SAN ANTONIO – Across Interstate 37 from the Alamodome, Jim McVeigh walked from San Antonio's Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center as one of a proud few. He wore a black Missouri sweatshirt. A black-and-gold pom-pom dangled from the back of his blue jeans.
It was an hour and a half before the kickoff of Monday night's Alamo Bowl, and McVeigh represented one of few who planned to support the Tigers until the unfulfilling end.
He contends there was a time when Missouri fans would have been excited to attend an event such as the Alamo Bowl. He remembers December 2003 when Missouri fans raced to buy tickets to the less-prestigious Independence Bowl, the program's first postseason appearance in five seasons. He remembers the fall of 2006 when Missouri fans carried visions of Riverwalk cruises at dusk rather than booking flights to El Paso, the site of the less-prestigious Sun Bowl where the Tigers eventually played that December. He remembers when, not long ago, lofty preseason expectations didn't choke support.
"I wish we would have sold all our tickets," said McVeigh, a Fulton native who graduated from MU in 1973. "The people who didn't come are missing out.
"Look at Nebraska. I'm sure they will roll into Jacksonville with 40,000 fans" for the Gator Bowl on Thursday. "They're going to do that every bowl game. We need to also."
Missouri sold about 6,000 of its 11,000 allotted tickets. Those who attended the Alamo Bowl on Monday expressed disappointment in a season of unfulfilled promise but offered their support.
As early as last year, Missouri fans displayed a strong postseason presence. After an 11-2 regular season, the Tigers appeared in the Cotton Bowl, their first New Year's Day bowl since the 1970 Orange Bowl. In December 2007, two days after a loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game in San Antonio, MU officials announced that the school sold all of its 16,000 allotment in two hours.
Some said betrayed expectations kept others away. Entering the season opener against Illinois, Missouri ranked as high as No. 6 in The Associated Press poll. Some experts considered senior quarterback Chase Daniel to be a Heisman Trophy favorite, a year removed from finishing fourth for college football's most-prestigious award. But after winning their first five games, the Tigers suffered consecutive October losses to Oklahoma State and Texas. Later, in Kansas City, Missouri finished the season with consecutive losses to Kansas and Oklahoma and soured fans even more.
In addition, some mentioned the difficult economic climate might have caused others to alter their holiday plans.
"We're disappointed that we're not in the national championship game this year," said Linda Hayes, who, along with her husband, Clayton, has followed Missouri football since 1969. "But I tell you what, I'm very proud of this team. They have done more for Mizzou than any other team that I can remember."
"Those Missouri fans" who became disinterested with the Alamo Bowl "haven't been through the tough times, I suppose," Clayton Hayes said. "I think we have a pretty darn good team, and we came down here to watch a pretty good game."
Still, others pointed to positives. A win over Northwestern would give Missouri 10 victories or more in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history. The Alamo Bowl represented Missouri's first four-year bowl streak since berths from 1978 to 1981. From 1984 to 1996, the Tigers spent the bowl season at home. Times haven't always been easy, they said. This was an era to enjoy.
"It's been a great year from a lot of perspectives," said University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee, standing outside the Marriott Rivercenter, Missouri's team hotel, before players boarded three white charter buses bound for the Alamodome. "I know we had huge expectations coming into the year, but it has been a great year."
To some, it wasn't. But for those who made the journey to San Antonio, a silver lining was present.
"Obviously, we would have liked to win more games," said Barbara Axton, a Santa Fe, N.M., native who used to live in Kansas City and has missed only two Missouri games during the past two seasons. "But, hey, who can complain? We had a 9-4 season."
OUT OF PLACE: He didn't receive too much razzing.
David Cassity of Lubbock, Texas, leaned against a wall in a blue Kansas windbreaker outside the Marriott Rivercenter as players boarded buses that would take them to the Alamodome.
He said, earlier this fall, he bought tickets in anticipation of Kansas playing in the Alamo Bowl and decided to attend despite the Jayhawks' invitation to Wednesday's Insight Bowl. He said most Missouri fans left him be – aside from one memorable incident.
"One guy in the restroom, but that was it," Cassity said, laughing. "He said, 'You're at the wrong game, aren't you?' I said, 'Yeah, I think so.'"
GETTING EMOTIONAL: Thomas Saunders knows his son has come far.
His son, wide receiver Tommy Saunders, played his final game Monday night after walking caon in 2004. Thomas Saunders said he and other parents of Missouri's seniors shared heartfelt memories during bowl week. The Tigers lose 13 starters to graduation.
"I'm proud of him," said Thomas Saunders, wearing a black shirt that read "T's Dad."
"He walked on and became a captain and worked hard. I've seen him grow up a lot as a person," he said. "I'll be happy that a new part of his life is getting ready to start."
MORE TRAFFIC ON THE RIVER: The Alamo Bowl meant a boon for boat tours along San Antonio's famed Riverwalk. Terry Granade, who is in his first year captaining the "Ms. Aaronetta," said some guides had given 13 tours Monday when they normally average six or seven.
"The rides have been a whole lot better because of the Alamo Bowl," Granade said. "You see a whole lot of the tourists, and the tourists are in a pretty good mood. They're spending money, and that's great."