COLUMBIA — The Missouri football team’s first season in the Southeastern Conference has brought along a series of new things: A new conference, new rivals, even new jerseys.
Thursday night at the Missouri Theatre, University of Tennessee professor and SEC historian Mark Windham will give Tiger fans the opportunity to learn about the old, as he details the tradition-laden history of the SEC.
Windham will present a condensed version of the conference’s historical arc, from its birth in 1932, to its current form. He’ll also discuss each school in the conference and share the background stories behind some of the most bizarre and colorful traditions.
“Why in the world does Alabama have a man in an elephant suit, and yell ‘Roll Tide’?” Windham said. “How can you go to a ballgame and not wonder why?”
Windham’s curiosity about SEC football led him to create a freshman course on the conference’s history seven years ago at the University of Tennessee. Since then, he’s been invited to speak at University of Tennessee alumni chapter meetings, private businesses and regional conferences.
When he spoke this summer at an SEC communicators association meeting in Knoxville, Tenn., Missouri representatives invited him to Columbia. His presentation begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the theater. Admission is free.
“I’m here to learn about Mizzou first and foremost,” Windham said about his stay in Columbia. “I’m getting tours, going to the ballgame. I’m trying to be a sponge when it comes to MU tradition.”
After watching the Missouri football team play its first SEC game against Georgia on television last Saturday, Windham said he was impressed with the Tiger fans.
“They fit in just fine,” he said. “They’re as avid as everybody else.”
On the subject of Tiger fans being “too nice,” Windham had one piece of advice:
“What you have to understand, being in the SEC, is you don’t have one big rival, you have 13 Kansas Jayhawks,” he said. “You should treat everyone like you treat Kansas folks.”
Windham calls his SEC obsession a hobby and scoffs at the notion that he’s a real historian. He primarily teaches courses in plant pathology and his research focuses on diseases in ornamental plants, such as roses, dogwoods and hydrangeas.
Although he teaches at the University of Tennessee, Windham grew up a fan of Mississippi State University, where he received his undergraduate and master's degree and his father ran track.
Despite his affiliations, Windham said he’s an avid fan of every team in the conference — except Ole Miss.
“I just wanted to know what made every team tick,” he said. “They say keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
Supervising editor is John Schneller.