HOUSTON — Tammy Kaufhold’s early-afternoon domain is stuck between two Texas-sized bookends. A red Ford F-250 on one side, and a white Lincoln Navigator on the other, the long-time Will Ebner family friend patrols the row of tables spread across three parking spots.
The tailgate definitely has a Texas feel, from the Shiner Bock beer and enormous tray of chili to the glass-bottled Dr. Pepper, and Kaufhold, sporting a black Missouri jersey with “Ebner” on the back, is busy playing the gracious Texas hostess. She wipes down the black and gold tablecloths covered in barbecued pulled pork and offers hugs to nearly every passer-by. The gestures aren’t limited to the familiar. She repeatedly offers a politely packaged demand for the intruder with the notebook to fill a plate.
Kaufhold’s hospitality is what’s responsible for this party taking place outside Reliant Stadium just a couple of hours before Missouri will play Navy in the Texas Bowl. Kaufhold is one of nearly 200 residents of Friendswood, Texas, who have made the trip to Houston to support native son and Missouri linebacker Will Ebner. Along with friend Greg Hoff, she was responsible for the massive tailgate designed to provide a warm Texas welcome to the parents and families of the Missouri players.
It didn’t take long for the plans to take shape. Not a half hour after the announcement of Missouri’s participation in the Texas Bowl Elaine Ebner was on the phone with friends back in Friendswood.
“It was a blessing,” Kaufhold said of Missouri’s bowl game being in Texas. "When Elaine called me she just said, “'I know you love Will. Let’s go with this.’ Greg and I took hold, and we just wanted to give everyone a Texas welcome.”
A phone call turned to an e-mail turned to a slew of e-mails, and quickly there was a massive group of Friendswood residents whose calendars were booked for the afternoon of Dec. 31.
“If you give Elaine Ebner and Tammy Kaufhold an inch it turns into this huge buffet,” former Friendswood High School defensive coordinator Don Jones said.
The Kaufholds have known the Ebners for over 15 years. Their son, who plays football at Baylor, and Will Ebner have been best friends since each was 4 years old. But the affection isn’t just among long-time friends. Blaine Gabbert’s mother, Bev Gabbert, introduces the collection of Ebner family friends with ease. Kenji Jackon’s family is here, too. So is Luke Lambert’s and Grant Ressel’s, Andrew Jones’ and Tim Barnes’. Kaufhold guesses that there are more than 100 Missouri parents and family members squeezed into the tailgate. It’s not a surprise for those who know Friendswood and its people.
“Plentiful hearts,” Jones said. “They don’t care how many people are coming, they’re going to take care of them.”
Jones grew up in Friendswood and coached at the school for 27 years before retiring last May. The town has just under 30,000 people, but with just one high school and junior high it carries the close-knit feel of a town a quarter its size. Jones says that once you call Friendswood home it becomes difficult to imagine anything else.
“I coached there 27 years,” Jones said. “You always think that you’ll coach a couple years and then leave. I just couldn’t do it.”
After the Missouri parents leave to watch the team enter the stadium the hue of black and gold remains. Along with the tablecloths and Kaufhold’s jersey, several of Ebner’s classmates from Friendswood who now attend schools like Louisiana State, Texas, Texas A&M and University of Houston are sporting the colors of a school that they’ve never seen.
“They’re wearing black and gold,” Jones said. “They love each other’s kids. It’s seamless. They just came to support. It doesn’t matter who it is.”