COLUMBIA, Mo. — If the University of Missouri’s football team has suffered from an inferiority complex in the last couple of decades, it can blame the University of Colorado.
Actually, Missouri — a school known for its basketball team but one with a football team picked by many to win the Big 12 North — does blame Colorado for the complex that should have been cleansed with Saturday’s 17-9 win over CU.
As epithets and a liquid one can only hope was water rained down from the stands of Faurot Field at game’s end, it became apparent that Missouri fans couldn’t get enough of hating Colorado, the team their Tigers have beaten only three times in the past 20 years.
“No means no,” one group of fans shouted in reference to off-season rape allegations leveled at the CU football team.
“Where the hookers at?” another man screamed from behind the Buffs’ bench.
CU’s offseason problems and Missouri’s first football win over CU in six years combined to give Missouri fans a cathartic antidote to bad feelings that have lingered for 14 years.
Colorado’s infamous 1990 fifth-down win over the Tigers in 1990 apparently still sticks in the craw of a state that has more barbecue restaurants than Colorado has bicycle shops. The people of the state so nice they named it thrice — Missouri, Missour-ah and Mizzou— are as stubborn as the mule that serves as the state animal and seem to have a memory longer than that of an elephant.
Even before flag-bearing and tiger-tail dragging cars crept along the collection of adult-video stores and fireworks stores known as Interstate 70 before Saturday’s game, Missouri fans left little doubt that there is no love lost between the Show-Me-State and alumni Gary Barnett and even Bill McCartney, the coach for whom Barnett worked in 1990. In the week leading up to the game, Missouri fans used their Internet TigerBoard to post messages assailing both McCartney, who retired 10 years ago, and Barnett, who was the quarterback coach during the season in which the Buffs won a national championship after beating Missouri in a game in which officials didn’t notice it was fourth down and allowed CU to run the winning play in the game.
“Damn cockroaches,” one Mizzou fan said of Colorado.
Others were less kind, posting messages that contained the word “hookers.”
Some were downright brutal, posting messages describing McCartney and Barnett in both four-letter words and seven-letter words that sounded like four-letter words.
“We’ve been gagged since last winter and today we get to make our statement,” quarterback Joel Klatt told his teammates just before the team’s first Big 12 game kicked off.
“They’re pretty chirpy out there,” Barnett told his team. “Just do your job and don’t respond to them.”
Barnett’s warning echoed one he issued earlier in the week, when he told his team, “There are going to be 65,000-plus in the stadium,” he said during a Thursday team meeting. “And, you’ve got the students right behind you— there will be a lot of heckling.”
If the CU players had any doubts about the level of verbal kind of abuse they would encounter on the road this year, all doubt seems to have been removed. The Buffs would likely have to go to Iraq to receive a less hospitable greeting than the one they endured at Faurot Field.
While saying all the politically correct things publicly during the week, the importance of the game was not lost on Barnett, a former wide receiver who was a member of the Mizzou Class of ’69.
“I don’t have to tell to you what this game means,” he told his team this week just before telling them anyway.
Barnett had gone 11-1 as an assistant or head coach — and 5-0 as a head coach — prior to Saturday’s loss.
“We all made too many mistakes to win this game,” he told his players in a post-game locker room that was silent for the first time this season. “We have to keep believing in each other.”
While Family Weekend is still two weeks away at Boulder’s Folsom Field, members of the Barnett family held what amounted to a reunion during their brief trip to Missouri. Both Barnett and his wife, Mary, hosted their mothers and took an extra room where the two moms watched the game.
Barnett’s brother, Mike, made the 40-minute trip from his home in Mexico, the tiny Missouri town where the family lived before moving to suburban St. Louis when Gary was a high school freshman. Mike, a tall, balding, white-haired real estate agent who is two years younger than his more famous brother, sneaked outside after a family dinner so he could take a few drags on a cigarette that would have infuriated his tobacco-hating older brother.
Gary Barnett’s son, Clay, took a break from his last semester at the University of Denver Law School to join the family.
“This really makes me miss football” the younger Barnett said as he walked through the tunnel and onto the sideline. About four hours and a few thousand insults later, law school was probably looking a lot better.
Another CU coach, defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, was joined in Columbia by his brother Terry, who drove down from Michigan for the game.
A week that ended badly started even worse for tight-ends coach John Wristen, who drive nearly 900 miles on Friday to attend his grandmother’s funeral in rural Kansas before heading to Columbia.
Gary Barnett proved to be prophetic when, on Thursday, he warned his team about the runway on which the team’s charter flight would land in Columbia.
“It’s a short field. We’re going to hit down hard and there will be a screeching sound,” he said.
Faurot Field offered the Buffs an even harder landing, while Missouri’s fans provided even more screeching.
Gary and Mary Barnett’s mothers were lucky. They got to watch the game from that hotel room.