COLUMBIA — An hour and 45 minutes before the No. 4 Missouri Tigers took on the No. 8 Kansas Jayhawks, fans stood huddled outside the glass doors leading into the arena. Their hoods and umbrellas were up against the light mist that was falling and collecting in puddles on the concrete.
This wasn’t just any basketball game, and the fans knew it. Sports celebrity appearances, fireworks and a spot on national television all added to the hysteria that made up what could potentially be the last chapter for the 104-year-old rivalry in Columbia.
Zou Crew members with numbered neon yellow cards hanging from their lanyards were among the first to make their way through the concourse, their wet shoes squeaking on the gleaming floor. Whether together or alone, they did some modification of a power walk, rushing to grab the front-row seats in the student section even though staff members told them not to run.
When the doors opened to the student section entrance, it didn’t take long for a deep bellow of the “M-I-Z Z-O-U” chant to reverberate. There was no trace of a line as students packed together to fill the space in attempts to be first through the turnstile.
Soon, a black-and-gold marathon of race walkers filled the concourse, jockeying for position to get a seat just a little closer to the court.
All variations of the black and gold theme were present: striped face paint, a black and yellow boa, a black and yellow plaid lumberjack hat, gold beads and a glittery yellow pompom hanging from the back pocket of a man’s jeans.
Inside the arena, fans trickled down to their seats to begin the waiting game.
It wasn’t until 30 minutes to tip off that fans started to get rowdy with a standing ovation when senior guard Kim English swished a half-court shot to finish off the team’s first warm-up.
College basketball analyst Dick Vitale made an appearance at the front of the student section, and fans encircled him as he spoke into the camera. He tweeted a picture of himself surrounded by members of the student section.
Missouri’s prize football recruit Dorial Green-Beckham was greeted with a standing ovation and deafening applause as a clip of him on signing day placing a Missouri hat on his head played on the jumbo screen.
With eight minutes until game time, the lights dimmed and spotlights circled the arced roof of the arena as Truman the Tiger, wearing a blue vest attached to a neon cord, was lowered from the ceiling above center court.
The student section jeered as the announcer read the Kansas lineup, but the mood changed in an instant when the Tigers’ pregame video blared from the big screen.
Jay-Z, Rihanna and Kanye West’s “Run This Town” blared from the speakers to accompany the highlight video while green, red and yellow flames flashed to the beat from the top of the screen.
The lights came up. Smoke hung in the air.
“I love the atmosphere. I’ll say this, so much has been made about the hatred and all that stuff,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said. “I thought tonight, this is hard for me to say to Mizzou people, but I thought tonight, that was about as good and classy atmosphere as there is.”
During a timeout in the first half, nine former Missouri football players, including Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin were introduced. At halftime, St. Louis Rams wide receiver Danario Alexander, former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Andy Benes, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel and others were introduced as supporters of Gov. Jay Nixon’s challenge to Missouri athletic teams to build 35 homes in Joplin this year.
A new level of sound caused people’s eardrums to vibrate before junior guard Michael Dixon stepped to the line for two free throws. Nine seconds were left on the clock, and Dixon sunk both, placing the Tigers at 74-71 for the final score.
“You can’t just sit here and say this is an ordinary game because it’s not,” Dixon said.
Missouri head coach Frank Haith called it a memorable game, a classic.
“The crowd was as loud as I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in some loud places,” Haith said.
White confetti twirled down from the rafters above the student section.
“This crowd was incredible,” Haith said. “I think that we don’t win this game without their energy and what they brought to the table tonight, and it was just absolutely amazing.”