Picture: A scrawny Missouri freshman wakes up at 10 a.m., hops -- or falls -- off his top bunk and flips on his iPod speaker, proceeding to march around his two-man dorm room singing, "Every true son, so happy hearted! Skies above us are bluuuueeee!"
Yes, that was me the morning of my first Missouri football game. And three years later, I can still remember the feeling of elation coursing through me, my face glowing gold as my Tiger’s Lair t-shirt.
As an incoming freshman, I felt as if I was a lackluster Missouri fan. I grew up in St. Louis and quickly learned that the Tigers were the college team to root for, if only for geography’s sake. Neither of my parents were former Tigers, though my dad was a lifelong fan. And given the fact we had family in Lawrence, Kan., we figured it would be smart to introduce a little controversy into the family.
But I never had any real ties to the Tigers. I had friends who were big fans, of course. But their parents were alumni, and they made a few trips to Columbia each year to tailgate and watch their team take on the Big 12 foes they’d all grown -- literally -- to hate. My fandom was purely based on proximity. Even through my high school years, when I knew I was destined for Columbia from my freshman year, I never made it up to a football game.
So before September 1, 2012, I’d never set foot in Memorial Stadium.
But what a time to be an incoming freshman! Not only was Missouri football coming off a run of fairly successful years, but the anticipated move to the Southeastern Conference was finally here. I’d be transitioning with the university into this strange new world full of bowties, five-star recruits and, hopefully, national championships.
Now, I don’t need to recap the past few years for you. If you’re reading this, you’re a Tiger through and through. You know how fun the last few years have been, and you know how bright the future seems.
But I do want to try to explain what it's been like as a student during this time. This being my last year in Columbia, I’ve taken to spending a lot of time reflecting on the past three years of Missouri football and how great it feels to be standing here, from a program standpoint.
When I saw Faurot Field in person for the first time, Missouri was perceived as a middling and sometimes above-average Big 12 school that was in waaaayyyyy over its head. I was used to seeing eager SEC fans in online forums salivating over the opportunity to put the overconfident Tigers in their place. I was tired of seeing sportswriters insinuate that Missouri wasn’t ready to take part in the big-boy football of the SEC. I just really, really wanted my school to prove somebody, anybody, wrong. And since that time, I’ve been privileged to see the following, all in person:
- Shane Ray running away with a recovered fumble and a Cotton Bowl victory over an old Big 12 enemy.
- A second SEC championship game in two seasons, one year removed from everyone calling the Tigers’ success a fluke.
- Students and athletes alike forming a human wall around campus when the Westboro Baptist Church came to direct its hate at one of our fellow classmates. (This isn’t a specifically football memory. But if that’s not a mark of progress in my time at Missouri, I don’t know what is.)
I’ve always found that the beautiful part of college athletics is the fans have a deeper connection to their team than they do to professional teams. You root for your favorite NFL or MLB team because of where you’re from or where your family is from.
But in college, there’s a sense of investment, especially if you’re an alumnus. You can remember the feel of game days; the smell of barbecue in the air; the sound of tens of thousands of fans roaring their approval over a touchdown; the weight of crushing silence after a missed field goal (yes, I was there in 2013, and no, I don’t want to talk about it.)
But more importantly, at one point in time, you were a student, just like the athletes. You saw them on campus and maybe shared a class or two. For just a few years, they weren’t these unapproachable god-like figures with fat bank accounts and shiny cars; they were equals. You felt their triumphs and failures, because in a small and solely emotional way, they were your triumphs and failures. And when you’ve been present on campus, like I and so many others have been, at a time of heightened excitement and success, even the low moments (*cough* laces out *cough*) carry a sort of grandiosity and sentimentality. They were the brief, if sharp, valleys on the way up the tall mountains that "we" climbed.
So as Saturday, and another Missouri football season, looms, I’m anticipating my last climb. Here’s to the fun times of the past three years and many more to come.
When I wake up on Saturday, I’ll flip on my iPod and march around my room hollering, "There’s a spirit so deep within us, old Missouri here’s to yoooouuuuu!" It’s become a game day tradition.