COLUMBIA — The green turf of Faurot Field was barely visible Sunday afternoon. Missouri football fans wearing yellow, gold and black shirts and jerseys covered its surface as they waited to meet the players of the 2012 Tigers team.
Eleven white tents stood on the field. Fans waiting for autographs holding helmets, footballs and jerseys stood in lines extending past the width of the field, curving into the stands and up the aisles.
Young children danced around their parents waiting for autographs, and a group of teenage boys tossed a football around at one end of the field underneath the yellow goal posts.
Golden Girls kneeled in groups of three with young girls dressed in Missouri cheerleading uniforms. Truman the Tiger hugged fan after fan, and players smiled, taking pictures with fans.
Missouri football fans love their team and were readyto show their support. About 7,500 attended Fan Day, according to Dave Reiter, director of strategic communications for the athletics department.
Chris Westendorff, a Missouri football fan from Clinton, drove an hour and a half just to get the autographs of the new players.
"I had a ball from last year with all the players' signatures, so now it's really filling in the space," Westendorff laughed, his golden spray-painted hair glinting in the sun.
It was Westendorff's second year at Fan Day, and he said his buddy who introduced him to it has been coming for more than six years. Westendorff's girlfriend, April Lafarge, laughed as Westendorff showed another fan his football.
"He's a big, big fan," Lafarge said.
Incoming MU freshmen and Missouri cheerleaders Jacob Vogler of Blue Springs and Brandon Rose of St. Joseph said they were awed by the number of fans in attendance.
"It's kind of different," Rose said of Fan Day. "But, it's pretty awesome," he said smiling again.
Vogler said as a cheerleader he keeps getting told that when the first game starts and he walks into the stadium, it's just going to be breathtaking, but Sunday was a good idea of what the opening game will be like.
Brock Bondurant, a Missouri quarterback and freshman from Memphis, Mo., smiled as children gathered around him for autographs.
"I did this as a little kid," he said while signing a little girl's football. But this time, Bondurant was at Fan Day as a player, an opportunity he didn't know he would get until this past Monday.
"I'd been in contact with the recruiting coordinator and never heard back as to whether I was on the team or not. Finally, on Monday I got the call. I was so excited," he said.
"And, even though I'm not somebody's hero yet," he said, "this makes you feel great."
Missouri defensive lineman and redshirt freshman Shane Ray had his own fan entourage.
His four young cousins were hanging on to his legs and arms, hugging him and looking at him with admiration. His mother, Sebrina Johnson, and uncle Clyde Goodwin also were supporting him.
"He's my cousin," Marlana Johnson said.
"I'm his brother," Dominic Johnson, 4, and Justin Johnson, 6, shouted.
Ray's mother laughed at the two young boys. "They're really his cousins," she said. "They just love to watch Shane play, and now the little ones all want to come here because Shane plays here."
She said seeing Ray in uniform for the first time last year was really emotional. "I'm just so proud of him," she said.
Ray's cousin Clyde Goodwin Jr. also was supporting Ray but said, although he loves his cousin, he really loved getting to see Missouri quarterback James Franklin.
"Franklin is my favorite because he's a quarterback, and that's what I want to be," Goodwin Jr. said.
"It means a lot seeing all the fans come out here and supporting us," Missouri wide receiver and senior Rolandis Woodland said. "They give us so much, so it's nice to give something back."
And when asked about Missouri's entrance to the Southeastern Conference this year, Woodland said it's causing quite a stir.
"The SEC is causing a lot of excitement," Woodland said of the animated fans Sunday.
"But at the end of the day, it's all football," he said.