Welcome to fall.
I’m meteorologically in error, despite predicted high temperatures in the near-frigid 80s. But Sunday starts the week when Columbia children leave home for school and when college students from around the world arrive in town. This is the week before the first week of Friday Night Lights, when Rock Bridge opens against DeSmet and Hickman plays Lee’s Summit North.
This is the week for enjoying one last ride on city roads traveled less during summer; for cleaning and painting and prepping; for buying soap or shower curtains before the inventory on store shelves gets skinny. This is the week to gear up for the onslaught.
At that little land-grant university in the middle of town, three little letters are on the lips of many, and they aren’t MIZ or ZOU.
Ready. Set. Start the SEC.
The Southeastern Conference has arrived. The defection from the Big 12 is old news, just stuff for codgers on barstools to reminisce upon. The focus is on Razorbacks, not Jayhawks. It’s time to move on to other Tigers. (Mizzou brings to three the number of SEC schools with this particular cat as their mascot). On to (both) Bulldogs and to Rebel Black Bears.
In March, a group of us were pondering what more could be said about the SEC by August. The “stat sheets” of schools had been published (and will be again as MU competes against the various opponents). The likes of LSU and Alabama, perennial national champion contenders, were household names even here in Big 12 country.
What would be the road less traveled, so to speak, that gives readers something no one else has done?
The answer was in the question.
“Road Trip SEC” will be published Thursday in print and next week online. Six Missourian reporters spread out to the 13 universities to capture the essence of the cities, schools and people that make up the Southeastern Conference.
They came back with a sack full of stories. Fun stories. Fascinating stories.
They listened to Alabama’s “Song of the South” at a Five Points bar in Columbia, S.C. They hung out with downtown hipsters and midtown frat guys in Gainesville. They ate deer burgers at Left Field Lounge while trying to find the truth behind the persistent question: Is Starkville, Miss., really the most boring town in the SEC?
The Missourian reporters traveled on weekends between March and May. They took along camera phones — there wasn’t enough in the budget to send photojournalists, too — and came back with snapshots. Some got hotels; others found sofas or spare rooms.
It was a risk, frankly. They were reporting at colleges in the middle of NCAA baseball season. They weren’t arriving on football weekends, when the chandeliers are broken out for tailgaters on The Grove at Ole Miss.
But they found plenty of football. And they discovered much more.
I’d plan to kick back with a beverage (cheap beer travels well between the Big 12 and SEC, it appears) and read a spell. At 32 pages, this special section is one you’ll want to savor, not scan.