"We're No. 1!" You hear it bandied about college football bleachers and broadcasts regardless of the proclamation’s veracity. But when the 2007 Tigers defeated archrival Kansas to win the Big 12 North division and a shot at the conference championship, the statement was as true as every True Son’s happy heart: Missouri sat atop the BCS poll. The storied season’s prelude, however, begins in the west-Texas desert at the end of 2006. Mizzou had dropped a 39-38 heartbreaker to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl after a late, controversial two-point conversion. The team’s destiny was uncertain.
“We didn’t stay to finish that game,” says retired Mizzou head Coach Gary Pinkel. “It looked like we were still trying to figure out how to win at a higher level.”
Reaching new heights would greatly depend on the team’s returning roster. Players began to persuade teammates who were on the fence about entering the NFL draft to stay another year.
“[Freshman wide receiver] Jeremy Maclin and I were both injured, watching Rihanna perform during the Sun Bowl half time show,” says then junior wide receiver Will Franklin, BGS ’16. “He said, ‘Man, we really got something special here at Mizzou. I just hope everybody comes back.’ And he looked at me.”
As the team began to coalesce that spring, two words would come to define the talent-laden football squad: leadership and accountability.
“The juniors and seniors got together and said, ‘We understand how much ability we have, but we have to go out and show it on a weekly basis,’ ” says quarterback Chase Daniel, BS BA ’09. “The leaders really took hold of the team.”
Although they fell short of their ultimate conference- and national-championship goal, the 2007 Tigers captured black-and-gold hearts in a way few teams ever had.
Read on as players, coaches and commentators share highlights, in their own words, of an unforgettable season.
Sept. 1, 2007, Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis
Mizzou 40, Illinois 34
Chase Daniel threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns as the Tigers continued their dominance over Illinois. The game also featured a breakout performance from Maclin and a 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown by defensive back Cornelius “Pig” Brown.
Gary Pinkel: Illinois was really coming after us because we had been playing well against them. We went into that matchup a few years before as the hunter. Now we were the hunted.
Stryker Sulak, defensive end: That was my first time playing in a dome. The thing that stands out in my mind, and probably everyone’s mind, was Pig Brown’s intensity. After that fumble return, it seemed like he was barely out of breath.
Chase Daniel: The game was a springboard for J-Mac [Jeremy Maclin]. He had torn his ACL in 2006 and worked so hard to get back. It was his coming-out party.
Sept. 8, 2007, Oxford, Mississippi
Mizzou 38, Mississippi 25
Sept. 15, 2007, Memorial Stadium
Mizzou 52, Western Michigan 24
Sept. 22, 2007, Memorial Stadium
No. 25 Mizzou 38, Illinois State 17
Oct. 6, 2007, Memorial Stadium
No. 17 Mizzou 41, No. 25 Nebraska 6
The poll-ascending Tigers hammered the Cornhuskers in Missouri’s most lopsided defeat of Nebraska since 1947. The nationally televised “Gold Rush” game featured a then-record Memorial Stadium crowd of 70,049.
Lorenzo Williams, defensive end: I remember going into the Nebraska game really confident. We had an emotional team meeting the night before; I punched a hole in a marker board and Ruck (tight end Martin Rucker) kicked it. We couldn’t do anything wrong against the Huskers. The popcorn was popping and the nacho cheese was flowing.
Will Franklin: (Defensive back) William Moore put a huge hit on (Nebraska running back) Marlon Lucky in the first half. It made everybody on the sideline jump up and want to play defense.
Martin Rucker: My brother went to Nebraska and won three national championships, so I’m partial to beating them. I scored on a fake field goal (on a shovel pass from wideout Tommy Saunders) to put the nail in the coffin in the fourth quarter.
Chase Daniel: I’ll always remember the game because of the atmosphere. It was my 21st birthday that night, so it was a fun day all around.
Oct. 13, 2007, Norman, Oklahoma
No. 6 Oklahoma 41, No. 11 Mizzou 31
A confident, undefeated Tiger squad (5-0) visited Norman expecting to score an upset but left with their first defeat of the season.
Gary Pinkel: We were coming off an emotional win, and playing back-to-back, playoff-type games at that level is difficult. My coaches will tell you we did everything we could have done, but I should have done more.
Stryker Sulak: I had never beaten Oklahoma — in fact, no one on the team had ever beaten Oklahoma — but we went down there without a doubt in our minds that we were going to win. That game was rough. Some of us thought the season was over.
Lorenzo Williams: Coach Pinkel never talks about the future. He hung his hat on that. But after that loss he gathered everyone around him, took off his hat and glasses and said, ‘You’re never going hear me do this again, but we cannot lose another football game. Kansas is not going to lose, and if we do, we lose our chance to win the Big 12 North title.’
Oct. 20, 2007, Memorial Stadium
No. 15 Mizzou 41, No. 22 Texas Tech 10
Oct. 27, 2007, Memorial Stadium
No. 13 Mizzou 42, Iowa State 28
Nov. 3, 2007, Boulder, Colorado
No. 9 Mizzou 55, Colorado 10
Colorado found the end zone early after intercepting a tipped pass, but the Tigers roared back and the Buffaloes didn’t score another touchdown. Missouri ended a four-game Folsom Field losing streak and moved to 8-1 for the first time since 1969.
Gary Pinkel: Going into Colorado, people kept telling me about the altitude. I told my players, ‘If I hear one more person tell me about the stinkin’ altitude …’
Lorenzo Williams: We used an altitude-training module that (former Mizzou strength and conditioning coach) Pat Ivey put together for us. We had to run on the treadmill with a mask every day leading up to the Colorado game. We were the guinea pigs for a lot of the stuff that he ended up being famous for.
Chase Coffman: They were running man-to-man and you just can’t do that against that many talented receivers with Chase Daniel throwing the ball. I remember catching a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone that everyone thinks was one-handed. I used two hands, then let go with one so I could get my balance and tap down.
Nov. 10, 2007, Memorial Stadium
No. 7 Mizzou 40, Texas A&M 26
Nov. 17, 2007, Manhattan, Kansas
No. 6 Mizzou 49, Kansas State 32
Nov. 24, 2007, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
No. 4 Mizzou 36, No. 2 Kansas 28
The biggest game in the rivalry’s 116-year history attracted ESPN’s College GameDay and drew big TV ratings. The Missouri victory also spoiled the Jayhawks’ perfect season, gave Mizzou its school-record 11th win and solidified Daniel’s Heisman Trophy candidacy.
Martin Rucker: This was the perfect showdown. It was like God wrote the script and dropped it on us. We got out to a 21-0 lead and then kind of took a breath waiting for Kansas to turn back into a pumpkin. It was much more exciting than it should have been. I’ll just say we were trying to keep the ratings up.
Lorenzo Williams: The night before, a guy came up to me at the hotel and asked if I was Lorenzo Williams. I said yeah, and he said, ‘I have a present for you’ and gave me a box. It was an ice cream cake that said ‘Go Jayhawks! Beat the Tigers!’ I took it to the players meeting and Spoon (linebacker Sean Weatherspoon) jumped over three rows of chairs and elbow-slammed the cake into the ground.
Gary Pinkel: It was one of the greatest college environments I have ever experienced, and I’ve coached in three Rose Bowls. Driving through our fans as they beat on the side of the bus. People standing for the entire game. I get chills thinking about it.
Chase Daniel: It was scoreless through the first quarter, and then we just started dinking and dunking. Some of our playmakers made big plays. Our running game got going with Tony Temple, (wide receiver) Danario Alexander had a heck of a catch for a touchdown and (running back) Derrick Washington had a touchdown catch.
Stryker Sulak: The game came down to a fourth down (deep in Kansas territory on the Jayhawks’ final possession) and you knew they were going to pass. I got to (KU quarterback Todd) Reesing first. I felt Lorenzo charge up and kind of do a butt check and completely knock me off of him.
Lorenzo Williams: (Linebackers coach) Dave Steckel called ‘fire,’ which is a designed blitz. We didn’t want to blitz; we wanted to run a straight rush. I said to Spoon, ‘We’re not running fire. Just put your hands up in the air like you can’t hear. Here, I’ll do it,’ and I motioned to the sideline. The coaches laugh about it now, but at the time they were mad. Afterward they couldn’t be mad because we got a sack and a safety.
Mike Kelly, radio broadcaster: It was a spectacular game that came down to who was going to make the last play. Missouri’s defense did. My call was ‘Sack. Safety. Ball game. Bingo!’
Dec. 1, 2007, San Antonio, Texas
No 9. Oklahoma 38, No. 1 Mizzou 17
Jan. 1, 2008, Cotton Bowl, Dallas
No. 7 Mizzou 38, Arkansas 7
The Tigers fell short in the Big 12 Championship against Oklahoma but rebounded New Year’s Day to trounce the Razorbacks behind Tony Temple’s Cotton Bowl-record 281 rushing yards.
Gary Pinkel: When we learned we weren’t going to the Orange Bowl (Kansas was selected over Missouri to play in the BCS bowl), I told the guys we are not going to complain about anything. We’re going to one of the most prestigious bowls in history.
Stryker Sulak: Lorenzo spoke before the game. He was so excited to play in the Cotton Bowl. Being from Oklahoma, it was a dream come true for him — and for me being from Texas. We had so many family and friends in the stands.
Mike Kelly: During the luncheon before the Cotton Bowl, they asked the two quarterbacks to throw a football to someone in the crowd. The Arkansas quarterback’s throw was a bit errant. Chase Daniel reared back and threw the football right on a dime to where the guy who was seated out in the crowd barely had to move at all.
Will Franklin: On offense, we were thinking, ‘Let’s go out there and do what we do.’ But we didn’t know Tony Temple was going to do what he did. I remember looking across the field, and I could see the quit in that team’s eyes.
Chase Coffman: Arkansas kept talking about how they had three high-profile running backs. Well, we’ve got a guy, too.
Mike Kelly: There were two games working alongside the late John (color commentator known as “Mr. Mizzou”) Kadlec (BS Ed ’51, M Ed ’52) when I looked over and saw a tear in my friend’s eye. Once was in 1997 when Missouri beat Colorado to end a streak of 13 consecutive losing seasons. As we watched the Cotton Bowl unfold that day, I could see the sense of pride overcome Coach Kadlec. It was his program. All that time as a former player, former coach, former administrator and now as a broadcaster.
Martin Rucker: The 2007 Tigers had playmakers. We had talented guys on both sides of ball. But another thing that made us successful was that we all bought in to everything we were doing. We had great leaders, and everything came together at the right time.
To read more MIZZOU magazine stories online, visit mizzou.com.