LINCOLN, Neb. - They were all there.
The ghosts of MU's 30-year losing streak in Lincoln lingered, and the past prepared for a final haunt.
There was former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, now NU athletic director, who patrolled the Cornhuskers' sideline on that chilled November afternoon when MU last left this stadium without a wince. Before MU steamrolled toward a 52-17 victory against Nebraska on Saturday night in the Big 12 Conference opener, he strutted alongside the west stands not unlike a grandfather greeting his lineage, glad-handing bright-eyed fans eager to claim a piece of a once-prosperous past.
There were the signs, those symbols of tradition that had taunted the Tigers during their last 14 trips to Memorial Stadium. Above the north stands, a video board flashed highlights of swarming defenses with Blackshirt swagger. Below the press box, a marquee of national-championship years was posted in red-block numbers, a reminder of those years when the Cornhuskers were an F-5 tornado to the Tigers' gust of wind.
But now MU's the budding power in the Big 12 North, and the Tigers exorcised their Lincoln haunt with authority.
As early as the first quarter, it became apparent MU (5-0) had ample offensive talent to outclass Nebraska. On MU's third offensive play, quarterback Chase Daniel zipped a pass to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who raced 58 yards for a touchdown. After the Cornhuskers tied the score at 7, running back Derrick Washington capped a seven-play, 60-yard drive with a strong 3-yard touchdown run. It began a streak of 24 unanswered MU points that buried Nebraska's upset ambitions. Come halftime, Missouri players jogged into the locker room ahead 31-10, 30 years of Lincoln frustration fading to black.
Then there were the Nebraska fans, 85,372 strong on this night. More than two hours before kickoff, they settled into their wind-weathered bleachers. Once, they were witnesses to three national championships and a 47-game home-winning streak from 1991 to 1998. By the third quarter's end, most had left, exasperated by a 42-10 MU lead. A pocket of black and gold in the southwest end zone chanting, "M-I-Z, Z-O-U!"
Each fan base's role, it appeared, had finally come full circle. MU handed Nebraska its worst defeat ever to the Tigers at home, surpassing a 31-0 victory against the Cornhuskers in 1958.
Some sensed it coming. Minutes before kickoff, a Nebraska fan and a stadium attendant met in a press box elevator. They lacked confidence. Their dialogue was brief, almost tongue-in-cheek.
"Are we going to win this game?" asked the fan, leaning against the wall.
"Ask me something easy," the attendant said, flashing a faint smile.
By the time they bussed away with growing confidence, the Tigers had conquered another road obstacle. In 2007, the Tigers beat Kansas State in Manhattan for the first time since 1989. Also last year, they beat Colorado in Boulder for the first time since 1997.
Next week, MU's task becomes more difficult. Oklahoma State (5-0) arrives in Columbia after opening Big 12 Conference play with a 56-28 victory against Texas A&M Saturday. Entering Saturday, quarterback Zac Robinson had guided the Cowboys to an average of 562.5 yards per game, fourth best in the country.
But as the final seconds ticked away, MU focused on its new Lincoln past.
In a way, it was also recognition of the Tigers' promising future. Red shirts filed out of the stadium. A pool of black and gold remained. The Tigers' Lincoln ghosts had vanished.
All that remained was a cheer, growing in strength in the quiet night.