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48 HOURS OF FOOTBALL: Hearnes Center parking lot transforms into RV land

Friday, October 28, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 8:57 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hour 15: 6:31 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 22

The stands are empty.

In a few hours, they’ll be filled with the deafening sounds of fans and announcers. The cheerleaders’ pom-poms will glitter in the sun that will warm the spectators’ black-and-gold or orange-clad backs.

But for now, it’s still dark, and most of the fans are asleep. The Hearnes Center parking lot has been transformed into an RV land crammed with tailgaters who camped here overnight in anticipation for the 11 a.m. game. Taking advantage of the chilly temperatures, a number of the campers have neatly lined up their red and blue coolers on the pavement outside where they stayed cold.

Members of Marching Mizzou stream across the parking lot to congregate in a corner of RV land, just yards away from the slumbering tailgaters. The drumline is the first to practice. The sharp sounds of the snare drums and the deep bangs of the bass drums ring out, sounding the alarm that game day has unofficially begun.

Brandon Milam sits on the case of his mellophone while he waits for his warm-up. His breath comes out in white puffs in the cold air. Milam rose at 5:30 this morning to go through his pregame routine, which includes rehearsal and breakfast with Marching Mizzou.

The drumline stops. A whistle blows, and Milam lines up with the rest of the band. An army of instruments gleams in the moonlight. The musicians launch into the Mizzou fight song. Vibrato rings out from the bass section. The piccolos trill, and the cymbals crash. The color guard’s black-and-gold flags flick up in the air then down again. Up. Down. Around. Up. Down. Around.

“Long tones, long tones,” a man calls out to the band, his voice amplified with the help of a megaphone.

By 7 a.m., the sky is lightening into a deep periwinkle. The only celestial bodies now visible to the naked eye are the crescent moon overhead and shining Jupiter and Sirius. In front of the Mizzou Arena, a string of white tents reach up to the sky with peaks that look like meringue. A sash of orange and pink begins to encircle the horizon.

A few campers begin to emerge. A man and a woman struggle to erect a black-and-gold canopy outside their RV.

Little Belle was woken by the drumline, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Her tail wags from excitement as her owners, Cathy and Paul Pitlyk, take her for a stroll around the RVs. She’s half shih tzu and half bichon frise they say, and her little body is covered in soft, white fur.

She’s clearly a morning gal.

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