This is going to hurt a while.
It was supposed to be Mizzou’s year: a team full of seniors who played above expectations all season, ranked No. 3 nationally going into the NCAA Basketball Tournament. They were poised to become the first Missouri team to make it to the Final Four.
But it didn’t happen. Instead, an ignominious loss in the first round to a No. 15 seed, only the fifth time in history that has ever happened. No, this will not be soon forgotten.
Is it the worst disappointment ever for a St. Louis or Missouri sports team? I can’t say that right now—way too fresh. It will definitely be in the top five. The others? Here are a few I can pull from my memory right now.
5) Steve Swisher. It was the end of the 1974 baseball regular season, and the Cardinals had a shot to make the playoffs. But in order for them to make it, they needed the Pirates to lose their last game, and the Cardinals would have to win an earlier-postponed game, and then beat the Pirates in a playoff. It was a longshot, but they had a shot.
Unfortunately, though, the Pirates were playing the Cubs in that last game. And even then, the Cubs were about to win it. I forget the exact circumstances, but it was either the ninth or 10th inning (here’s the box score); there was some kind of dispute or misplay that so enraged Cubs catcher Steve Swisher that he took his glove off and slammed it on the ground. Problem was, the ball was in the glove, the play was still live, and Pittsburgh had runners on base. One of the runners scored, Pittsburgh won the game, and like that, the Cardinals’ season was over. (Steve Swisher later became a Cardinal, but I never forgave him.)
4) The St. Louis Stallions. We were all hyped up; we’d lost the football Cardinals a few years earlier, but that was OK because they were an embarrassment. By the mid-90s, St. Louis was poised to land an expansion NFL team. We had a new stadium all planned out, and even a name for the team: the St. Louis Stallions. But when the NFL made the announcement of its expansion team, it was Jacksonville, Fla., that got the nod instead of St. Louis. Jacksonville! We ultimately had to resort to stealing a team from Los Angeles.
3) Tyus Edney. Mizzou was looking surprisingly good in the 1995 NCAA tournament; they’d beaten Indiana in the first round, and were beating up on No. 1 seed UCLA in the second round, dominating for basically the whole game. Their bracket had had several early upsets, and if Mizzou could pull off the upset over UCLA, they had a clear path to the Final Four.
But with 4.8 seconds to go, UCLA was within one point. They inbounded the ball to guard Tyus Edney, who raced untouched the length of the court for a layup. Wikipedia called it “one of the most famous plays in NCAA Tournament history.” Game over, season over, and yet another early exit from the tournament for the Tigers. UCLA, of course, waltzed down that path that had stretched in front of Missouri, and the Bruins ended up winning the national championship that year.
2) Super Bowl XXXVI. You also read about it here. The Rams were an even better team that season than the team that had won it all two years earlier, and they were playing a Patriots team that had come out of nowhere, a team that, except for one Super Bowl appearance more than 15 years earlier, had spent its whole existence in NFL obscurity. It should have been a cakewalk for the Rams. But somehow the Patriots made a game of it, and as the clock wound down toward the final gun, there was Adam Vinateri, kicking the field goal that Rams fans will never forget.
1) 1985 World Series. Like those 2001 Rams, the 1985 Cardinals had probably their best lineup in years, and were playing a team they should have dominated. They took a 3-2 lead into the sixth game of the series, needing only one more win to clinch the championship. But we all know what happened. An umpire’s bad call near the end of Game 6, and then a complete physical and emotional collapse in Game 7, and they had lost the World Series to the Kansas City Royals.
Personally, I was devastated. After that World Series, I vowed to never again take sports so seriously. I never wanted to feel that kind of depression again, over something that’s, arguably, so unimportant.
Of course, if I could tamp down the importance of a sports loss, that would mean the significance of a sports victory would also necessarily be diminished. Therefore, when the Cardinals do return to the World Series and emerge with rings—which didn’t happen for a full 21 years after that ’85 debacle—I’ll celebrate, but I won’t go crazy about it.
I’ll—WE’LL—get over this Mizzou loss. We’ll move past the disappointment we’re feeling now. The next few weeks will be tough, as we watch lesser teams advance through the tournament to the Final Four. But in the end, we’ll put it behind us. Maybe Mizzou will have a strong recruiting class, and have a great season next year and get back into the tournament with a legitimate shot. Or maybe it will take a few years. One day, though, they’ll make it to the Final Four and perhaps win it all. “Every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight.” We just have to be optimistic.
Do I really believe this? No, not today.