Debating William & Mary, sports and culture since 2011. Updated every Wednesday.

SEC Blues

In Football on September 6, 2013 at 8:31 pm

CDH Editor Ian Brickey was at the Missouri Tigers’ home opener against the Murray State Racers. Mizzou won the game 58-14. This is what he remembers.

By and large, college students hate mornings. Mornings on college campuses are supposed to be reserved for two kinds of people: suckers who got the late jump on class registration and people skulking around in what they wore the night before. But Mizzou is different. If it’s possible, Mizzou almost feels more alive during the early morning. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I woke up Saturday to a text that said, “Wake the f— up and get ready.”

Football is kind of a big deal at Mizzou. And since the Tigers joined the Southeastern Conference in 2012, that football culture has only increased. It doesn’t matter that the Tigers aren’t expected to do anything in the conference this year. Saturday home games are high holy days in Columbia, Mo., and must be treated accordingly. This includes tailgates, alumni events and parties. I went to William and Mary, and I was unprepared for this. At William and Mary, tailgating was what sad old crones did out of the trunks of a few Camrys before heading back to the Washington, D.C. suburbs. With a bit of luck, the game was over before before your freshman hallmate’s band performed awful Carbon Leaf covers at Homebrew.

So, when my friend invited me to attend the Tigers opening game of the 2013 season against the Murray State Racers, I jumped at the opportunity. You see, not only has Missouri’s college football culture increased since 2012, it’s changed. Tigers fans held out hope for a Big Ten invite, but they’ve fallen hard for the SEC. Mizzou traded the ball caps and tee shirts of the Big 12 for Sperrys, button-downs, croakies and sun dresses. I went to the store, picked up a new yellow button-down shirt and a new pair of shoes.

Decked out in my purchases and a pair of khaki shorts, I went to meet my friend. We agreed to set up camp in one of the university parking garages about a mile from the stadium. Some people pay as much as $25 to park near the stadium. But with no fee, no police and a location right next to Columbia’s entertainment district, the garage was as close to perfect as you could get. I parked my car and found my friend. She was dressed in a white sun dress, gold belt, gold sandals and black Jackie O sunglasses. To complete the ensemble, she had a large gold button emblazoned with a black “M” pinned to her dress. She pushed a full thermos into my chest. “You need to catch up. It’s screwdrivers.”

Our first stop was Harpo’s, a traditional Columbia hot spot with just the right combination of sports bar and college bar. When we walked in, I was surprised at how empty the place was. But then I remembered the game started at 6 p.m., and it wasn’t quite noon. We sat down at a booth and ordered two beers. I’m 25, but it still feels like I’m getting away murder when I don’t get carded at a bar. It was only after our waitress brought the beers that I realized our outfits screamed “we’ve planned this trip for weeks and the kids are at their grandparents’ house.” Since it was early, there were only a handful of games in progress, but one of those happened to be William and Mary-West Virginia. My friend and I had time to kill, so we watched the Tribe take on the Mountaineers. During a long Mountaineers drive, one of the bartenders changed the channel to the Florida game. I asked one of the waitresses if she could switch back to the Tribe.

Me: “I’m sorry, I’m sure I’m the only person in here right now that actually cares about this game, but I went to William and Mary, and I was wondering if you could change the channel to the W&M-West Virginia game.”

Waitress: “Sure, hold on just one second.”

[pause]

Waitress: “I’m sorry, which game did you say?”

Me: “William and Mary.”

Waitress: “Okay, hold on.”

[another pause]

Waitress: “I’m sorry, one more time, ha ha?”

Me: “West Virginia.”

Waitress: “Ohhhhhhh, okay.”

Nearly all of my football memories are of Tribe games. At William and Mary, students get in free to football games with a student ID, and in fours years, I missed exactly one home game. Those home games produced a surprising amount of action. I saw then-Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco dismantle the Tribe defense in a 2007 game. I particularly remember the 2008 William and Mary-Richmond game. The Tribe and the Spiders have played each other every year since 1898, and some sources refer to it as “the South’s Oldest Rivalry.” It’s always the final game of the season, and it’s often the biggest game of the season. But the 2008 game was particularly important. The team that won the 2008 game would gain an FCS playoff berth. Richmond dominated the game for most of four quarters and were up by two scores. But with 3:02 left to play, Tribe cornerback Derek Cox returned a Richmond punt 80 yards for a score to make it 20-13. William and Mary recovered an onside kick and drove 59 yards downfield, ultimately scoring on Jake Phillips’s quarterback sneak to tie the game at 20. The final score ultimately went Richmond’s way, 23-20, but that game still stands out in my mind: Phillips airing the ball out and throwing what seemed like six interceptions, me leaving the game with less than five minutes left, sneaking back in after Cox’s punt return, beating my roommate’s shoulders when the Tribe tied the score, and that final disappointment watching the Spiders rush onto our field.

The Tribe-Mountaineers game reminded me a lot of that 2008 game. William and Mary managed to blow a decent halftime lead on their way to a 24-17 loss. Once the game ended, we decided to move to another bar.

We settled on the Heidelberg. It’s another old Columbia establishment — “The Old Heidelberg Restaurant: Since 1964.” It burned down in the 1980s, so the “Old Heidelberg” is actually the “new” Heidelberg. We sat down at a table in a back room and wanted something lighter so we ordered shandys. The room was filled with Tigers fans, your typical moms and dads: loafers with socks, black and gold polos straining to stay tucked into khaki shorts and weathered Mizzou caps likely purchased back in the days of the Big 8. We ordered some food to go with our shandys. As we waited, several members of my friend’s family joined us at the table. The food came and more shandys were ordered. We finished our food and decided against a final round. By now it was 4:30 and we were ready to start the tailgate.

Our expanded party shuffled over to the university parking garage. My friend produced a cooler from the back of a car and handed out beers. Kickoff was fast approaching, so with about half of the cooler gone, we decided to start moving toward Faurot Field. But first, a bathroom break.

“Where can we go to the bathroom.”

“We can stop by the Methodist church.”

“Yeah, but we should finish our beers first.”

“Why?”

“You really want to drink in a church?”

“I mean…”

“And the Methodists are pretty much Teetotalers.”

“Alright, fine. We’ll just chug them in the parking lot.”

None of us felt like walking the mile to the stadium, so we decided to take one of the circulator buses. The bus dropped us off at a parking lot near the stadium. We followed the crowd toward the stadium and moved inside.

Our seats were very good — the fifth row at the goal line on the alumni side. The marching band played the Star-Spangled Banner, the team came out to cannon blasts and smoke and the crowd went wild. As the Tigers jogged toward their sideline, the band played “Every True Son,” Mizzou’s fight song. Murray State won the toss and elected to receive. The game was about to start.

The final score was 58-14 in favor of Mizzou. The game itself was probably the least interesting part of the day, because really, how much can you say about an FBS-FCS matchup that turns out exactly how it’s supposed to? After two unexpected Murray State touchdowns, the Tigers dusted the cobwebs off their offense. Quarterback James Franklin played like a D-I quarterback for about the first time in a year. Running back Henry Josey showed off the skills that made him one of the top three backs in college football before a devastating knee injury shut him down in 2011. And Dorial Green-Beckham seemed to get back on track after a disappointing freshman season with five catches for 75 yards.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the remaining members of the crowd got on their feet. The stadium was only about two-thirds full by that point, but it felt much fuller and louder than it had nearly three hours earlier. That feeling carried over to the bars, which were filled to capacity. By last call, I was exhausted and collapsed in my hotel room. The next morning, I again woke up in Columbia, but this time, it was a different town. The streets were emptier, crushed paper cups and empty beer cans littered the sidewalks. And I had one thought: “I can’t wait until next week.” It will be fun and loud and raucous and glorious. I’ll have to prepare again — this is SEC football after all. But the next time I get that Saturday morning text, I’ll be ready.

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