Tigers fight

Mizzou falls to Auburn in SEC Championship.

Photos celebrating Mizzou's successes this season were plastered outside the Georgia Dome's locker room, but the mood was somber behind the black-and-gold doors. Senior lineman Max Copeland sat dejectedly outside his locker after Mizzou’s Southeastern Conference Championship loss.

His forehead and nose were caked with dried blood from a season-long wound. His cheeks and forehead were smeared with the remnants of eye black, a warrior’s paint. His wild mane and beard were matted to his head, tamed by sweat from a game played at a breakneck pace.

Following the 59-42 loss to Auburn, pain was apparent in his bright blue eyes.

“Winning is what we do. It’s what we’re trained to do, and we don’t accept anything less,” Copeland says. “When we don’t win, you question your self-worth a little bit. Not rightfully so, but it’s a natural reaction.”

Coming off the field, Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said the team “felt like hell.”

The team’s defense was one of only three in the nation to have not allowed more than 28 points in a game this season en route to a 11-1 (7-1 SEC) record. The top-20 unit was called into question after allowing 677 yards in the Auburn game, 545 of which came on the ground.

“I don’t make any divisions between offense and defense. To me, we’re all Tigers. And we all hurt the same,” Copeland says. “I have an intense pride in my brothers. In adverse times, people show you who they really are, and I wasn’t disappointed in a single one.”

Players and coaches struggled to put the season in perspective after the loss, but Copeland says he thinks the team eventually will take solace in the fact that Mizzou has gained respect. The Tigers’ two losses have been to South Carolina, who will finish in the BCS top 10, and Auburn, who will head to the National Championship following Ohio State’s Big Ten Championship loss.

Mizzou knows that this loss doesn’t end its season. The Tigers will learn their bowl placement Sunday, and likely destinations include Orlando for the Capital One Bowl, Dallas for the Cotton Bowl or St. Petersburg, Fla., for the Outback Bowl. The reward of making a New Year's Day bowl hasn’t settled in yet, though.

“Winning’s our livelihood. When we don’t win, it’s like we don’t eat that week,” Copeland says. “It hurts, you know? Hunger pains. We’ll have to go hungry for a while. But there’s still a meal left.”

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