Wednesday, October 7, 2015

100

Columbia never ages.

Or so it seems. Restaurants change. Towers of downtown apartments keep popping up. Mizzou switched conferences. They tore down Shakespeare’s, for goodness sake.

But the college town remains fairly timeless, Missouri’s fountain of youth. College kids still arrive every August, their youth and energy giving Columbia a second spring each year. The quad is still regal and Columns-y. Downtown still buzzes on Fridays and Saturdays and really Thursdays, too, because the week is pretty much over anyway, right? And students and alumni still flock to the old bowl south of campus for football games in the fall, like they have for 90 autumns now.

We all get older, but Mizzou Homecoming can trick you into thinking time has turned back and you’re a student again. Visiting the familiar old places and taking part in the traditions, the years melt away. Homecoming is a time for reflection and nostalgia.

So in a thoroughly satisfying quirk, Saturday’s Homecoming game against Florida is my 100th Mizzou football game. This will make it 75 games at Faurot Field, 15 neutral site games and 10 road games. (Some of those neutral site games were not entirely neutral; sharing the Georgia Dome with hordes of raucous Auburn and Alabama fans comes to mind.)

My first Mizzou game was another time, the last game of the 2002 season. Kansas State hammered Missouri, 38-0. It was the last game with a grass field at Faurot. East stadium tower renovations. The official attendance was 47,000 and change. There are links to then, obviously, but life then is almost hard to recognize now. I wore a 49ers shirt to the game and was more into the NFL back then. I had no clue what Facebook would be and how it would shape aspects of my social life in the years to come. I didn’t even know who Roger Federer was, something that makes the 2015 version of myself purse my lips and slowly shake my head.

But for all the changes, Faurot Field was still Faurot Field; the same bowl where Missouri fans have congregated in cold and heat and rain and perfect fall days for generations, with the Rock M on one end and trees peeking over the stands on the other end, ablaze with color in the fall.

Missouri alum Tom Shatel, now an outstanding columnist for the Omaha World-Herald, once wrote that Faurot was a “portrait of autumn,” and that it was where he fell in love with college football.
It’s also where I fell in love with college football, with a tough loss in the 2004 Homecoming game, Game 6, and seeing the Columns for the first time after the game.

The football has been wildly entertaining, but college football has always been about more than just games. It’s a lifestyle, memories with friends and family, a good time. It’s road trips to experience new college towns and tailgates and beautiful women milling about and going out the night before games and games in the student section and chatting up girls at halftime and the buzz around town heading into a big showdown and endless idle chatter about how the team will fare. It’s how quiet exiting the stadium is after losses and how festive it is after wins. It’s a steak grilled perfectly and pop in glass bottles as the pregame hours slowly melt away. It’s thrilling and colorful and goosebump-inducing and musical and something you share with friends, friendships you maintain long after college.

These 100 games have filled page after page in the photo album of my memory. Game 13, my first Homecoming as a student when Chase Daniel led Missouri to a comeback win. Game 24, when some friends and I rode a bus to the Sun Bowl in El Paso and Rhianna performed at halftime even though it was a mid-tier bowl in the middle of nowhere and we (the busload of students, not Rhianna) got into a snowstorm and had to spend the night in Roswell, New Mexico. Game 33, the epic Border War win over Kansas, when intensity hung in the cold, clear air at Arrowhead Stadium; truly one for the ages. Game 45, when I shot a buck that morning and then some of us drove up to the game at Iowa State and it was so incredibly cold half the stadium yelled “Wind!” and the other half yelled “Chill!”

Game 51, when it rained relentlessly and the stadium sound system wasn’t working and Nebraska came back from nowhere to beat the Tigers. Game 61, when College Gameday came to Mizzou and Gahn McGaffie ran back the opening kick for a touchdown and the Tigers beat BCS No. 1 Oklahoma.

Game 72, Missouri’s first SEC Conference game, against Georgia, a massive change and a departure from 100 years of history; a wild, frenzied scene. Game 84, a road trip to magical little Oxford, Mississippi, with its courthouse square and its Grove and its Rebelettes, and I fell in love with all three and fully embraced the SEC. Game 85, when Mizzou beat Texas A&M to stunningly win the SEC East and “Georgia on my mind” played on the stadium speakers. Game 90, a fantastic road trip to South Carolina for a thrilling win, and Game 94, a fantastic road trip to Tennessee for a thrilling win that included me seeing Tim Tebow the night before and saying, “Hey... Tim!” Game 95, a comeback win against Arkansas to clinch another SEC East title as a gorgeous sunset lit up the sky above Faurot Field and everything was magic and the stadium was rocking.

Games 34, 47, 86 and 96, the sound and fury of conference title games, each excruciating losses. Gary Pinkel got so close to the brass win and was turned away, only to keep chasing.

And now, Game 100 under the lights, a big divisional game against those surging Gators. I realize it’s kind of nerdy and perhaps even self-aggrandizing to have kept track of each game I’ve attended, but I’ve learned that as fun as college football is, it’s at its best when you share it with the people you love. I’ve been fortunate to be doing that for several years now.

Here’s to the next 100.

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