Just play the game already
Missouri not interested with extracurricular activities
Posted: Tuesday December 22, 1998 08:40 PM
TUCSON, Arizona (AP) -- To heck with the extracurricular activities, Missouri is ready to play.
As the 23rd-ranked Tigers prepare for their December 26 Insight.com Bowl game against West Virginia, there's an abundance of team functions to remind them that this is a reward for a job well done. Unlike last season, when Missouri had its first winning season and bowl bid in 13 years, they don't appear satisfied with a 7-4 record.
"I'm not fired up about going anywhere," said quarterback Corby Jones, who is getting ready for his final college game. "I'm going back to the hotel instead of going to do this other stuff."
The team has been to Old Tucson, the site of countless movie Westerns. There's an optional horseback ride, a cowboy-style steak fry and visits to a few area museums on the docket.
Whenever the fun ends, it's right back to business. Coach Larry Smith thought it would be a big difference in attitude, and it has been.
"Last year, before we left I asked how many guys had ever been to any kind of bowl or playoff and two hands went up," Smith said. "This year it's probably 70-80 percent of the team.
"What I'm seeing is they're able to focus. They're not over-indulged in all the sights and scenes of a bowl game. They act like they've been there before, is basically what it comes down to."
Last year, Smith considered the Holiday Bowl bid a sort of ice cream sundae and a victory, he said, would be the cherry on top. Then, after the Tigers lost 35-24 to Colorado State, there was an emptiness.
"It's not that great when they give you a trophy that says 'Bowl Participant,'" associate head coach Ricky Hunley said.
This year could have been a real breakout year for Missouri, which led all four Top 10 teams on the schedule at the half before losing all four games. That's left a definite sense of unfinished business that could be satisfied with a bowl victory over another tough opponent in West Virginia (8-3).
"The hype is over and we want to get down to business," senior tailback Devin West said. "We're not just happy to be here, we're going to work our butts off."
Smith changed his practice routine from last year, giving the team a week off after the season-ending 31-25 loss to then No. 2 Kansas State before going right back to work. They were sharp when they arrived in Tucson on Sunday, although the coach remains apprehensive.
"How do you know?" Smith said. "I'll tell you after the game. But I think we're a little better tempo just from the standpoint that everything last year was new."
Notes: The journey got off to a rough start when the team was forced to fly out of St. Louis due to icy weather in Columbia, Missouri, on Sunday and ran short of buses for the drive. "We were sitting on each other's laps," school spokesman Bob Brendel said. The team arrived in Tucson about 3 p.m. Sunday, more than five hours behind schedule. ... Players were happy to have escaped the inclement weather, even though it was cooler than usual in Tucson with temperatures in the low 60s Tuesday. "It doesn't bother me not to see snow on the ground," said linebacker Al Sterling, who is from Mesa, Arizona. ... Coaches and players are not too pleased with the rock-hard condition of the field at Catalina Foothills High School, their practice site. "It's ridiculous," Jones said. "We're playing on concrete with cleats on." ... With neither Missouri nor West Virginia bringing big traveling parties, mostly due to the game's proximity to Christmas, ticket sales continued to lag. Officials report about 33,000 tickets have been sold for the game at Arizona Stadium, which seats 57,000. Last year's Arizona-New Mexico matchup drew a record crowd of 49,385. Bowl spokesman Pete Tees anticipates a big walkup crowd, however, and a crowd in the mid-40,000s.
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