Upon landing in Mexico intent on conquering the Aztecs, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes ordered the boats that carried his men burned.
There would be no turning back. Cortes’ men would fight or they would die.
Some historians say Cortes sunk the boats, but the greater point remains — and it served as the basis for a fiery speech by Missouri sophomore defensive tackle Harold Brantley on Saturday before a 34-27 win at Texas A&M.
“Harold really got us going,” said senior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent, an Olathe North graduate. “He talked about burning the boats — there’s no way back, there’s no retreat, it’s win or die. We just got fired up.”
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Brantley was speaking to the Tigers’ defensive line group, but the entire locker room took notice of his speech.
“Oh, yeah, I heard it,” sophomore linebacker Michael Scherer said. “I’ve usually got my headphones on, minding my own business. When I started hearing Harold ramble around, I took them off for a second and listened in.”
Brantley isn’t the rah-rah type. He’s more soft spoken and rarely grants interviews.
Usually, Brantley prefers to let his play speak for him. This season, his stats scream that is coming into his own.
Brantley, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound Hershey, Pa., native, leads all Missouri interior defensive linemen with 40 tackles, including six for a loss, with four sacks and five quarterback hurries.
He suffered bruised ribs against the Aggies but returned to the field when X-rays were negative, also finding his voice in the locker room, evident by Saturday’s pregame pep talk.
“Harold’s the kind of guy, I would have listened to him even if he wasn’t making plays,” senior left tackle and captain Mitch Morse said. “That’s just the kind of character he is and the guy he is — very well-spoken and very intelligent.”
Inside the locker room at Kyle Field — which filled up with 104,756 fans, the largest crowd for a football game in Missouri history — everything came together as Brantley implored his MU teammate to press forward together.
“It was very intense,” Morse said. “It really moves us as a football team, because, maybe he’s just speaking to the D-line at the time, but everyone hears it and personalizes it to make it a message toward themselves.”
No. 19 Missouri, 8-2 and 5-1 in the SEC East, controls its own fate in the quest for a return to the Georgia Dome for a second consecutive SEC Championship Game, but the margin for error is razor thin.
The Tigers must win Saturday at Tennessee (6:30 p.m. on ESPN) — extending a nine-game road win streak and seven-game conference road win streak in the process — and Nov. 28 against Arkansas at home or Georgia gets the berth against the SEC West champion.
“We like our backs being against the wall, because it just means that there’s no turning back,” said junior defensive end Shane Ray, a Bishop Miege graduate. “Harold gave a speech about these warriors going to this island, where they were outnumbered 10-to-1 and the general of the warriors that went to the island burnt all the boats and said, ‘It’s either win or die.’ We preached that, that’s what we want to play like and that’s how we’re going to approach each one of these games. Our back’s against the wall, but that’s how we like it. It’s either win or nothing.”
Senior defensive end Markus Golden insists that Missouri doesn’t need impassioned speeches to understand what it’s playing for, but …
“Just putting on the Mizzou uniform gets us going, but there ain’t nothing wrong with Harold adding fuel to the fire,” Golden said. “It was a good speech. It got us going and got everybody fired up.”