TEMPE, Ariz. — On a Saturday, Mill Avenue is said to be the epicenter of all things Arizona State football. On Friday afternoon, it was more of a Missouri Tigers party than anything else.
With many Arizona State fans still at work or in class Friday, Tiger fans young and old and clad in black and gold roamed the streets of Tempe, enjoying their first — or second, for those who came to the Insight Bowl last December — visit to the desert.
It appeared Tempe was welcoming them back as well. The Tavern on Mill, a Hawaiian- and surfing-themed bar, flew Arizona State and Mizzou flags side by side out front.
Inside the bar, where the walls were decorated with surfboards and wooden masks, a very dedicated table of four: Jim Rau and Bob Rau, brothers and lifelong Mizzou fans, sat with their wives, Terry and Phyllis. The group made Friday's game the centerpiece of a multiple-day road trip that began at the Lake of the Ozarks and will end with Missouri’s Sept. 16 game against Western Illinois in Columbia.
Jim Rau, a 1965 MU graduate, said that his father Henry Rau took him to his first Mizzou game in 1948.
“Right then and there I knew I wanted to go there,” he said.
Football games have been a tradition ever since. After Henry Rau died in 1988, the families dropped their season ticket commitment from 10 seats to six, but have continued to attend games religiously. In fact, they couldn’t recall the last home game they missed.
“Maybe the 'fifth down' game,” Terry Rau said, referring to the Tigers controversial home loss to Colorado on Oct. 6, 1990.
If that is true, that would make more than 100 straight home games attended by the Raus family.
As the Raus finished their meal and new ESPN College Gameday analyst David Pollack broke down Friday’s game on one of the many flat-screen TVs, eight recent MU graduates entered The Tavern. The seven high school friends from Lee’s Summit and one Omaha, Neb., native made plans to attend the game after one of them, Josh Bruce, came to the Insight Bowl last year.
“All I told them when I got back was, ‘We need to go,’” Bruce said.
One of the reasons Bruce was intent on returning to Tempe was the Mill Avenue district.
The street sports a wide brick sidewalk and the type of southwestern architecture that has become associated with Arizona and California. The buildings’ clean facades, big windows and flat roofs provide a sense of newness fans won’t find in downtown Columbia.
The names of the businesses that occupy Mill Avenue range from the national — Five Guys and P.F. Chang’s — to the familiar — an ice cream parlor called Sparky’s — to the subtle — a pizza place called “The Munchies” — to the slightly less subtle — a novelty shop called “Happy Healthy High Horny Herbs.”
But the place with the most Missouri fans on Mill Avenue probably felt very comfortable to the 50 or so (by unofficial count) who were inside. With a steel base and a simple countertop at the bar, many college flags — Missouri included — hanging from the ceiling, and flat-screen TVs on the walls, Blondies in Tempe bore an uncanny resemblance to Columbia's Campus Bar and Grill.
At the bar were Joe Whitener and Justin Phillips, two Rock Bridge High School graduates who met while umpiring games for Daniel Boone Little League in Columbia. There was only one caveat: Whitener graduated from Arizona State in 2009 and Phillips still attends MU.
“As soon as we heard the game was announced I created a Facebook event telling everyone to get down here,” Whitener said. “It was like 500 days ago.”
Whitener grew up as a Mizzou fan, but years of heartbreak made for an easy conversion when he arrived in Tempe..
“After the Nebraska game (in 1997), the kicked ball game, we were on the way to the car and my dad told me ‘You will not cry on the way home,’” Whitener said. “I just couldn’t understand why we lost.”
Blondies was once called “The Library,” and legend has it that patrons — often Arizona State students — would charge drinks to their parents’ credit cards and it would show up on the statement as “ASU Library.”
The name change and even a rare desert rain shower Friday afternoon couldn’t dampen the spirit of the Tiger faithful who made the trip.
“It only rains when Arizona State is going to lose,” saidmmit a Zach Jones, one member of the Lee's Summit crew at The Tavern on Mill.