Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mamaw and the World Series

My great-grandmother was born Marion Estelle Rolle on Aug. 1, 1913, in Denver, the 37th anniversary of Colorado becoming a state. Her father had been born in Germany before coming to America in search of something better, in search of opportunity.

I sometimes think about how dramatically the world has changed even in my relatively short life so far, from 1987 until 2013, how different most people's day-to-day lives are with technology's rapid progress. But even that pales in comparison to how different the world was into which my great-grandmother was born.

Russia still had a czar, Germany still had a kaiser. Horses still were a common source of transportation, only one Roosevelt had been President, and the Chicago Cubs were within five years of their last World Series title. My great-grandmother loved sports, and the Denver Bears played minor league baseball in town. Like most kids who grew up in America in the 1920s, she was probably well aware of the incomprehensible feats of Babe Ruth.

She would go on to get married and become Marion Carter, but I always knew her as Mamaw, the same thing my mom called her. She passed away when I was a kid, but she left an incredible legacy of love and joy, as well as some indelible memories. I still remember eating Teddy Grahams in the yard outside her brick house, on a set of small white garden chairs, which now sit in my grandparents' yard. I still think of her when I see those little white cast iron chairs or Teddy Grahams. I also remember the swing attached to a tree in her front yard, coloring books at her house and how she liked fireworks. (Native Coloradans seem to have a knack for planning good firework displays.)

She also crosses my mind sometimes when Missouri hits its October near-perfection and the Fall Classic rolls around again. Mamaw loved the World Series. My grandma talks about how Mamaw would watch every inning of it, enjoying America's pastime played at its highest level.

I was thinking the other day about all the World Series moments she might have seen; the epic 1975 Game 6 capped by Carlton Fisk's home run off the foul pole at Fenway Park, a hobbled Kirk Gibson's home run to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, the Royals frantic comeback in the 1985 Series. There were so many Yankees titles, so many Red Sox near-misses, so many big hits and strikeouts and defensive plays and ballparks and names, a heritage not just shared between my great-grandmother and I but among all Americans who have enjoyed baseball through the centuries.

Baseball is an old game. It was old a hundred years ago, with roots stretching back before the Civil War. Even after baseball long ago yielded status as America's favorite sport to football, even as it seems old-fashioned and slow, it still attracts millions, still has that pull. Baseball links generations, even three generations apart.

In the first World Series in Mamaw's lifetime, the 1913 edition, suit-wearing Connie Mack managed the Philadelphia A's to victory over John McGraw's New York Giants. Little did anyone know, she and the A's would both migrate to Missouri. She stayed longer.

Back in 1913, the Red Sox played at a place called Fenway Park, and St. Louis, 850 miles east of Denver, was the only major league city west of the Mississippi River.

Tonight, the Red Sox and Cardinals open the 2013 World Series at Fenway. I plan on watching, just like Mamaw watched all those World Series through the years.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Missouri earns huge win at Georgia, takes SEC East lead

Deep into the Civil War, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman sent a telegram saying he intended to “make Georgia howl!” Sherman went on to do just that, cutting a swath of destruction through Georgia and dealing a crippling blow to the Confederacy.

On Saturday, after Missouri dealt No. 7 Georgia a 41-26 loss in Athens, Tiger offensive lineman Max Copeland said he had been reading about that quote and Gen. Sherman, who happens to be buried in Missouri.

The win resounded across the nation and a proud conference, Missouri’s first big splash in the SEC. It was a crippling blow to Georgia’s national title hopes and one of the biggest wins of Gary Pinkel’s 13-year tenure as Missouri’s head coach. It was a statement win that Missouri can compete in the SEC after a disappointing debut season.

Missouri (6-0, 2-0 in SEC play) got a measure of payback for last year’s loss to Georgia in the Tigers’ first SEC game.

Clinging to a 28-26 lead in the fourth quarter, with quarterback James Franklin knocked out with an injury, Missouri stabilized itself with a 40-yard trick play touchdown, when receiver Bud Sasser caught a backwards pass then heaved the ball into the end zone, into the arms of L’Damian Washington, and into the memories of Tiger fans.

Georgia gained more yards than Missouri, but the Tigers forced four turnovers, including two interceptions and a fumble from Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray.

Yes, Georgia did have some injuries to key offensive players, but this was still Pinkel’s first road win over a top-10 team. It also lifted the Tigers to No. 14 in the AP and Coaches polls and put Missouri in the driver’s seat in the SEC East race. Next up are two massive home games with Florida and South Carolina.

Missouri will be without Franklin for at least a few weeks, and possibly the rest of the regular season due to his shoulder injury. That puts the pressure on freshman backup Maty Mauk, who at least has the benefit of stepping into a very good offense, with plenty of athletic receivers, a deep stable of running backs and an offensive line that is much healthier than last year acting like those arm band flotation devices kids use as they head into the deep end.

The Tiger offense faces one of the nation’s best defenses when Florida (4-2, 3-1 in SEC play) comes to town on Saturday (11:21 a.m., SEC TV, shown on a local channel, check listings).

Florida has held 13 straight SEC opponents to 20 or fewer points.

Florida, ranked No. 22 after a physical loss at LSU last Saturday, is far less dangerous on offense. But the Gators do have a decent ground game with running back Mack Brown, but Matt Jones is out for the season with an injury. Florida also lost starting quarterback Jeff Driskel for the season, but backup Tyler Murphy has actually looked better as the Gators’ new starter.

Half of the season remains, but the next two Saturdays in Columbia will go a long way in determining who wins the SEC East.

Missouri routs Vanderbilt in SEC opener, trip to No. 7 Georgia next

Missouri punter Christian Brinser did indeed make the trip to Nashville for Missouri’s SEC opener, but fans watching on TV didn’t have visual proof of that until the fourth quarter, when Brinser trotted onto the field for his first and only punt of the night.

It’s usually a good night when your punter largely has the game off, and last Saturday’s 51-28 win at Vanderbilt was most definitely a good night for the Tigers. Missouri (5-0, 1-0 in SEC play) scored on a touchdown pass from James Franklin to L’Damian Washington just 1:17 into the game, and the Tigers kept pouring it on from there, burying the Commodores (3-3, 0-3 in SEC play) in an avalanche of scores.

Not counting a quarterback kneel to kill the clock with 21 seconds left in the first half, here are Missouri’s first eight drives, spanning the first three quarters: touchdown, field goal, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown.

That’ll do.

Missouri followed each of Vanderbilt’s four touchdowns with a touchdown of its own, ensuring the Commodores never got any real momentum going.

This was Missouri’s biggest test to date, and the Tigers aced it. The offense rolled up 523 total yards. Franklin threw for 278 yards and rushed for 63 with no turnovers. The Tigers churned out 245 yards on the ground.

The Tiger defense also made some big plays, starting the game with a three-and-out, an interception and another three-and-out to help Missouri jump ahead early.

After the win, Missouri is now No. 25 in the AP poll, the first time Missouri has been ranked since the second week of the 2011 season.

Next comes a huge game this Saturday (11 a.m. on ESPN) at No. 7 Georgia, widely considered the favorite to win the SEC East title. Last week, Georgia gutted out an overtime win on the road against a feisty Tennessee team.

However, Georgia running back Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley suffered season-ending ACL tears in the game. Georgia’s other outstanding running back, Todd Gurley, didn’t play due to an ankle sprain and is an unknown for the Missouri game.

Obviously, whether Gurley can play or not will have a huge impact on the game. Either way, Georgia still has senior quarterback Aaron Murray, who became the SEC’s all-time leader in passing yards last week.

Georgia (4-1, 3-0) has a prolific offense, at least before all the injuries hit. But the Bulldogs’ defense has struggled against good offenses.

Missouri is a solid underdog here. That said, I could see Missouri winning, and that says a lot about how good the Tigers have looked so far. Missouri has a lot to gain and little to lose on Saturday, a chance to go from impressing the SEC to shocking it, a chance to grab control of the SEC East race and earn Pinkel’s first road win over a top-10 team.

In any event, Missouri heads to Georgia’s massive Sanford Stadium, “Between the Hedges,” playing some very good football.

Missouri opens SEC play at Vanderbilt

It’s finally here. Missouri (4-0) is the only team in the Southeastern Conference that hasn’t played a conference game yet, but on Saturday they take the plunge at Vanderbilt, playing their eight conference games over the next nine Saturdays.

The Tigers have built some momentum and cautious fan optimism while opening the season with four wins against a very manageable nonconference schedule.

The last of those came last Saturday with a 41-19 win over Arkansas State (2-3) at Faurot Field. The Red Wolves gave the Tigers trouble for a while, taking a 16-14 lead in the third quarter.

But Missouri responded to the adversity, as it did when Toledo and Indiana rallied to make those games close. After a Missouri three-and-out immediately after Arkansas State took its second-half lead, the Tiger offense churned out touchdown drives of 94 yards, 87 yards and 67 yards to put the game away.

That response was nice, although playing close into the second half with a team that lost 31-7 to Memphis isn’t ideal. In any event, the Tigers have navigated through the four nonconference games without any losses.

The competition gets tougher now as the Tigers get into the teeth of their schedule. The front half of conference play looks tougher than the back half, with road games at Vanderbilt and Georgia and home contests against Florida and South Carolina meaning things will get tougher in a hurry.

Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt (6:30 p.m. on Comcast Sports Southeast, game will be shown on a local channel in different Missouri markets, check listings) is an intriguing way to begin SEC play for the Tigers. Third year Vandy head coach James Franklin, no relation to Missouri’s quarterback of the same name, has been building up the Commodore program, winning six games and going to a bowl in his first season then winning nine games last year, Vanderbilt’s first nine-win season since 1915.

19-15 was also the score of Vanderbilt’s win in Columbia last fall, a game in which Missouri lost its James Franklin to a knee injury early in the contest. (Coaches are generally safe from such things.)

Vanderbilt is 3-2 this year but 0-2 in SEC play, including a spectacular 39-35 loss at home to Ole Miss on college football’s opening night. The Commodores’ best player is senior receiver Jordan Matthews, who threw up on the field during the aforementioned loss to Ole Miss but then re-entered the game to make a huge catch on a do-or-die fourth down. He has 40 catches for 586 yards and four touchdowns this year. It would make sense to see Missouri’s best cornerback, E.J. Gaines, cover Matthews, but all of Missouri’s secondary will have to be on guard.

Saturday’s game is a crucial one for both schools as they struggle to climb up in the SEC East Division. It also feels like about a tossup game, adding to the suspense. Either way, should be a good one under the lights in Nashville.