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November 10, 2005

Powered up: Will you be there?

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At 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, the greatest player ever to put on the black and gold will be introduced as a starter for the final time at Faurot Field.

To be fair, and I think this is an important point, this is senior day for Jason Simpson and Tony Palmer and Calvin Washington and Marcus King and A.J. Kincade and Justin Scott and Derrick Ming and Sean Coffey and Arnold Britt and Chris Crosby and Zach Kauflin and Elgin Childress and Earl Stephens and Quincy Wade and Scott Wheatley as well.

In no way am I demeaning the importance of this day to them, or their importance to this program. Guys like Ming and Britt and Wade and Stephens deserve endless credit for sticking out seasons of hardly seeing the field to contribute as seniors. Childress had that chance cut short by a knee injury this season and has had to go through the pain of watching his teammates each and every week. Kauflin beat cancer just to be able to step on the field with his classmates this Saturday. There are great stories throughout this class.

But only one is the greatest story. Only one is known coast to coast as the face of Missouri football.

Brad Smith would rather you didn't make a big deal of his final home game.

"Oh, yeah. I'd rather go out and play, go out there with my teammates," Smith said. "Just go out there and have fun."

But Smith knows as well as anyone that won't happen. About 15 minutes before kickoff, the Tiger seniors will walk to the center of the field with their parents. A video chronicling Smith's four years and 45 previous starts will run at some point during the senior day ceremony. And then, thousands and thousands of Tiger fans will watch greatness for the final time.

Why should you go to Saturday's game against Baylor? What's the point of driving hours on end to watch a fairly meaningless game between mediocre teams battling to make a minor bowl game?

You should go so you can say you were there.

The game's not on television. No one outside of Columbia is going to see this one, save a few seconds on the news here and there. When Brad Smith heads into the Faurot Field locker room for the final time, don't you want to be one the ones that can say you saw history?

From the unbelievable debut against Illinois in 2002 to the unmatched in school history thrashing of Nebraska, Smith has given Tiger fans some of the greatest memories of their lives in the last four seasons. Pick a play. Is it the touchdown run to give the Tigers the lead over Oklahoma? Is it the game-winner in overtime against Middle Tennessee? Is it the reception from Darius Outlaw against the Cornhuskers? Or maybe the 60-yard run for his fifth touchdown of the day against Texas Tech? It hasn't been perfect, the record is just a game above .500, but, then, even Matt Leinart will lose a game eventually.

Besides, the record isn't what you should remember about Brad Smith. Neither, for that matter, are any of the numbers. Throughout Smith's redshirt freshman season, I lived in South Dakota (trust me, following on GameTracker doesn't do justice to the moves this kid has). I heard all about what a great player and, more importantly, a great person Smith was. You hear that all the time about people who really don't turn out to be all that fantastic either on the field or off. Then I interviewed Smith for the first time at Big 12 media day prior to the 2003 season. I came away awestruck. This kid really was too good to be true.

I walked away from that interview impressed. After a bowl game, a disappointing junior season and a senior script that's yet to be finished, if anything, I'm even more impressed. Brad Smith is the man you want your son to grow up to be. Surely, I'm exaggerating, right? Nope. After the biggest win of the kid's career, he was screaming at his coach to help out a fan who had been blindsided by a Nebraska player. No exaggeration necessary.

Every Tiger fan has his own lasting impression of Smith. Ask the understated (and even that's an understatement) quarterback from Youngstown his favorite memory of Faurot and you'll get an answer fairly similar to any other question you ask him: "I haven't really thought about it. Every time you go out there, it's something new."

But after this time, there is no other time. Saturday is Smith's final chance to make memories on the field he has traversed for more yards than any other Tiger. After that, you can see him in Manhattan. Hopefully, you'll have a chance to watch him on ESPN in some minor bowl game. But if you want to see Brad Smith in person, this is just about it.

My sons will be two of the 60,000 or so Tiger fans in attendance on Saturday, sitting alongside my wife and my mother, the eight-year old in his autographed No. 16 jersey, the three-year old more excited about seeing Truman than some faceless guy playing quarterback. I'm glad they have a ticket. In ten years, whether Brad Smith is still juking linebackers out of their shoes or singing in his church choir in Ohio, I want my boys to be able to say they were there the day a legend played his last game on Faurot Field.

I'll be there. Will you?


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