddly sophisticated Star Wars regalia marched in the parade. . . . Weekend’s Moment of Zen: Attending a reception at Jesse Hall, sitting outside on the north steps, beer in hand, contemplating the Columns. . . . Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen is a mad scientist. The whole world anticipated one of history’s great aerial showdowns, and he controlled the game by running the ball down Texas Tech’s throat. Before Saturday, I could not fathom that Mizzou could score 41 points despite Chase Daniel throwing the ball just nineteen times. Pity the poor defensive coordinator who has to prepare for this team. . . . Jeremy Maclin (who badly needs a nickname, by the way; The Jet? Flash Maclin? Somebody help me) has easily the best football speed I’ve seen in two-plus decades of closely following the Tigers. The only possible precedent I can come up with is Mel Gray. Maclin’s 57-yard catch and run for touchdown in the fourth quarter was pure poetry. . . . Mizzou’s defense has developed a fourth quarter sadistic streak. In the last two home games, the front seven has pinned back its ears and punished Sam Keller and Graham Harrell. I like it. . . . Though there’s work to do before we get there, Mizzou’s November 24 meeting with Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium is starting to look like the most anticipated sporting event in Kansas City since the 1988 Final Four. Disagree? What ranks above it?

A Family Reunion

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking at the Kansas City regional dinner for the University of Missouri’s Jefferson Club. A packed house of Tiger supporters came to celebrate Mizzou’s basketball history and their own commitment to the University.

I’ve given lots of talks about Tiger hoops, but never in a room so alive with the program’s history. Norm Stewart was there, as was Ed Matheny (who played from 1941 to 1943), Phil Snowden (who played for Norm Stewart’s freshman team in 1957 before going on to greater fame as a Missouri quarterback), George Flamank and Ned Monsees, Don Early (1962-65), Greg Flaker, Bob Johnson (1970-71), John Brown, Al Eberhard, Gary Link, Bill Flamank (1973-75), Willie Smith, Kim Anderson, Derrick Chievous and Lynn Hardy. It was a remarkable assemblage of men who spanned nearly sixty years of Missouri basketball.

I talked about the beginnings of Tiger basketball, Missouri’s World War I era Golden Age, and stars of long ago like George Williams, John Cooper and Bud Heinemann. We celebrated the program’s history, Norm Stewart’s upcoming induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, and the brotherhood that binds these men and their school.

The past players came to celebrate all of that, but as much as anything, they came to support Bill Flamank, a hard-working forward and a second generation Tiger who was the third member of his family to wear the uniform. Bill has endured a year of incomprehensible tragedy, losing his wife and suffering devastating injuries in a terrible car accident, for which has undergone five surgeries to date. Though he moved about on crutches, Bill walked tall.

Coach Stewart spoke a few words after I finished, and praised Bill's perseverance. As you spend time with the men who played so hard for Coach Stewart and his predecessors, you can see why they were so successful. They are tenacious, dedicated men of character, and they make for a tightly-knit fraternity. John Brown made the trip to Kansas City from Rolla because he wanted to ensure that Bill got out to a dinner where he could be supported by his friends.

No one made a show of why they were there, and Coach Stewart spoke of Bill’s circumstances in only vague terms. Everything about it was understated and dignified, but stirring nonetheless. It was one of those times when you really could be proud to be a Tiger.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Clay Cooper, 1917 - 2007

Mizzou lost one of its greatest Tigers on Thursday. Here's a remembrance that I posted at Mizzou Sanity.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

True Sons: Breaking the Barrier

Today's excerpt takes us back a half century, to when Al Abram stepped on to the basketball court and and forever changed the University of Missouri.

It was the start of a long, slow fade for Sparky Stalcup. In his first ten years at Missouri, his teams finished second in the conference five times. But after Norm Stewart's graduation, they would never again place higher than fourth. Though his clubs were not devoid of talent, Stalcup could not match the enormous firepower that found its way to Lawrence and Manhattan. Part of that was due to his personal fabric. When it came to recruiting, Stalcup was ethical to a fault and even a bit naïve to the way the game was changing. He believed to his core that basketball should be just one piece of the university experience. He believed in students who played basketball, not basketball players who dabbled in education. "A school like Missouri will not relax its educational requirements for the sake of getting an exceptional athlete," he said. "The era of the dumb athlete is fast drawing to a close." He abhorred the corrupt recruiting practices that became more prevalent in the 1950s and railed against them. He believed that under-the-table payments were being made to the best big men, the kinds of players that were changing the game. He blamed alumni for brokering deals and blamed coaches for turning a blind eye. He feared for the integrity of the game.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

True Sons: Meanwell Arrives

Today's excerpt takes us back to the 1917-18 season, when a charter member of the Basketball Hall of Fame arrived in Columbia and laid a foundation that would help make the Tigers the nation's best team over the ensuing six-year span.

Few athletes are as largely forgotten as those who played basketball before World War II. Everyone knows legends from other fields of play: Babe Ruth, Red Grange, Joe Louis. But ask even a knowledgeable basketball fan to name a handful of great pre-war players and you're likely to receive a blank stare.

There are good reasons for this, not the least of which is basketball was a second-tier game in those days, far less popular than baseball, college football, or boxing. It also lacked a national stage, with the NIT and the NCAA Tournament coming into existence only in 1938 and 1939, respectively. Finally, and no less important, players from that era have been eradicated from the record books. Slower play, shorter seasons, and freshman ineligibility guaranteed this. Players simply could not score enough points during games, seasons, or careers to compete with more recent athletes, and statistics like rebounds and assists were not officially kept. This amnesia is unfortunate, especially for Missouri basketball loyalists, because the Tiger players of that era rank among the most accomplished in school history.

Yet more anonymous than the players of that era are its coaches, even the great ones. As evidence, try asking Missouri fans to name a coach who took over the Tiger program in his early thirties. Some will pick Quin Snyder, who arrived in Columbia in 1999 after serving as an assistant at Duke. Others might choose Norm Stewart, who returned to his alma mater in 1967 after six years as head coach at the State College of Iowa. But few—probably none—will mention Walter Meanwell, who became Missouri's coach in 1917 at age thirty-three. That is more than a little ironic because while Snyder and Stewart came to Columbia looking to build legacies at a major program, Meanwell arrived already established as the finest coach in the brief history of college basketball.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cass County, Here I Come

I'll be the featured speaker at the Spring Banquet of the Cass County chapter of the Mizzou Alumni Association this Thursday, April 26, in Harrisonville. Details here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Call From the Hall

This week, Norm Stewart was selected for enshrinement into the College Basketball Hall of Fame. I’d say that the honor is long overdue, but the College Hoops Hall hasn’t even been built yet, so it’s pretty much right on time.

The old coach is good at a lot of things, but none more than winning – 731 victories as a head coach, 634 at Missouri – and telling stories. Norm Stewart tells more stories than anyone else I’ve known. And if any part of a story is true, it counts as a true story. By that standard, what I write here is genuine, verifiable and factual, except the parts that are not.

The Missouri Tigers won a total of six games in the two years before Stewart became head coach. The Tigers lost a total of six games in Stewart’s fifth season.

Missouri borders eight other states, the most in the nation. Norm Stewart can defend all eight borders simultaneously.

Norm Stewart coached the Tigers to their first 20-win season. And their seventeenth.

Cancer tried to mess with Norm Stewart once. Cancer learned its lesson.

Before Norm Stewart took over, Missouri had won its last league championship in 1940, and its last conference tournament title in 1954. Stewart’s Tigers captured league crowns in 1976, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1987, 1990 and 1994. They won conference tournaments in 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1982, 1987, 1989, 1991 and 1993.

Long ago, a small tornado threatened central Missouri until Norm Stewart stood up and fought it off with his bare hands. Years later, a larger one came through, so he had Al Eberhard help him.

Once, in a hard-fought game against Kansas State, Stewart wanted to fire up the Hearnes Center crowd, but he didn’t want to pick up a technical foul, so he got in an official’s face, stomping, veins popping from his forehead, and screamed, “Do you see that tie Jack Hartman is wearing?!?! That’s got to be the ugliest tie in the whole %$#@&*% world!!! I can’t believe how ugly that thing is!!!” The crowd went bonkers. Missouri went on to win.

Sailors sometimes complain about Stewart’s language.

In 1989, while recuperating from cancer surgery, Norm Stewart heard that his players were rebelling against interim coach Rich Daly. So Stewart assembled the team and said “If Coach Daly asks you to stand on your head and crap through your nose, you stand on your head and blow.” A week later, the Tigers beat second-ranked Oklahoma to win the Big Eight tournament.

WWND? He’d kick your ass and make you like it, that’s WNWD.

Coach Stewart wrote the forward to this book and he wants you to buy a copy.

Phog Allen tried to recruit Norm Stewart to play basketball at Kansas. Phog didn’t know Norm very well.

Take 300 wins off of Norm Stewart’s record at Missouri and he’s still above .500.

As a sophomore at Mizzou, Norm Stewart went out for baseball on a bet with a fellow student. He made the team and helped the Tigers win the national championship. Stewart won the bet.

Before Norm Stewart became Missouri’s head coach, the Tigers had last appeared in the Associated Press poll in the 1954-55 season, when he was an all-conference basketball player, and they made it to number six, their highest ranking to that point. Stewart led the Tigers back into the poll in 1971-72, his fifth season. He had them at number five the next year. They reached number one for the first time in the 1981-82 season. They did it again – twice – in 1989-90.

Norm Stewart walks into a room and pride follows.

So here’s to Norm Stewart, a hall of famer – our hall of famer – and the truest Tiger of them all. Congratulations on an honor well-deserved.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Seems Like Old Times

OK, after a month or so off, I'm back with something to say, which you can find over at the new Mizzou Sanity group blog.

Friday, January 12, 2007

100 Years Ago Today

On January 12, 1907 – 100 years ago today – five young men donned Tiger uniforms and took to the court at state-of-the-art Rothwell Gymnasium to play the first intercollegiate men’s basketball game in the University of Missouri’s history. Hezekiah “Zeke” Henley, Carl “Curly” Ristine, William Driver and John Gardner had come to Mizzou from Joplin, and the fifth starter, Fred Bernet, came from St. Louis. With head coach Isadore “Izzy” Anderson watching from the sidelines, the Tiger five overwhelmed the Central College of Fayette team, 65-5, still one of the most lopsided victories in Missouri’s history.

Since that first day, Missouri Tigers fans have been thrilled, dismayed and enthralled by a century’s worth of moments and memories. There have been monumental wins and crushing defeats. There have been heroic players and coaches we remember well, and others who have faded from memory. But they’re all part of a continuum and a tradition that is Missouri Tigers basketball. While that first team may now seem like little more than a historical curiosity, they began a thread that winds through the program’s full history.

Carl Ristine, the first team’s best scorer, played with Herman Cohen, who played with Joe Parker, who played with George Taaffe, who played with Pip Palfreyman, who played with Fred Williams.

Williams played with Paul “Deerfoot” Vogt, who played with Craig Ruby, who played with George Williams, who played with Herb Bunker, who played with Frank Wheat.

Wheat played with Ted O’Sullivan, who played with Kenneth Yunker, who played with Wendell Baker, who played with Charlie Huhn, who played with Norman Wagner.

Wagner played with John Cooper, who played with Evans Powell, who played with Ralph Beer, who played with Kenny Brown, who played with John Lobsiger.

Lobsiger played with Herb Gregg, who played with Roy Storm, who played with Thornton Jenkins, who played with Dan Pippin, who played with Bud Heineman, who played with Bill Stauffer.

Stauffer played with Med Park, who played with Norm Stewart, who played with Lionel Smith, who played with Al Abram, who played with Charlie Henke.

Henke played with Ken Doughty, who played with George Flamank, who played with Ron Coleman, who played with Gene Jones, who played with Don Tomlinson, who played with Henry Smith.

Smith played with John Brown, who played with Al Eberhard, who played with Kim Anderson, who played with Larry Drew, who played with Steve Stipanovich and Jon Sundvold, who played with Greg Cavener.

Cavener played with Derrick Chievous, who played with Doug Smith, who played with Melvin Booker, who played with Kelly Thames, who played with Brian Grawer.

Grawer played with Arthur Johnson, who played with Thomas Gardner, who played with Marshall Brown, Matt Lawrence and several other members of the current Tigers team.

And just as the players form a thread, so do the generations of fans who have lived and died a little on each hoop this past century. One of the great pleasures of my life has been the opportunity to document and share the history of Missouri Tigers basketball. And since you’re reading this, that history is probably important to you, too. So, tonight, raise a glass to a century of thrilling, maddening, captivating Missouri Tigers basketball history, and maybe one to its future, a toast to all the true sons.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

On WHB in Kansas City on Wednesday

Just got word that I'll be on Between the Lines with Kevin Kietzman at around 4:00 p.m. on 810 WHB in Kansas City this Wednesday, January 10, to discuss True Sons.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

That’ll Leave a Mark

Games like this wake me up at night. My eyes pop open at 3:00 a.m. and I think “we really lost that one, didn’t we?”

Yes, we did.

One unexpected loss won’t ruin a season, but the optimism that the Missouri Tigers basketball team brought into conference play hinged on winning every home game against the Iowa States and Nebraskas of the league, and stealing a couple on the road. One game into the slate, there’s already a dent in the plan, as the Cyclones won one that Mizzou never seemed in jeopardy of losing until the last sixty seconds. But as Iowa State crept closer and Missouri failed to make plays, I turned to my pal Bob Bailey, the Assistant Dean at the MU Law School, and said “this is starting to remind me of last year’s Colorado game.” The sense of déjà vu grew palpable as ISU tipped in the game-winner just before the buzzer, and the Tigers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

If Mizzou is going to win tight games in Big 12 play, this much is clear: the frontcourt quartet of Leo Lyons, Kalen Grimes, Darryl Butterfield and Vaidotas Volkus will have to combine for better than the eight points and twelve rebounds they accumulated in fifty-three minutes on Saturday. The Tigers were abused on the inside by a group of interior players not nearly as talented as they’ll see down the road. Those four players don’t have to carry Missouri, but when they produce so little, they require the Tigers’ guards to be near-perfect, which they weren’t in the league opener.

Family Picture: If you weren’t at the game, you missed a sight that was, in its own way, as remarkable as the introduction of the Tigers’ All-Century team a year ago. Sixty former players, spanning seventy years of history, took to the court as part of a hoops family reunion. The senior member of the group was John Cooper, ninety-four years old and the 1932 Big Six scoring champ. He was joined by his baby brother Clay (a standout on the 1939 and 1940 league championship teams) and a host of players who represented the full spectrum of Missouri basketball. There were plenty of stars, including Thornton Jenkins (perhaps the finest Tiger player of the 1940s), Charlie Henke (who held Mizzou’s career scoring mark from 1961 to 1973), John Brown (who eclipsed Henke’s standard), Joe Scott (whose 46 points against Nebraska in 1961 still stands as a Tiger record), Curtis Berry and Jon Sundvold. But there were also dozens of former players who filled key roles to far less glory, guys like Gary Filbert, Howard Garrett, Greg Flaker, Scott Sims and Greg Church. As a whole, the group represented toughness, dedication, loyalty and excellence, traits that are at the heart of True Sons.

Lawrence of Columbia: Matt Lawrence’s transformation from end-of-the-bench reserve to game-changing sharpshooter is complete, and the crowd at Mizzou Arena knows it. I love how now, when Lawrence lets fly from behind the arc, everyone in the house leans forward and yells “three!”