Dixieland Delight: Missouri (Part Two)
17. Back out on the street, the Mizzou cabs can definitely not hang in the SEC.
There are no cabs anywhere.
A Mizzou sophomore from New Jersey named Jeff Parles answers my Twitter hail mary. You can find him on Twitter here. Jeff, who came to Mizzou for the journalism school, and his friends leave the dorm and pick us up on the street near Harpo's. They're driving a black Nissan Sentra and Jeff has brought two of his friends with him which means that Chad sits in Hiinton's lap for the four-mile drive back to the Days Inn.
"What do you weigh?" Hinton groans as we take a corner a bit too fast.
Outside of Chad's room a large, barefoot black woman in a tiny miniskirt -- not the good kind -- leans up against the railing smoking a cigarette. The door behind her is open and a shirtless man is sitting on the edge of the bed, head bent over, you can almost see the thought bubble rising, "Am I really paying for this?"
She shares a wall with Chad.
In our hotel room, now tropical with the scent of holes in ceiling and fetid water, I climb into bed.
Only to discover that I only have one sheet on my bed. And that sheet is scratchy and unwashed, it feels like a beach towel that's gotten wet and been left outside all day.
Hinton -- and this is the complete truth -- has bought bug spray and he sprays his torso down before climbing into bed.
18. Approximately five hours later, I wake up, unable to breathe, my nose is running and somehow I've gotten sick overnight in our room.
Hinton, who has a theory that no matter how much he drinks if he wakes up early the next morning and works out he won't have a hangover, is out running laps around the Days Inn. This makes him the first person to run laps around our hotel without being pursued by cops since 1988.
But it's gameday, always exciting no matter the circumstances.
Chad is ready for breakfast -- he says the prostitute wasn't too loud last night -- but he also texts me a terrifying photo that is one of the eight channels offered by our Days Inn.
Notwithstanding the portal into hell that our hotel can somehow pick up on the television, we're off for breakfast at Broadway Diner, a long-lasting landmark in Columbia.
Then it's back to the Days Inn where Hinton and I, former moot court teammates at Vandy in 2001, tell the Day's Inn manager that we'll be leaving after one night. (I've booked a hotel by the St. Louis airport for post-game. And for those asking, the reason we were staying at the Columbia Days Inn was because there was literally no other hotel in the entire town. Book early, or beware.).
19. We head back to Shiloh to watch the early SEC game, Auburn at Missisippi State, with SI's Stewart Mandel and SB Nation's Bill Connelly.
It's a perfect day in Columbia, yesterday's storms have brought in cool air, it feels like fall and there isn't a cloud in the sky.
We watch Mississippi State destroy Auburn and then head for Harpo's, Columbia's quintessential college bar. It's packed with Georgia and Mizzou fans, most of whom are watching Florida-Texas A&M. We go upstairs to the open-air top deck, which is so crowded you can barely move. There's only one television upstairs and it's turned to the Big Ten Network's Iowa-Iowa State coverage. Feeling that this must be a mistake -- with only one television how could anyone want to watch a Big Ten game while a big SEC game is going on? -- I attempt to change the channel.
But, no, an Iowa fan in Mizzou gear is actually watching Iowa-Iowa State.
Uh oh, the first cultural issue of conference realignment.
Putting an Iowa-Iowa State game on the only television on a rooftop bar when an SEC game is on at the same time would get you thrown off a rooftop bar in all 12 SEC towns. This is not an exaggeration.
In Mizzou, however, you are still permitted to live.
We go back downstairs and stand at the main bar watching Florida-A&M.
The entire bar is rooting for A&M.
(Near halftime we meet with Blaise D'Sylva, a VP at Anheuser Busch who is in town for the game. He's a great guy and you're going to be seeing a Budweiser/OKTC relationship up and running soon. Thanks to you guys for all the support, site traffic is truly insane.).
Harpo's is outstanding, but now it's time to tailgate.
20. As much as I love Mizzou so far, the tailgate environment is lacking.
It's not that people aren't tailgating, they are, thousands of people are out and about on a perfect day in Columbia, it's that the stadium is not ideally situated to allow tailgating to flourish.
Faurot Field sits nestled in a valley easily reached from the center of campus. But there are obstacles. There's a four lane street that divides the football stadium from the main campus. It's not easy to cross this street, particularly when you've been drinking. And there's a huge hospital complex that dominates a large area near the stadium and limits tailgating here. Both of these issues conspire to limit the tailgate environment.
After all, what makes tailgating great? I'm not a tailgating expert, but if you really boil it down these are the two important factors: 1. proximity to the stadium and 2. ease with which you can move from one tailgate location to another.
That's it in a nutshell, right?
Mizzou doesn't have very many tailgate spots that are close to the stadium and you can spend a ton of time attempting to move from one friend's tailgate to another.
This isn't really a Mizzou fan problem -- again, there are tons of people tailgating -- and lots of them, such as these girls here, are really hot. (You can see more pictures here).
But the issue is that Mizzou's football stadium hasn't been designed with tailgating in mind.
Faurot Field seats 71,004 and I'd wager that only a few thousand parking spots, if that many, are actually close to the stadium.
As if that wasn't enough, it can be incredibly difficult for someone who is drinking heavily to make it safely from one tailgate spot to another.
I'm not sure how to remedy this because there isn't a ton of available land close by, but it's a detriment. Now, don't get me wrong, it doesn't kill tailgating at Mizzou, but there's no central location that serves as the tailgating mecca, a must-see location where tens of thousands can gather before the game.
The only other issue I had with Mizzou tailgates was the relative paucity of flat screens set up showing games. SEC fans have made an art form of having massive television screens showing every game that's going on at the same time as the tailgate. So you can hang out by your tailgate, drink and eat as much as is humanly possible -- and more, hence the puking -- all while sitting outside and keeping tabs on the biggest games of the day.
What's more, SEC fans are welcoming of others checking out games on their televisions. So if you're walking from one tailgate spot to another and a game is going on, you can keep tabs on a game by stopping every now and then and watching a few plays before continuing your journey.
I saw hardly any televisions at Mizzou.
21. But the couple of televisions I did see were turned to the Kansas-Rice game.
And Mizzou fans were rooting against Kansas with a fiery passion.
Which I loved seeing.
Not because I hate Kansas, but just because there's nothing better than in college sports than a bottomless pit of bile that one team reserves for a hated rival. This is another solid sign about Mizzou's entrance to the SEC, while everyone is incredibly friendly and welcoming, the reservoir of hate is there, percolating just beneath the surface. After all, hate is just the flip side of love, both are rooted in passion. I understand that Kansas level hate is special -- after all, you literally killed each other back in Civil War era -- but I feel confident that at some point this Mizzou-Arkansas game is going to turn into a hell of a rivalry.
Yes, yes, I know, you didn't kill each other over slavery like Missouri and Kansas did, but it's a start. Maybe we can start the rumor that Jessica Dorrell was sent by Mizzou fans to seduce Bobby Petrino, thereby wrecking Razorback football for the next decade.
There will also be other emerging SEC rivalries.
Because Mizzou fans have the requisite hate to allow a rivalry to fester.
This is encouraging.
22. So the tailgating isn't perfect, but the welcome is.
Mizzou fans are going out of their way to make Georgia fans feel at home. They want you to enjoy your experience in Columbia. This is another tremendous cultural trait of the SEC. (I'm starting to see why Missouri had a star on the Confederate battle flag after all).
Yes, even the Georgia fan with the mullet who is wearing the David Pollack jersey for the second consecutive day. (Seriously, it's one thing for a grown man to wear a jersey. An awful thing, granted, but still, I'll give anyone a pass. But doubling down on the same jersey? Wow.)
Mizzou fans also welcoming Georgia fans like 26 year old Phil Mitchell, who lives in Birmingham, and has been to 99 straight Bulldog games. Asked what he thinks of Columbia, Mitchell replies, "It's really cool. I think SEC fans are going to like it here an awful lot."
And they are, Chad is having a great time in Columbia. If only he wasn't so nervous about kickoff. "I feel sick to my stomach," he confesses.
23. Hinton, who as a student was pepper-sprayed at the miracle kick game against Nebraska, has spent the past couple of days explaining Mizzou football to me.
The fifth down game that led to a Colorado national title, the kicked ball that led to a Nebraska national title, the all-too brief capture of the number one BCS ranking in 2007 before it was snatched away by Oklahoma, the fan sense that Mizzou is always right at the precipice of greatness, that just before the program takes the proverbial "next step" someone yanks away the staircase.
Now comes the SEC and now comes Georgia a top ten team.
Yet another chance to win, to show the nation that Mizzou is a big-time program.
By kickoff fans want to win so bad you can almost taste it on the frenzied breath of tens of thousands of gold-clad Tiger fans chanting M-I-Z and then the responsive Z-O-U. The painted white rock M almost seems to be bouncing as a swarm of fans cavort around it at kickoff.
Now is the time for Mizzou to take that next step.
24. Look, I'm familiar with the criticisms that some have leveled about Mizzou's move to the SEC, that a program which hasn't won a league title since 1969 has no hope of ever competing in the SEC.
And I just don't buy it.
I've told everyone who has asked me that Mizzou football will be more successful in the SEC than it has been without being the SEC. A rising SEC tide is truly lifting all boats in the BCS era. Don't believe me? Let's toss aside the top programs in the SEC, five of whom have won national titles in the BCS era -- Florida, Auburn, Tennessee, LSU, and Alabama. (Georgia is the other traditional power in this mix and the Bulldogs have done fine as well). Let's look at what the "lesser" six SEC programs have managed in this time, when the league has become ascendant nationally. Kentucky went to five straight bowl games and has been to nearly half of its career bowl games in the past 14 years. South Carolina won ten games in 2010 and advanced to the SEC title game for the first time ever. Last year the Gamecocks won 11 games for the first time ever. This year I picked them to win a national title and they are currently in the top ten. Last year Vandy's seniors became the first group in school history to attend two bowl games. Arkansas was on its way to contending for a national title before l'affaire Petrino, Mississippi State put up 50 points on Michigan in a New Year's Day Bowl game and may win ten regular season games for the first time in school history this year. Meanwhile, Ole Miss has been to three Cotton Bowls in the past nine years. Prior to that the team hadn't played in a prime-time bowl game since the 1960's.
What I'm getting at is simple, the SEC brand is valuable, and all programs are more successful relative to past program tradition once they are connected to that brand. It's lazy of some writers and professional talkers to argue that Mizzou will fail in the SEC because it's not Alabama. The fact of the matter is simple, Mizzou's football program will be better than it has been historically in the SEC.
25. We work our way to Faurot Field, which is electric as kickoff nears.
I mean, absolutely electric.
Mizzou fans have spent all day drinking and months looking forward to the exact moment when SEC commissioner Mike Slive will come out to midfield for the ceremonial coin flip. Now that the moment is here, they're absolutely delirious. Mizzou football has officially arrived in the SEC.
No matter who you root for, the hairs on your arms are standing up at kickoff.
26. By now you know what happened in the game.
Mizzou led 17-9 midway through the third quarter and the game was tight until the final eight minutes when Georgia's old man football won the day.
Post-game a dejected Hinton, who now lives in Fayetteville, can't believe that Arkansas also lost. To Louisiana-Monroe, no less. As we walk across the parking lot near midnight, the detritus of a day of football strewn around us, it's cool and quiet in Columbia.
It's only September 8th, but it already feels like fall.
"We just need," Hinton says, " a few more horses."
Asked what he thinks of Mizzou, Georgia fan Chad nods. "It's already a whole hell of a lot better than Florida," he says.
Welcome to the SEC, Mizzou, we're proud to have you and I have no doubts that you're a great fit culturally and athletically.
Just don't ever let a visitor stay at the Days Inn.
And get some cabs.
27. And thank you for introducing me to your miniskirts.
Proving their SEC dedication -- and the wide distribution of part one of my Mizzou article -- the Mizzou girls in miniskirts at Shiloh on Friday night, the ones I didn't ask to get my picture taken with, reached out to OKTC and passed along a couple of photos from their night.
It was Taylor's 21st birthday.
And in true SEC fashion, she made it through 21 shots. "Of course I did," she said via email, "you get a lot of s--- at Mizzou if you don't make it to 21."
Indeed, Taylor, indeed.
Here are some of the girls posing with a scrapbook of some sort. I assume it's love letters for T.J. Moe.
And here they are posing for the over-the-shoulder look.
And the girls made it out for tailgating the next day.
Several in actual Mizzou miniskirts.
Before I went to Columbia, I didn't think the SEC sundress could be topped.
Then I met the Mizzou miniskirt.
I'm not sure how long it will take for Mizzou to become a legit competitor in the SEC, but I'll tell you this much for sure -- the sundress is in for one hell of a tailgate battle.