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More fun to see MU, less fun parking

Sunday, September 7, 2008 | 1:24 a.m. CDT; updated 3:06 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 15, 2009
Fans wave their hands before the kickoff of MU's home opener against Southeast Missouri State.

COLUMBIA - It's circumstances that steam him the most.

Bob Perkins remembers a time when a smattering of vehicles sprinkled the south lots behind Hearnes Center. The Steelville resident has made the two-plus hour drive westward to Columbia for 35 years, long enough to witness Missouri football's evolution from a fall afterthought to primetime showcase.

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On Saturday, he was forced to refocus his pregame perspective.

"It's not bad being bumped from here to there," said Perkins, a 1973 MU graduate, motioning from his black lawn chair in Lot O toward his former spot in Lot K, located about 15 feet closer to Hearnes Center. "It's just the thought ... (of) me driving up here when nobody else came. Now, all of the sudden, when you have a good program, I guess the high donors decided they want parking passes. My question is, where did they park before? Oh, they probably didn't come to the games, because we didn't have a good team."

MU is good now, and fans are beginning to pay the price of success. For the first time this season, donors were charged $100 in addition to their gift and season-ticket purchases to gain a spot in one of the reserved lots around Memorial Stadium. Assignments were based upon a point system; donors received one point for each $100 donation, two for each year they have held season tickets and three for each consecutive year they have belonged to the Tiger Scholarship Fund. MU was the last school in the Big 12 North to institute a charge for donor-lot parking.

Others weren't affected. Chris and Bonnie Ricks of Jefferson City passed their pre-game flipping through a game program while glancing toward tailgate smoke rising from grills in Lot O, located nearby to the south. Since 1971, the couple has purchased season tickets and earned the necessary points to maintain their Lot K location. They said overbooking is no longer an issue, and a party bus that used to stream ear-piercing bass music has been silenced.

"That's what happens when you have a winning season," said Chris Ricks, who graduated from MU in 1970.

"I was here...through the Warren Powers years and (Al) Onofrio years. These fans, if this team starts losing, if (Gary) Pinkel goes somewhere else and they start losing, all these fans that have been (complaining) will be gone. Those of us who have been here year after year will be here.

"It's part of the business."

Bonnie Ricks said, "It's great to win, but you have bigger crowds. You have greater parking issues. You can't get into the stadium.

"When you win, you pay the price."

It's a new reality of an MU football gameday.

"I've heard some highs and lows," said MU sophomore Dillon Charleville, a campus safety officer directing traffic near Mizzou Arena.

"(Donors) do donate a lot of money to the university. That's a good thing, and that needs to be respected."

SEMO FANS FOR A WEEKEND: A group of Southeast Missouri State fans donned red shirts and downed Budweiser products in a lot behind Hearnes Center, knowing they were going to claim victory no matter the outcome. Nate Wills, a 2001 SEMO graduate from Cape Girardeau, and Karl Gokenbach, a 2007 graduate from St. Louis, are no strangers to Columbia; last year, they attended three MU home games and consider themselves Tigers fans when SEMO isn't the schedule's focus.

"It's kind of a win, win (situation), because our school is going to get a little more attention," Gokenbach said. "And on top of that, this (MU) is the team that we're all fans of and hope wins the national championship this year."

Wills said, "I don't think we have any delusions of coming out of here with a win. It's almost like the (St. Louis) Cardinals in a down year. You understand that it's probably not going to be a good day in the field, but hopefully, it's going to be a good afternoon in the parking lot."

BASKETBALL SNEAK PEEK: The MU basketball team, which finished 16-16 last season, held a scrimmage Saturday afternoon in Mizzou Arena. Fans looking to pass the hours prior to kickoff allowed themselves to consider the future.

"(Football coach Gary) Pinkel has bought him time," Springfield resident Mark Brueggeman said of MU basketball coach Mike Anderson. "Well, they wanted to fire Pinkel in year six, year five. And now we all know that was dumb, and now we have the same situation here."

BIG BASS ADVERTISING: French fries as a method to bag business? Columbia's Bass Pro Shop knows it's effective. A steady line of curious fans waited in line to grab a cup of fries. It's the company's third year passing out free samples near Memorial Stadium's southeast corner. Chris Baker, the store's operations manager, said the company plans to offer beef jerky and fish products later in the season.

"It gives us a chance to promote our store and make a lot of folks aware," he said. "They may not come in now. Down the road, on football weekend, we get a lot of repeat folks."

 


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