Fans embrace Mizzou opening day

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COLUMBIA - The sun had barely started to rise over Columbia on Saturday, yet there was a line of cars waiting down Tiger Avenue. Black and gold clad fans waited patiently outside of Lot L for the 7a.m. open time. 

For the first time in eight months, it was football Saturday.

The chirping of morning birds was quickly drowned out by the sound of whirring generators, music and the smell bacon crisping on the grill. 

For the fans in Lot L, tailgating is an art. Many have been parking in the same spot for every tiger home game for decades. To some, tailgating is just important as the game itself. 

"A lot goes into it. There's like four or five couples that plan everything. We meet in the summer to plan out the menus for the fall.We have everything all organized. It takes us about half an hour to get set up," said Melodie Powell. Powell is the woman in charge of the "Lot L Lair and Bistro," a compound made up of four large tents that features a chandelier and TV viewing area.

Mizzou football is coming off of a 5-7 season, which featured heartbreaking losses to Middle Tennessee State and Georgia, both at home. These fans have forgotten about that. Now, it is a new season.

For some, a sense of renewal for the season created a sense of hope for the University itself. 

"We are so proud of the school at this point," said Powell. "We got some bad press this summer, which was totally unnecessary, and we are so excited about the way Mizzou is stepping forward and how we're moving up and getting this wonderful university back to the stature that it was a few years ago, if not better."

Saturday's season opener had an especially special atmosphere, as Mizzou set to square off against in-state competitor Missouri State for the first time in 94 years. 

The match up against the Bears is personal for some Tiger supporters. In August, Missouri State President Clif Smart stated that his school had plans to become "the undergraduate choice for Missouri." For some Mizzou fans, that claim has no value.

"I don't think there's any doubt that the University of Missouri is right here in Columbia. This is the flagship institution of the state. The amount of research that goes on here, the amount of dollars raised through research, the patents that are issued, and all of the money we've raised for fundraising," said Powell.

Missouri State fans made their presence felt at the tailgate, however. Dozens of maroon and white shirts dotted the black and gold crowd. Among them is Jerry Short, a Missouri State alumnus, who now regularly tailgates Tiger football games.

"I've always been a Mizzou supporter, even when I was at Missouri State. But when Missouri State plays Missouri in either football or basketball, I'm going to wear the colors of my alma mater. I'm proud of them," said Short.

Missouri State is in its third year under former Mizzou assistant coach Dave Steckel. The bears are 5-17 under the former Tiger defensive coordinator.

"Hopefully they'll be better this year. They struggled a bit last year, and they've struggled a bit in the past, but I'm looking forward to a really good season for Missouri State," said Short.

Yet, on Saturday morning in Lot L, there were no worries. There was no animosity among fans from different sides. Fans laughed, ate, and celebrated the return of a beloved tradition.