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Let’s get this out of the way early — Missouri is a damn good fit for the SEC and I’m excited that the Tigers are a new part of the conference. Lots of SEC fans have no idea what to expect from Columbia, Missouri — and some old school SEC fans resistant to change have argued against expansion — but I guarantee you’re going to love traveling there to watch football. Mizzou is a fabulous addition to the conference that fits the SEC in all facets. By the end of this travelogue I think you’ll agree with me, but in the meantime a bit of background on why this article is written like it is.
Six years ago I embarked on my Dixieland Delight tour. The rules of that roadtrip were simple, I’d visit every SEC football town and stadium as a fan. I called my season-long travel the Dixieland Delight Tour, “DDT” for short. The DDT was a spectacularly fun ride that culminated in Florida’s 2006 national title, the first title in three years for the conference. Five years ago Dixieland Delight was published and every year since the book was published the SEC has won a national title.
That’s six years in a row.
Clearly, the DDT was the hidden key that unlocked the South’s football dominance.
As soon as SEC expansion was announced last year Dixieland readers began to ask whether I’d update my book with two new chapters for the newest entrants to the league.
The answer was yes.
The next question was which games to go see. I selected the Georgia-Mizzou game and the LSU-Texas A&M game.
And so this is my story about a weekend in Missouri, written Dixieland Delight style. (Lots of you have been reading me for six years or more. Thanks for sticking with me for so many years and at so many Internet locations).
Here we go with 2012’s SEC expansion addendum.
1. I’m traveling with two friends for the Missouri game, law school buddies Chad and Hinton.
Chad is a lifelong Georgia fan and Hinton is a lifelong Missouri fan who attended the school back in the late 1990’s. I met both of these guys at Vanderbilt law school, where we were both members of the class of 2004. One of the best things about Vandy was the fact that every SEC fan base was represented. So we lots of fun watching games back in those days.
Six years ago when I wrote “Dixieland Delight” I was 27 years old, my friends and I were close enough in age to be contemporaries with many of the students on SEC campuses. Back in 2006 I was recently married, but I had no children. Six years later I have two boys, ages four and two and I’m a bit concerned about my ability to keep up with the drinking and recovery on this year’s trip.
But only a bit.
Because I have dad strength now.
Dad strength is a peculiar evolutionary device that all dads are familiar with. Namely, upon procreation you become kind of a superhero relative to your own past abilities. (FYI, mom strength absolutely dwarfs dad strength, but is every bit as real). For instance, thanks to dad strength I no longer need much sleep — I used to need eight hours in a row, now I’m like a camel, I can store sleep and can fall asleep anywhere with a flat surface in three minutes. I can work about twice as long as I ever could before, and I’m capable of writing this DDT piece while both boys are running around my office tackling each other and screaming like wild boar — in fact, at this exact moment my two-year old is underneath my writing desk bouncing a golf ball off my kneecap while singing the “Backyardigans” theme song at the top of his lung capacity.
But does this have any impact upon me at all?
2. Chad and I meet at the St. Louis airport and we’re off for Columbia, about 110 miles west on 1-70.
Thankfully this flight to Missouri comes off without a hitch. Unlike my flight to Kansas City to speak to the KC Tiger Club earlier this week, when I believed I was going to die.
Upon arrival in Columbia, we drive through campus, park downtown and begin to explore the town. The university spills into several blocks of shops, restaurants, and bars. There are very few tall buildings. Within a few minutes, it’s clear that the SEC campus and city that Missouri most resembles is Georgia and Athens. And that is a very, very good thing.
Because Athens is one of the best places to visit in the SEC.
Columbia and Athens are almost the exact same size — each have around 115,000 people — and have a distinctly collegiate vibe.
Just like Athens you could bring your wife or girlfriend along for the football trip and she’d have a spectacular time walking around shopping and finding reasons to buy things that you really don’t need but that cost a lot of money. (My wife specializes in this. You should see our ottomans. They. Are. Spectacular.)
And everywhere you look in Columbia businesses are emblazoned with the SEC logo.
I mean, everywhere.
Mizzou is madly in love with the SEC. The question for most Tiger fans is this, will it be unrequited love or will the SEC love us too?
3. Looking around the beautiful campus and city, Southerners will probably experience pangs of remorse for trying to burn down both.
While the main building on campus would eventually succumb to flames in 1892 — the remaining six stone columns from that fire are now an iconic and haunting campus emblem — back in 1864 rumors spread that Confederate raiders were planning to burn down the city. A quick band of defenders — termed the Missouri Tigers — were gathered to defend the city.
The Confederate raiders didn’t come, but the nickname stuck.
So Mizzou’s nickname honors a brand of brave Union soldiers.
Yep, the same bastards who burned Atlanta.
One-hundred and forty-eight years later the South returns for football.
This time Mizzou welcomed us with open arms.
And great pizza.
4. Our first stop is Shakespeare’s Pizza, an English countryside looking brown shingled building that is renowned for its pizza.
It’s lunch time so we can buy individual slices. The line isn’t too long and both Chad and I buy two slices of pizza each and two drinks. Our total? $11.
It’s easy to feel rich on a college campus.
The pizza is excellent and our table is next to a Romanian exchange student. She’s in disbelief over the number of Georgia fans, all clad in red, who are already in Columbia. When she finishes eating she asks Chad how much his two football tickets were.
“$75 each,” he says.
The Romanian is aghast. “$150!”
Which sounds expensive until you realize you could still buy Nadia’s gold medal at a Bucharest farmer’s market for $125.
5. We meet Hinton at Booches, a restaurant and poool hall that has been open since 1884.
On the door of the restaurant is a sign, “Closed on Sunday, see you in church.”
Booches is famous for its hamburgers, which are delivered on wax paper, and are, in a word, spectacular.
The only flaw with Booches burgers is that they are tiny. So you have to order several of them to fill up. Also, the wait staff doesn’t seem to care that you are there at all. I guess when you’ve been open this long, there’s no real fear that people are going to stop coming. Booches is also a pool hall — with three tables — and has one of the coolest old school bars that I’ve seen in a long time.
6. Leaving Booches, it’s time for my hit on NBC SportsTalk from Faurot Field only, here’s the deal, a massive storm arrives just before I’m supposed to go on-air.
Legitimately golf ball sized hail plummets to the ground, ricochets off cars, and sends pedestrians sprinting for protection. The wind and rain is sideways, visibility dwindles to nothing. By the time we arrive at Mizzou’s football stadium, it’s not far from my live interview and I can’t find my camera crew. That’s because, unbeknownst to me, Georgia has refused to allow any cameras on the field during their walk thru. Which happens to be occurring at the exact same time I’ll be doing a hit for NBC to talk about the Georgia-Mizzou game.
So we’re outside and the rain is blowing sideways during my segment. Also, there’s water on the lens. Basically, I’m the Jim Cantore of college football.
And I have a portable toilet as my backdrop on the right side of the screen. That’s how I roll.
Immediately after surviving the storm, we hit the shop at Faurot Field where Mizzou’s love affair with the SEC is immediately well established.
By the number of SEC-Mizzou shirt variations for sale. I count at least ten.
Here are a few that I snapped pictures of:
As you can see, I’m far from a great photographer, but there were at least six or seven more different Mizzou and SEC t-shirt variations.
So why did I take the pictures? Because they were emblematic of the excitement that Mizzou feels about joining the SEC.
In fact, as I snapped the photos that’s when it hit me, Mizzou already loves the SEC as much as many long time members love the conference. Why? Because Mizzou fans have concrete evidence of how much better life in the SEC will be than life in the Big 12 already was. See, the existing 12 SEC schools can get lazy about what it means to be members of the SEC. We’ve had since 1933 to adjust to the rivalries, to soak up the success, and we’ve never had to deal with life alongside Texas.
That’s when I realized it, Mizzou fans — A&M as well — are like recent immigrants to the United States who have just escaped a harsh dictatorship run by a crazy oil oligarch. How much do Iranian expats value their United States citizenship? A ton, right? An awful lot more than those of us fortunate enough to have already been born in the country. Well, Mizzou and A&M are the college football equivalent of new immigrants. And Texas is the college football version of Iran, a oil-despoiled dictator whose illogical flights of fancy and egocentric megalomania destroy any hope of egalitarianism for all members.
So is it any wonder that Mizzou is so in love with everything the SEC represents?
The SEC is the anti-Texas, a collection of equals that all excel.
The SEC t-shirts and SEC signs and SEC everything that is draped all over Columbia are reflective of the devotion Mizzou fans already feel for the SEC. Even before they’ve played a single football game.
The least I can do is buy a MIZ-SEC shirt, which I’ll spend Saturday wearing with pride.
7. Everything in Columbia has been perfect so far.
Which means disaster is coming.
We leave Mizzou’s stadium for our hotel — the Days Inn Conference Center.
Immediately upon pulling up — our hotel overlooks the interstate — I’m incredibly nervous.
Once we receive our keys and pull up in front of the hotel room, I’m even more apprehensive. The hotel balcony is open air and exposed, it looks just like the balcony Martin Luther King was assassinated while standing upon.
We have two rooms. Hinton and I are sharing one, Chad is in the other. Immediately upon entering I’m assaulted by a mildewy smell. I try and hang my shirt on the hanger and the first strike against the hotel occurs — it isn’t possible to remove the coat hangers from the rack.
Presumably this is because the hotel is afraid hotel guests will otherwise perform unregulated abortions.
8. The Days Inn is $150 a night for Mizzou games.
This is approximately $129.00 more than these hotel rooms should ever rent for.
According to the rate posted on the door, the maximum weekly rate is $500 and the maximum daily rate is $130, which is less than we are paying.
But, look, I’ve stayed in an awful lot of awful hotel rooms in my day, generally speaking I’m able to sleep anywhere. After all, I have dad strength.
So I’m willing to make do with everything until I walk into the bathroom and there is two inches of standing water. At first I think the toilet is leaking, but then I discover where the water is coming from — there’s a leak in the ceiling and rain water has entered during the recent storm.
Okay, this is an issue.
Hinton heads to the front desk to tell them about the standing water in our bathroom. He does this because no one answers when we call the front desk. Usually, in my experience, when things go wrong with the hotel room the response is prompt.
Here, not so much.
Hinton returns to inform me that they’re sending someone to our room to check on the leak.
Which leads to this conversation.
Me: “Do they think we’re making the leak up to get a better room?”
Hinton: “I think so.”
FYI, a “better room” at the Columbia Day’s Inn is an incredibly relative term. Right now all it means is “one without standing water on the floor.”
Fifteen minutes later a cleaning lady shows up — we’ve left the door standing open so if we’re murdered someone will find our bodies. The cleaning lady walks into the bathroom, looks down and says, “Yep, there’s water in here.”
The cleaning lady advises us to call the front desk and inform them that we are telling the truth and that our room does, in fact, have a hole in the ceiling and standing water in the bathroom.
9. Which leads to this conversation with the front desk — who miraculously answers this time.
Me: “Yes, the cleaning lady confirmed that our ceiling has a hole in it and that there is water in the bathroom.”
Manager: “Okay, I’ll get someone to fix that tomorrow.”
Manager: “Yes, I don’t have any rooms left to move you into and no one is here from maintenance, but we’ll fix it tomorrow.”
Me: “There’s still a hole in the ceiling and standing water in the bathroom.”
Manager (exasperated): “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll discount your room rate to $99.”
So if your bathroom has a hole in the ceiling that’s worth $50 off in Columbia.
10. We call a cab to take us out in downtown Columbia.
We’re planning on several jumbo glasses of wine and we’ve heard that getting home after a couple of jumbo glasses of wine can be an issue in Columbia.
Our cab driver, Rick, picks us up in a cab replete with Superman logoes on the carpeted ceiling. Rick informs us that he also has Mizzou, Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, and Thomas the Tank Engine carpeted cab ceilings. Rick owns ten cabs in Columbia and tells us that there are fifty in the city. So I say, “That must be a pretty good business, you own twenty percent of the cabs in town.”
Rick furrows his brow like I’ve just explained nuclear fission in a single sentence. “I’ve never thought about that before,” he says.
11. Shiloh, a downtown bar suggested by Twitter followers, is our destination and we get there by eight at night and commence drinking pitcher after pitcher after pitcher of beer.
On either side of our table are two separate large groups of sorority girls each celebrating the 21st birthday of a member.
What’s more, the sorority girls are all dressed in the most ridiculous flourescent mini-skirt outfits I’ve ever seen. Just when I think that college-aged men can’t get any luckier, girls start wearing fewer clothes. Honestly, the only other girls I’ve ever seen wear mini-skirts like these are strippers.
And every girl in Shiloh is wearing them.
Seriously, every single one.
As the night continues more and more girls will pile into the bar wearing the same minskirts.
And the girls are all gorgeous.
Like Ole Miss level hot.
Meaning that somehow the guys at Mizzou have become the recepient of the greatest female fashion trend since the bikini.
(Right now several of you are preparing to send me emails asking for pictures of the girls. I have none. This is because I’m now at the age where asking college girls I don’t know to be in pictures with me is borderline creepy. I’m not old enough yet to be a dirty old man — at which point I seem harmless — but I’m too old to be a contemporary of the girls. So I’m squarely in the uncomfortable zone. But I’m not going to lie, I definitely considered asking for the pictures just because I knew you were all going to rip me for not including pictures.
Stop, stop, I’m not going to try and sneak pictures of the girls either. That’s even creepier.
Plus, my camera has a flash.
Which is very noticeable.
Or so I’ve been told.
So we held out hope that maybe one of the girls was a reader. Which is the lottery equivalent of being an orphan in Africa and hoping that Mizzou alum Brad Pitt adopts you. Sigh, as much as I would like to believe that OKTC is a regular Internet mainstay for 21 year old sorority girls, we aren’t. Indeed, I bet I talked to 100 OKTC readers in Shiloh on Friday night. Of this number exactly one person is female. One. Step up your online sports game hot Mizzou sorority girls, seriously.)
So I don’t have any pictures of the Mizzou girls, but I wouldn’t lie to you.
Instead of pictures with hot sorority girls in miniskirts, here’s a picture of me with Mizzou fraternity guys.
I realize this is probably the most disappointed y’all have ever been in me.
But blame these frat guys for not convincing the hot Mizzou girls to read OKTC. It’s their fault.
Also, I asked them when the Mizzou miniskirt trend began and they said two years ago. Two years of this! So now you have a reason to hate these guys too.
12. In non-miniskirt news.
Shortly after arriving at Shiloh one of the waitresses comes over, points to a table full of guys, and says, “That table wanted me to say that y-o-u-r gay.”
See, Mizzou is ready for the SEC.
Time after time people see Chad in a Georgia shirt and welcome him to town, solicit his opinion of their campus, it’s impossible for Mizzou people to have been any friendlier. I’m not sure how soon Mizzou’s football team will win big games, but I know that the Tigers already have SEC hospitality down. They want to share their school with others, which is the single most important attribute of being a member of the SEC.
13. By the way, the number of you who Tweeted me while I was in Columbia asking for girl reviews was amazing.
In fact, it was your most common question about Columbia. The second most common question was from Georgia fans asking how many Georgia fans were in town.
Hinton, who was at Mizzou in the late 90’s, swears the girls weren’t this good looking when he was an undergrad. Which leads us into an in-depth discussion about whether or not we’re all becoming more lenient in our SEC girl analysis now that we’re over thirty. When you’re close to college age you’re used to being surrounded by good looking college age girls, which means your standards are more stringent. We’re not quite the 58 year old at the tailgate who leers at any pair of legs that lack varicose, but we’re getting closer.
Anyway, from here the discussion pivots to how awesome college is going to be for our boys. Chad has a three year old and I have two boys four and under.
If girls are wearing mini-skirts like this now, what’s going to happen in fifteen years?
This must be what World War II veterans in Europe felt like when the bikini debuted. I can imagine those veterans sitting around town griping when they saw the bikini photos in the newspaper: “I’ve been going to the beach looking at women swimming in bathing suit sacks for three decades — I’ve got shrapnel in my legs from the Battle of the Bulge! — and now these punk kids who never fought a war get to see girls in bikinis and have orgies?”
That’s how I feel about the Mizzou mini-skirt dresses, like I was born too early.
I’ve written all this for a reason — other than the fact that you are going to all be emailing about the girls if I don’t write about it — and that reason is this — Mizzou is a great cultural fit for the SEC.
The women are gorgeous, the people are friendly, and there’s just a vibe that fits. I promise you, if you visit Mizzou you’re going to feel the same way I did. Put simply, you’re going to love Columbia and you’re going to love Mizzou.
And you absolutely going to be enthralled by the Mizzou minskirts.
Hinton sums up it up this way, “If you didn’t know where you were and you just ended up in this bar, where would you think you were based on the people all around you?”
The answer is simple — an SEC campus.
14. Sometime after 11 the Mizzou band rolls into Shiloh.
The band leader leans over our table and says, “Would you mind if I stood on your table?”
And then this happens.
Which is absolutely awesome.
15. After midnight we leave Shiloh intent on checking out Harpo’s.
But the line is too long to get in there — the first time I’ve ever thought there were too many girls in miniskirts in one place — so we decide to call our buddy Rick, the cabdriver.
It’s 12:15, but bars close at one. (Note: move back bar closing times on home football weekends with SEC hordes descending on campus).
So we decide to beat the crowd and head back to our awful water-logged hotel.
For some reason Columbia has decided that the cab system that exists in every other city in America — namely, see a cab, hail a cab — doesn’t make sense for Mizzou. So there are vague and unmarked areas where you’re required to stand in line for a cab.
Rick tells us to go to the corner diagonal from Harpo’s and he’ll pick us up here. Otherwise he tells us he is not permitted to pick us up anywhere downtown.
In the first real sign of expansion inadequacy, Columbia isn’t prepared for the volume of drunk SEC fans roaming the streets.
There are no cabs in sight.
Not any, anywhere.
After a half-hour Rick drives by with a cab full of hot sorority girls in miniskirts — rolls down his window and says — “I’ll be back.”
He does not return.
I can’t say that I blame Rick.
Hinton calls Rick back on the phone as Harpo’s closes and Georgia and Mizzou fans all spill into the street. Rick says, “We’re frazzled! We weren’t ready for this! We’re trying our best!” and then he hangs up. (This is much funnier if you picture Rick having an orgy with the sorority girls in Mizzou miniskirts).
As it suddenly dawns on us that we will never be picked up by a cab driver — even if cabs existed would you pick up three old dudes or good looking girls in miniskirts? — I do what any man would do in my position.
I take to Twitter and Tweet the following:
“Okay, new strategy. 10th and Cherry. First Mizzou person in car, $50 to get us to Days Inn. 4 miles away. Yes, Days Inn. Pimp style.”
Did it work?
Part two will be up Thursday morning.