TIGER KICKOFF: Already home

What MU Homecoming means to a Columbia businessman, a Tigers football player and the student candidates for king and queen
Friday, October 22, 2010 | 5:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:52 a.m. CDT, Friday, October 22, 2010
Kurt Mirtsching has worked at Shakespeare's Pizza for about 32 years and managed the restaurant for the past 25 years.

Kurt Mirtsching - Shakespeare's Pizza manager

COLUMBIA — For Kurt Mirtsching, homecoming means a lot of things — red cloth napkins, Parmesan cheese and pepperoni, to name a few. In bulk.

Saturday's game

No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners (6-0, 2-0)
at No. 18 Missouri Tigers (6-0, 2-0)

WHEN: 7 p.m.
Memorial Stadium, Columbia
KTGR/1580 AM and 100.5 FM, KCQM/96.7 FM - Mike Kelly (play-by-play), John Kadlec (color), Chris Gervino (sidelines)
ABC Sports - Brent Musburger (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst), Erin Andrews (sideline reporter)
Oklahoma leads, 66-23-5 and has won seven straight since Missouri’s last win in 1998.


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Mirtsching, a 1981 MU graduate, is the marketing director at Shakespeare’s Pizza and has worked at the restaurant for 32 years. He has seen his fair share of homecomings, both as a student and alumnus, but since he began working at the pizza joint downtown, the day has taken on a new meaning for him: chaos.

Homecoming is the biggest day of sales that Shakespeare’s has all year, Mirtsching said, and he knows never to underestimate the crowds that day. Just when he thinks the restaurant couldn’t get any busier, Missouri’s alumni, students and football fans prove him wrong.

“It just gets bigger and bigger and bigger … It’s probably because with homecoming, alumni come back to Mizzou,” Mirtsching said. “They go to the game and visit the campus and so forth. Well, every year there’s another group of alumni who … went to Shakespeare’s and enjoyed it.”

He is thankful that so many of his fellow MU graduates put Shakespeare’s on their list of things to do when they come back for a football game, and at the same time he seems a bit in awe of the day. When asked to describe homecoming in one word, Mirtsching didn’t hesitate.

“Scary,” he said.

In 2009, Shakespeare’s had its highest sales volume homecoming ever, and Mirtsching expects this year to be no different. He and the other employees begin preparing weeks in advance, ordering extra cups and napkins and stocking tray upon tray of Parmesan shakers in the back of the restaurant. On Thursday and Friday they begin to chop and assemble whatever ingredients they can, but because so much of what Shakespeare’s uses is incredibly perishable, employees arrive sometimes as early as 6 a.m. that Saturday to cut green peppers and slice mushrooms.

Is your mouth watering yet? Don’t get too excited for your homecoming pizza, Mirtsching said. Actually getting your hands on one is more difficult than you would imagine. For an afternoon game, the dining room is full by 10 a.m. and the line to order could stretch around the block just an hour later.

“We just put up a sign that says ‘Full Past Fire Code Capacity, No Admits’ when we get to that point,” Mirtsching said. “We’ll have a hundred tickets and the dining room will be full. There will be a line out the door of people wanting to come in. We’ve had a line come out the door and around the block.”

In such instances, it usually takes about three hours for Shakespeare’s to begin taking orders again. Although Mirtsching said that people could wait in whatever space they could find inside and drink a beer until the orders resumed, he wouldn’t advise it. He would rather see people go somewhere else and enjoy the day rather than waste it all waiting for one of his pizzas, no matter how good they are.

For Mirtsching, the day is all about pizza, but football is more than an afterthought. He is not much of a football fan in general, but he pays attention to Missouri’s games. He always has the homecoming game on television, and he will tune in — both to cheer for his alma mater and because a Missouri win means more customers and more revenue. When the Tigers are victorious, Mirtsching said that the restaurant will pull in a couple thousand dollars more than it would after a loss.

“If they win, they eat more, they drink more, they stay longer,” Mirtsching said. "They’re happy. If we lose, they kind of put their tails between their legs, have maybe one beer, and go home.”

So, if you don’t have a ticket to the game and happen to snag one of those coveted wooden booths during Saturday’s game, look for Mirtsching. He will be cheering for a Missouri win, partly because it will also mean a win for Shakespeare’s.

 — Joan Niesen

Brandon Gerau - Missouri wide receiver

 COLUMBIA — For most Missouri football players, memories of Homecoming go back to their freshman year.

Junior wide receiver Brandon Gerau can’t remember life without homecoming in Columbia.

“I remember as a little kid going to the games especially, but I also remember going to the parade,” Gerau said. “I’d always go to the parades with family and friends.”

During the games, however, Gerau wasn’t nearly as focused on football as he is now.

“During the game I was always rolling down the hill and stuff,” he said.

The Rock Bridge alum was born and raised in Columbia, as were both of his parents. Gerau has a strong understanding of how Saturday’s football game has an impact on far more people that just the players.

“Homecoming, it’s once a year,” he said. “It’s for the students. It’s everybody. It’s alumni. It always ends up being a big game regardless of who it is.”

But, he did admit that it’s a lot more fun to play in than just watch.

“It’s definitely way better as a player,” Gerau said. “Being in the stands is one thing. You get to see the team down there. Being actually on the sidelines, and now I rotate in quite a bit, so I’m actually a part of the team.”

Just as much as Gerau was raised to appreciate homecoming, he also understands Missouri’s biggest rivalry, so he knows which game is always the biggest of the season.

“KU is the biggest game on our schedule and then it’s homecoming,” he said. “It’s for the university. It’s for all the alumni who come back. It’s for everybody not just for us.”

Attending college in his hometown has been a good thing, Gerau said. He appreciates the overwhelming amount of support that’s always available to him.

“They’ve supported me throughout my whole career," he said. "I know I put a smile on their face my freshman year in 07 when we had homecoming here. Everything they’ve done for me, I’m glad that I can return this favor to them.”

With much of the team coming from out of state, Gerau said he couldn’t imagine what it would be like to go to school so far away from home.

“It’s a definite plus living here and having everything here,” Gerau said. “I can’t even imagine — I mean half the team is from Texas — not getting to see their families. Their families might come up two or three times per year, but I get to see my folks every game outside. It’s pretty neat.”

And it’s not just his parents that live in Columbia. The vast majority of Gerau’s extended family is also from mid-Missouri.

“Except for a set of aunts and uncles who live in Kansas City and in Springfield, everybody else is here,” Gerau said.

But even with living in the same town as his family, Gerau, like most college students, admits that he doesn’t go home quite enough.

“My parents actually live out in the country, so it’s a little bit of a drive,” Gerau said. “I don’t go home probably as much as I should or as my parents would like me too.”

 — Len Goldman

Homecoming royalty candidates

COLUMBIA — It's a Tuesday night, and Harpo's Bar and Grill is nearly deserted. The number of wait staff is on par with the customers in the bar. 

Harpo's is remarkably clean on this Tuesday night. Having just survived the explosion that is a football weekend in Columbia, one can only imagine the work put in to make it presentable. 

You could say that Harpo's is fit for royalty. And royalty just strolled in.

The candidates for MU's homecoming king and queen are eager to meet, greet and encourage voting. For the first hour, no one finds their way to the back of the bar, but the finalists are still so, so, so excited to be there.

The group has a full docket in the weeks before homecoming. Almost every night they will be at an event like this one at Harpo's. Even so, Justin Yeater, a senior from Joplin, isn't complaining.

"They keep us pretty busy ... they have a lot of things for us. It's not a negative thing, but there definitely is a time commitment," Yeater says. "It's really been a really good time for everyone who's been on top-10 royalty."

Jacquelinne Mejia, a convergence journalism major from Downey, Calif., is just as excited as Yeater.

"I know this sounds cliche, but it was really like a dream," Mejia says. "I thought it was such an honor just to be nominated by my organization."

Yeater, Mejia and their fellow royals are bubbly, warm and enthusiastic. At first, the enthusiasm comes off as disingenuous, just politics. But it's all real. Yeater is able to rattle off the details of the first homecoming game as if it was tattooed on the back of his hand. Mejia teeters on crying when talking about the honor of being a royalty finalist. 

With passion like that, it's not a surprise that many members of homecoming royalty also lead tours to prospective students around campus or are ambassadors for the school. These students could sell MU to a die-hard Kansas Jayhawks fan.

The process of choosing the homecoming royalty is fast. Narrowing down all the nominees to the top 10 took less than a month. In the end, there can only be one homecoming king and one homecoming queen.

"I think all of us are just really ecstatic that we can get to this level, but I don't really know if any of us will be super hurt if we don't win," Yeater says. "It is kind of cool, to know 'Hey, homecoming was started here first,' and it's one of our biggest and greatest traditions. To be able to represent Mizzou that way, I think would be really an honor."

Kevin Gehl knows what the experience is like. Gehl was crowned homecoming king in 2008, and he says that he still thinks back on the entire experience with fond memories.

"With 30 events, it can really become a job, but I loved every minute of it," Gehl says. "It connects you to the university on a whole new level."

On top of Gehl's $5 "Party City" crown, he was given a gold class ring to signify his coronation.

"I wear it around. It's some serious bling. People are impressed," Gehl says with a laugh.

The same prize awaits the winners this weekend, cementing what Mel Brooks told us: "It's good to be the King."

 — Dieter Kurtenbach

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