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MU Homecoming traditions lost over time

Homecoming traditions used to include such things as bonfires and live tigers
Thursday, October 13, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:13 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 13, 2011
Freshman follow directions from upperclassmen in 1911.

A Homecoming rivalry

The football game is the culmination of the Homecoming celebration. Tigers fans lick their chops, hungry for a victory. The game is an event that features not only football but also an entire student body’s passion. Marching Mizzou and spirit squads perform routines to wow the crowd, and the Homecoming king and queen are crowned during halftime. In a sense, there can be no Homecoming without the football game.

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The various opponents that face the Tigers make this important game even more exhilarating. Big 12 schools, such as Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska, have attempted to spoil prior Homecomings by winning at Faurot, and this year, Iowa State stands between MU and Homecoming glory.

Teams such as the Sooners and Longhorns are very familiar adversaries to the Tigers, but only one school can claim the status as MU’s biggest rival. The Kansas Jayhawks and the Missouri Tigers share a historic rivalry that dates back to 1891, and only the Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry has played more Division 1-A football games than Missouri-Kansas.

It was an upcoming game with the Jayhawks that caused Chester Brewer to call on alumni to “come home” in 1911. Back then, Homecoming was scheduled around the week of Thanksgiving. Columbia shop owners showed their Tiger pride by merging the spirit of Thanksgiving with the animosity of playing the Jayhawks. In 1911, Charlie Matthews Hardware Company featured a real tiger head in their show window with a Thanksgiving turkey posed underneath. “Beat Kansas” signs hung over many store doors.

For the next 10 years, MU alternated hosting Homecoming football games with KU. Newspapers and MU’s yearbook, The Savitar, captured the scenes of a bitter rivalry. A section from the 1921 Savitar details the passionate dialogue that arose from Homecoming that year: “All over town that night, Tiger and Jayhawk rooters yelled defiance at one another or crowded into corners to talk over the dope of the game.”

Despite the bitter rivalry, there was also a deep respect between the two schools. In 1913, the Missouri Theatre invited both KU and MU to view a production of Bought and Paid For. That same year, KU’s band serenaded a group of reporters in the offices of the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Burning caps and bonfires

At the beginning of each school year, an influx of freshmen tries to navigate MU’s large campus. These college newcomers adjust to a new way of life, including for some living on their own for the first time in their lives.

A century ago, freshmen had no chance of blending in. They were required to wear caps on their heads, separating them from upperclassmen. When Homecoming arrived, freshmen rejoiced that they would no longer be forced to wear their caps — the inconvenient signs of juvenescence.

The night before the football game, a massive bonfire was held at Rollins Field (now Stankowski Field). Students would dance and jump, “snaking” around the fire and tossing their caps into the engulfing flames. The burning of the caps was a symbolic gesture, indicating that freshmen were no longer unfamiliar students; they were official members of MU.

The fire, on occasion, functioned as a mock funeral service for upcoming opponents. According to an article from the Columbia Daily Tribune, Judson Sanderson, an MU Law student, gave a commemorative speech in 1911, which detailed the death of a Jayhawk by a Tiger from the “Columbia Jungles.”

The Mass Meeting

Tailgating has become a nationwide college football tradition; pregame parking lots are packed with fans that are unwilling to wait for kick-off to begin their festivities. A conglomeration of food, games and alcohol precede the collision of football pads on the field. Before the advent of the portable grill and canned beer, MU fans took a different approach to pregame hype.

Along with the first Homecoming game in 1911, “mass meetings,” the equivalent of today’s pep rallies, were held at Rollins Field in accordance with the bonfire. The meetings lasted up to two hours and often began with a torchlight parade. Speakers stood on stages and screamed into voice amplifiers to rally Missouri’s faithful fans. In 1927, a rowdy bunch of students brought a small bear to the rally, gave it gold stripes and declared that the bear had Tiger spirit.

Photo courtesy of Savitar, 1969

Several former football players, celebrities and officials spoke at the meetings, such as William Warner, a former senator and a member of the Board of Curators, in 1927.

The Romp, Chomp, Stomp

The 1950s saw the rise of Elvis Presley, Dizzy Gillespie and the Romp, Chomp, Stomp, a collection of skits, food and dancing during MU’s Homecoming. Large crowds poured into Brewer Fieldhouse (home of the MU basketball team until 1972) to see performances from groups such as the Hellcats, a pep organization created in 1954.

The Hellcats were in charge of all pep rallies throughout the year, as well as selling mums. They performed skits and plays to entertain students and alumni. They were in charge of organizing Romp, Chomp, Stomp and the Homecoming Frolic, a dance for students the night before the football game. One activity included a tug-of-war between students.

Buffets provided all-you-can-eat food as student groups performed comical skits for alumni. A collection of artists such as Lionel Hampton, Charles Christian and Ella Fitzgerald gave vivacious performances, much to the student’s delight. Romp, Chomp, Stomp became an event students anticipated all year.

The day of the 1950 Homecoming football game, a Columbia Daily Tribune article described the events of the previous night’s wild and rowdy Romp, Chomp, Stomp festivities: “A red-hot crew of jazz artists had Brewer Fieldhouse jumpin’ last night with a crowd of students that didn’t stop their yelling and stomping until the jam session was over.”

In 1953, the “chomp” menu included barbecued ham on a bun, baked beans, ice cream and coffee. The Student Union and members of the Sophomore Council, a group of sophomore students in charge of advising freshmen and organizing events, provided the cuisine. Speakers, including Don Faurot, the Tigers’ coach at the time, roused students during the anticipatory celebration.

 A very real mascot

In January 2010, former MSA president Tim Noce was exploring the idea of bringing a live tiger mascot to MU football games. The story garnered national attention and was even discussed on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption. Some critics and animal rights activists were absolutely appalled by the idea. Noce pointed out that both Louisiana State and Memphis universities have live tiger mascots, and he could have also referenced MU’s history as defense.

A live tiger is brought to an MU football game in 1926.

A live tiger was brought to several games throughout the ’20s, according to Mizzou Wire, but it is unclear for exactly how long. MIZZOU magazine says that in 1924, a tiger led the Homecoming parade. The 1925 Savitar shows a picture of a live Bengal tiger confined to cage, resting on the sidelines of the Missouri-Kansas Homecoming game. The tiger might have served as a tool of intimidation toward KU players and a reminder of the harsh truth of the food chain.


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