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Tigers shelve turbulence, distraction to score win for Gary Pinkel

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's called "The GP Dance." Or simply, "The GP."

It's an exuberant, yet somewhat awkwardly clumsy, pattern of so-called dance movements displayed by Missouri coach Gary Pinkel when in an extreme state of delight. It originated after Mizzou's 2014 Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State, and it made its way to Arrowhead Stadium in triumphant fashion Saturday after the Tigers' 20-16 victory over BYU.

With his giddy team of Tigers circled around chanting "G-P, G-P," Pinkel rocked back and forth to the rhythm thumping in his head moments after an incredibly emotional celebration with his players, as they interrupted his postgame SEC Network interview.

After the week Pinkel had, he should have won "Dancing with the Stars" with those patented dad moves.

"It was a crazy, long week," said wide receiver J'Mon Moore, whose one-legged, tip-toe touchdown gave Mizzou its first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter.

Yes, it was, but it ended poetically for Mizzou.

Last Saturday night, Mizzou's football team threatened to boycott all football activities after some players joined a student-led movement under the banner Concerned Student 1950 to combat on-campus racial issues. Protests washed over the university, leaking into Monday morning before the football team's involvement in the movement eventually contributed to the resignation of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe.

During the week, some questioned Pinkel's motives in backing his team and his support for the actual movement itself.

The next surprise came Friday, when Pinkel abruptly announced he would resign as head coach following the season after being diagnosed in May with lymphoma. It was a secret he intended to keep from his team until next week's home finale -- Pinkel's final game coaching in Memorial Stadium with Mizzou -- but it was leaked early.

Just when you think everything's figured out, things change again.

"I'm glad we ended this week the way we did," senior center Evan Boehm said.

A football team and coach trying mightily to get back to some sort of normalcy battled an unquestionably difficult seven days and came out victorious. Even with an Arrowhead Stadium that didn't come close to filing its capacity of 79,451 as the backdrop to an already-mediocre season, the Tigers found new life as they put the drama behind them and played for one another.

The week's myriad off-the-gridiron distractions didn't follow the team on its 119-mile trip from Mizzou's campus to Arrowhead. There were very few visible reminders of the Concerned Student 1950 movement outside the stadium, even though the football team was a major catalyst in it. The heartfelt tribute to Pinkel took place after his team warmed up and while it was snugly in its locker room going through its pregame rituals.

The closest it got was in the waning moments, as chants of "Gar-y, Pin-kel" and "G-P" rained down from the stands.

The Tigers were shielded from the distractions, and after a slow first two quarters that amounted to nine total points and zero touchdowns, Mizzou found offensive life the likes of which it hadn't seen in months.

Moore's touchdown meant two in as many games after Mizzou failed to score a single touchdown in its previous three. Tyler Hunt's 1-yard plunge exactly three minutes later meant multiple touchdowns in a quarter for the first time in 32 quarters (since the third quarter against Arkansas State on Sept. 12).

Normal for Mizzou would have equated to yet another loss at the hands of a bumbling offense, and BYU entered at 7-2 and eyeing the chance to knock the Tigers deeper into what was turning into a bowl-less cavity. But on a night that meant so much to a team fighting for its season and its coach, the Tigers exploded for a season-high 434 yards with 23 first downs.

"That's a special group of guys out there," Pinkel said. "I'm so proud of my football team."

Pinkel deserved every hug, every tear and every moment of Saturday's hard-fought victory over the Cougars, but he honestly wasn't sure what to expect. After a Friday meeting he called "the most emotional 15 minutes of my life," Pinkel thought he doomed a team that was just getting its spirit back after a hectic start to the week. He thought he had filled his players with too much emotion, as he gazed at the tearful eyes, drooping heads and "scared" faces in front of him.

"I thought I blew it," he said.

Far from it.

This team was galvanized and confident heading into Saturday. Players said they didn't fear a rift in the locker room during the week and they didn't expect an emotional burden coming out of Friday. Saturday was a chance for the Tigers to remove themselves from the week that was and just play.

"This week definitely brought this team closer together more than ever," Moore said.