Tiger tales outside the stadium

Saturday, September 20, 2008 | 10:40 p.m. CDT; updated 4:32 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Chris Pantas plays a game of “hit the empty beer” can as a way to pass the time before the MU football game Saturday. Many fans, like Pantas, tailgate through the start of the game.

COLUMBIA - John Hall is glad he's not a West Virginia fan.

During his freshman year at MU years ago, Hall, 24, and his friends received an old, hand-me-down couch. Barring poor weather, Hall loads up the sofa in the back of his truck and lugs it down to the MU Reactor gravel parking lot with a group of fans that call themselves the TAA, or the Tailgating Association of America.

Had Hall gone to school in Morgantown, W.V., rather than Columbia, his tradition might not be possible as part of a Mountaineer fan base notorious for their couch-burning ways.

The couch, with its aged, dusty red floral pattern, could change soon.

"Obviously, it's getting pretty old," Hall said of the couch. "We've been talking reupholstering it and making it a nice Mizzou couch. That would probably make a little more sense."

After Saturday, they'll have three weeks (until the next home game) to jazz up the couch, which might sound like a tall order, but for the TAA, tailgating is serious business.

"We usually get up and meet up around six or eight in the morning, depending on kickoff," Hall said. "Then we load all our stuff up, the couch, our hammock, the tents, and come over here."

For the 2008 season, Hall constructed a bar for the tailgate, painting it black and gold with a large Tiger logo emblazoned on the front. Across the top, "Tailgate Assoc. of America," announces their affiliation to all who pass. Several members even have custom-made shirts with a TAA logo.

"We started with six when we were freshmen, but we've had as many as 200 come for a game," Hall said. "Every season we build something new for the tailgate, and we want to keep adding stuff so it gets bigger."

‘SPOON LOSES THE ‘HAWK: During Tiger Walk, a Missouri football pregame tradition in which fans create a human tunnel for players to walk through on their way into the stadium, junior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon debuted a new look. For the 2008 season, Weatherspoon has sported a Mohawk each week, etching various patterns on the sides of his head where the hair was shorter, including an M-I-Z on one side, and a Z-O-U on the other earlier in the year. Before the Tigers closed their three-game home stand Saturday against Buffalo, Weatherspoon showed up to Tiger Walk with a close buzz, no Mohawk.

ISN'T BASEBALL SEASON ALMOST OVER?: Missouri fans have been treated to a double-dose of Tiger sports for two of the last three home football games. For the home opener two weeks ago against Southeast Missouri State, the Tiger basketball team hosted an open gym at Mizzou Arena for fans to get their first look at the 2008-09 team. On Saturday, the baseball team hosted a scrimmage at Taylor Stadium. With a first pitch at 9 a.m., only around 100 fans had made their way through the turnstiles just after 10 a.m., but those who did enjoyed the early-morning appetizer for the main course in the afternoon.

Lisa Findeisen, a native of Leavenworth, Kan., came out with her son Colton, and her sister Stacy Summers, who brought her daughter McKenna.

"This is the first game I've ever been to," Findeisen said. "My husband is a big Cardinals fan, so when I tell him I stopped here, he might be kind of jealous."

Findeisen and her family had been out at the stadium since 7:30, and gushed at the quality of the facility as they left. Colton Findeisen even had a host of Tigers sign autographs for him, making the early wake-up call worth the trouble.

BUFFALO FANS FEELING AT HOME: Jeff Niedermier, the starting right guard for the Bulls, probably didn't have too many eyes on him Saturday. The two sets that would be, however, came away impressed with their visit to Memorial Stadium.

"Missouri people have been fantastic," said Allan Niedermier, Jeff Niedermier's father, who made the trek with his wife Mary Niedermier from their home in Ohio for a week of sightseeing and visiting family in Missouri. "We've been treated nicer here than at any other away game we've been to."

Tiger fan Larry Fugle might be responsible for that. The St. Louis native invited the Niedermier to enjoy some food and football talk before kickoff.

Allan Niedermier, who saw last week's Bulls' win, one that came on a last-second hail-mary pass, said he's still on a high from seeing the miracle win a week ago.

"I'd like to see us play our best game today, and this is a good team, but last week was a memory that'll last awhile."

WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH THOSE PARENTS' JERSEYS?: Luke Lambert's family has them. Derrick Washington's family has them. Tim Barnes' family is responsible for them. The Russell Athletic Missouri retro jerseys worn by parents of several players can be traced back to a tiny sports store in Marshall.

"We purchase these through Viking Athletics," said Jeff Barnes, who runs a farm in Longwood, 15 miles south of Marshall.

So, why the retro jerseys, rather than the trendy, formfitting Nike uniforms worn by the Tigers on the field?

"She picked them out, that's all I know," Barnes said, gesturing towards his wife, Becky Barnes.


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