Tailgating is a learned art. Nobody comes out the gate and is amazing the first time, because there’s just so much that can be done. From the menu, to the location, even to the crew you take with you; there’s a lot that goes into making the most of the event. This same principle holds true to building up a team or program. It takes more than just one player to turn a team into a powerhouse. The perfect blend of coaching, talent and experience has to come to pass. In my case, my tailgating life and the team it surrounded came together in a perfect storm like this.
The Missouri Tigers were bad, for a long time. When I got to Mizzou, it was easier to get a ticket to a football game than it was to get a seat in class. However, things began to change. The new coach (Gary Pinkel) was in play, the exceptional player was leading the way (Brad Smith) and the team was on their way to some success. As the team began winning, even better players wanted to join. By 2007 there was no such thing as just walking over to Faurot Field and getting a ticket on game day, it was sold out on the weekly.
Also, the rise of prominence of the program brought TV cameras and night game spots, which made for full day (and into the night) tailgating affairs. One of the greatest tailgate nights of them all was born from a meeting of the coming-of-age team, against a long-standing rival that had tortured the Tigers for decades. It was a home game, at night, under the lights & sold out.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers came to town in 2007 for this game, and the entire day was dedicated to getting ready for them. My crew and I spared no time either, I was up at 6:00 A.M. to get a prime parking spot on the main tailgating grounds down the street from the stadium. After we got the spot, we came back out with the food, and 12 hours of tailgating was about to get underway.
Soon, what used to be my SUV became a one-stop tailgate shop. Coolers lined the backseats and a buffet of meats, buns, sauces, potato salad and chips came out the back hatch. In the front seat, music blared out the speakers; everything was amazing. The game was about to get underway long before either team took to the field.
Soon, the people who manned the truck across the aisle in the parking lot showed up…and they were wearing the WRONG colors for where they were at. The red and white of the Huskers fans that occupied the spot across from us stood out in a major way. Then they took a huge team flag from the truck and staked it down in the ground. That was a declaration of war, as far as we were concerned. The trash talking kicked off immediately, and early on, they were blowing us out. Before Mizzou had scored a victory in 2003, they had won 24 consecutive games against us. However, since then we had gone back and forth, with each team defending their home ground. For hours, there was plenty of yelling, chanting and jokes made back and forth.
Eventually, it came time to put up or shut up and we made a bet: whoever wins gets to take all of the loser’s beers and food back with them afterwards. So now, it was game time for real.
The game kicked off, and Mizzou never turned back. The Tigers won 41-6, and Nebraska didn’t even get on the scoreboard until the third quarter. It didn’t take that long for us to get what was coming our way. By halftime, it was over and our visiting neighbors were ready to wave the white flag (which they had so bravely planted on our grounds earlier). On the field, the Tigers won the Victory Bell, which goes to the winner of the rivalry game. However, down the street, we won a much sweeter gift: surplus of the best tasting beers Nebraska could bring…with a hint of the taste of victory.
We were merciful and let them keep their food; they’d need it for the long trip back to Nebraska as losers.
Matt Whitener is contributing writer/manager for StLouisSports360.com