Who are the Missouri Tigers?
They're everything you know and everything you don't. They're everything you expected and nothing you predicted. They're as good as you dreamed and as poor as you imagined. Forget the evolution of the Mizzou football program for a moment. 2010 is an exercise in the evolution of Missouri fandom.
Last month, San Francisco Giants fans saw the end of what they termed "53 years of torture." Missouri fans, for all of the curses, kicked balls and fifth downs, can't even figure out what constitutes torture anymore and, more difficultly, can't figure out which point in time is supposed to signal the end. As the world points to "same old Mizzou," Missouri fans must internalize and rationalize it all into the most confusing reality imaginable.
The uncomfortable thoughts in the back of your head, the angel and the demon on your shoulders, and the negative thoughts that creep in during times of adversity for Missouri fans all point to what's known in the psychology community as cognitive dissonance, defined as the following:
This is the feeling of uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time.
Dissonance increases with:
-- The importance of the subject to us.
-- How strongly the dissonant thoughts conflict.
-- Our inability to rationalize and explain away the conflict.
Dissonance is often strong when we believe something about ourselves and then do something against that belief. If I believe I am good but do something bad, then the discomfort I feel as a result is cognitive dissonance.
For Missouri fans, the feelings of discomfort with Missouri's recent success are almost irreconcilable. Ever since Missouri challenged the structural integrity of the proverbial glass ceiling in 2007, Tiger fans appear to have adopted the mantra "I thought we were past this" with every bump in the road.
In one sense, the Tigers should be past this, but in reality, no college football program is ever "past this." Nick Saban wins national championships and loses to Louisiana-Monroe. Mack Brown wins ten games a season then loses at home to UCLA, Iowa State and Baylor in the same year. Jim Tressel can win a Rose Bowl in the same season he can't win in West Lafayette.
There's no shortage of conflicting thoughts to serve as stressors for Tiger fans. Amongst the cesspool of ideas:
-- Missouri proved its worth by beating Oklahoma, who on the same night as Missouri's loss to Tech was then beaten by a Texas A&M team Missouri pounded.
-- Blaine Gabbert is an NFL scout's wet dream but can't figure out how to win consistently at the college level.
-- David Yost is not Dave Christensen as an offensive coordinator, even though it took Christensen seven seasons before his offense had a signature season.
-- Missouri fans, many of whom expected either a 9-3 or 8-4 season, would have been thrilled with 10-2 record including a 2-2 split during the stretch of Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas Tech. Now that the exact scenario is still on the table, it's interminably frustrating.
But the crown jewel of contradiction and the prime paradigm of dissonance is this:
-- "Gary Pinkel can't get Missouri to the next level as a program," despite the fact that Missouri may "back in" to a disappointing 10-win season primarily because his success created new levels of expectation.
It's a concept probably subject to thousands of words to be spilled by bloggers and columnists in the week ahead, and one I won't touch for that very reason.
Missouri fans have always taken an almost masochistic joy in putting their turmoil on display. Now, the inner turmoil from the conflicting ideas defines Missouri fandom. But for those looking for some kind of answer or reconciliation, my message is simple:
Welcome to college football and welcome to Mizzou. Embrace the insanity.