COLUMBIA - It's not just head coach Gary Pinkel and the Tigers who need a solid game plan for Saturday. Fans heading to St. Louis should also prepare themselves for some tough opposition, namely parking nightmares, long concession lines and crowded bars.
Doors to the Edward Jones Dome do not open until 6 p.m., but the area will be packed long before then.
"Downtown is going to be a mess," said Kris Riddell of St. Louis Parking.
The Big Muddy Blues Festival kicks off at 3 p.m., just blocks from the arena, so concert goers will be snagging prime parking spots early. Most lots will open between 9 a.m. and noon and start at $20 for the day, Riddell said.
If you get to the city early, spend time at the three stages of the free music festival at Laclede's Landing before the game, unless you want to sing your own blues about how you sat on I-70 for hours, only to scoot through downtown traffic for another hour and overpay for parking a mile and a half from the Dome.
"The Big Muddy Festival draws a big crowd every Labor Day weekend," said Becky Sharp, public relations coordinator for the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. "There will definitely be a lot of people down there for that."
Riddell said only a few lots will allow tailgating for cars and RVs - the closest being at First and Biddle streets. If you don't bring your own pregame fare, Bud Light is sponsoring a tailgate starting at noon at Baer Plaza with live rock music and appearances by the marching bands of Missouri and Illinois.
Unless you have enough Tiger fans to defend you, avoid Illini Headquarters at Broadway and Convention Plaza. The Mizzou Alumni Association will hold down the Missouri section at Sixth and Convention Plaza from 3 p.m. until kickoff.
There will be plenty of food options at the Landing, either inside or at booths near the blues festival stages on Second Street, but expect a wait.
"You'd be lucky to get a beer," said bartender Jason Short, who works at Morgan Street Brewery.
Hannegan's Restaurant and Pub will cook burgers and pulled pork sandwiches outside. The Big Bang Bar has a snow cone stand with special Tiger Paws treats. College students can get two for one with their school ID, assistant general manager Mike Abernathy said.
Make your way into the Dome between 6 and 7:30 p.m., and since concession stands want your money, no outside food or drink is allowed in the arena.
If you make the trek to the Gateway City without a ticket, you can join the watch party at Baer Plaza or any number of bars in the area. Abernathy recommends Big Daddy's, which has several flat screen televisions that will be tuned into the game. Show-Me's on the Landing has 10 TVs and a big screen over the bar where you can watch the action if the barely dressed servers don't distract you.
Energy will be high after the game, so don't kill your buzz by struggling to get out of the parking lot right away.
"I would probably think it would be better to hang out than try leaving right after the game," Riddell said.
The blues festival performances will be over by the time the game finishes, but there still is live music elsewhere. Show Me's will have a live band playing on its patio. The Big Bang Bar offers a similar atmosphere to Columbia's Penguin Bar, with dueling pianists taking audience requests. The bar has a $6 cover charge, but Abernathy said he would give a student discount.
Sharp, of the Convention and Visitors Commission, said the scene at Laclede's Landing will be less family oriented after the game.
"It's more geared toward college kids," she said. "It's more like a night club area."
If you can handle a walk, head down Broadway toward Busch Stadium. About 15 minutes from the Dome, Broadway Oyster Bar will have $3 longnecks and $3.50 well drinks, plus a live bluegrass band. If you are looking for quantity, Hot Shots Sports Bar and Grill has $6 pitchers and $12 buckets on the same block.
The Cardinals do not have a home game this weekend, so the bars will be less crowded and more likely to offer specials than those will closer to the Dome.
"There's really no reason to give it away when people are coming anyway," Hannegan's owner Mark Taylor said.