Tigers the Subject of Feeding Frenzy
These are the headiest of times for the MU football program, ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first time in 47 years and suddenly finding itself being slathered in attention from every corner of the country.
Chad Moller, MU's Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations, stole a moment during Monday's media day to check his cell phone and gauge how much the snowstorm of incoming communications had thickened during Pinkel's 37-minute press conference.
Unread emails: 233. Office voicemail: full, not accepting any more messages. Cell phone voicemail: same as office voicemail.
Enduring media-induced chaos at the expense of having the top-ranked team in all of college football: priceless.
"Any time I find myself starting to complain about feeling too busy or over-worked, I just remind myself about the tough times we've had," said Moller, in his 14th year promoting Mizzou athletics. "And you don't want to go back to that. This is what you're in the business for."
The barrage of attention was a foregone conclusion after Mizzou's nationally televised 36-28 win Saturday night against No. 2 Kansas, which was the first time many outside of Big 12 country watched the Tigers play. It earned them the top spot in the Associated Press Poll and the Bowl Championship Series standings, clinched the program's first league title since 1969 and moved them within two wins of the unthinkable – a national championship.
In the few days since -- and to a lesser extent, the past several weeks -- feeding the media beast has become challenging. Everyone wants a piece of The Missouri Story, of how the middle-of-the-road program with the oft-criticized coach and midget quarterback has arrived on the cusp of greatness.
Daniel was engorged by a semi-circle of reporters and cameramen two or three-deep for a solid hour Monday afternoon, taking often-redundant questions and, despite showing his usual polish, eventually appearing as though he wanted to run a quarterback sneak through the crowd and out the front door.
"It's very surreal," said Daniel, whose blossoming Heisman Trophy campaign has added an extra layer to the hype" It's great for the team, it's great for the community."
While Daniel has been on the national radar for some time, his coach has become a star overnight. Monday morning prior to his weekly conference, Pinkel did two separate ESPN shows, Sporting News Radio and the Jim Rome Show. USA Today and CBSSportsline.com, meanwhile, were among the dozens of media outlets at the conference Monday. And Daniel's national teleconference Tuesday is expected to draw between 50 and 100 reporters.
"There's no question," Moller said, "this is a different level of interest."
Everywhere you look, on the internet, in the sports pages and on the cable sports networks it's Mizzou this, Mizzou that.
But to the surprise of no one who has followed this team, the Tigers will have no part of adding to the feeding frenzy.
Daniel: "I'm sure in 20 or 30 years we're gonna look back on it and say hey, that was something special. But we can make it even more special with a win on Saturday … It's great to be No. 1 but we're not gonna get caught up in it."
Williams: It's pretty unreal, but I definitely will think about that more after the season. Right now I'm just focused on OU."
Tight end Chase Coffman: "Its great to see that all of our hard work's been paying off, and we've just got to keep it up and not let it affect our play."
The team found out about its new perch during its regular-season ending banquet this weekend. Senior defensive tackle Lorenzo Williams was at the podium speaking when MU broadcaster Mike Kelly handed him a note.
"I was kind of thrown back at first and then I was like, ‘Man, this is really it,'" Williams said.
After Williams made the announcement, the team and the 500 or so fans in attendance went crazy. They then forgot about it – well, the team did, anyway.
"As soon as the banquet was over, nobody said anybody about it," Williams said. "Guys aren't thinking about it. Being No. 1-ranked right now doesn't matter. You see [teams] getting knocked off left and right all throughout the season, so we definitely don't want to be in that group."
Pinkel said he celebrated for 90 seconds before getting back to business.
"I'm very pleased for my staff, I'm very pleased and happy for my players because they've worked hard. Obviously there's the fans, the players that played here over the years and the fans -- the loyal fans we have [and] alumni. Obviously everybody gets a piece of that and they enjoy it," he said.
"That being said, you really don't have that much time to think about that stuff because we're playing a great football team. So I thought about it for about a minute-and-a-half, and now we move on."
This has been the attitude of the team all season, and it's served the Tigers well. Their interviews are a steady diet of comments about focusing on the task at hand, looking back at accomplishments after it's all done and paying no attention to hype. It's as focused a group as you'll find in college football.
"There's no question that there's a fine balance between doing too much [media interaction] and maybe contributing to guys losing their focus. But I really don't worry about that with this group," Moller said.
Moller recently told his wife and daughters that at this rate, he'd see them some time in January.
"But they understand," he said. "They're huge fans."
And these days, who isn't?
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