COLUMBIA - More than three hours before game time on Saturday, a black SUV in the north parking lot outside Memorial Stadium blasted hip-hop music from its speakers at the gold-and-red-clad tailgaters surrounding it.
The lyrics were easy to understand.
“All we do is win, win, win no matter what,” rapper T-Pain yelled throughout DJ Khaled’s “All We Do is Win.”
The lyrics hit home for one of the two fan bases.
Alabama has won 14 national championships, including two of the last three. If Missouri fans weren’t aware of that fact before Saturday, they quickly had the number 14 burned into their brains.
It was clearly stated on the license plate of a red compact car parked near the stadium, where the phrase “14 Yall” was printed in red type. Some Alabama fans wore beige hats with a red No. 14 printed cleanly across the front.
When you’ve had that much success, you might as well flaunt it.
Alabama fans moved in packs around Memorial Stadium wearing crimson shirts and jerseys, with the phrase “National Champions” appearing more often than not. Many wore houndstooth fedoras, a tribute to iconic Alabama coach Bear Bryant.
Missouri fans were there, too, going through the motions. They ate and drank, just like always. They wore their gold and black and cheered mightily as Missouri players strolled across the bridge over Providence Road and down the ramp into the locker room at Memorial Stadium during the Tiger Walk.
But everything seemed quieter, almost eery. Their expectations tempered by an embarrassing home loss to Vanderbilt, Missouri fans treated their burgers, hot dogs and fried catfish strips like a ceremonial last supper.
Rick Kroger, an alumnus donning a gold shirt with the word “Missouri” plastered across the front, was anxious. He puffed on a cigar, taking breaks to drink his beer and chat with a friend.
He wasn’t worried about the game, he said, in denial at first. Then, after taking a painful breath, the truth flooded out in short, choppy sentences.
“I’m not worried that they’ll score 70,” he said, stopping to wince and perhaps consider the predicament his team would soon be in. “I’m more worried that they’ll score 40 and we won’t score at all.”
On the southeast side of Memorial Stadium, shortly after noon, Alabama fans had a Tiger Walk of their own. Waiting for the No. 1 team in the country to arrive at the stadium, fans lined the black-paved path.
Here there was no anxiousness or reluctance. There wasn’t a flicker of concern, as Alabama fans laughed heartily and donned their white Joe Namath Crimson Tide jerseys, yet another reminder of a superior football culture.
Where many Missouri fans were resigned to defeat, Alabama’s supporters seemed certain of the opposite. As long as their team arrived at the stadium and walked down that black-paved path, the outcome wasn’t in jeopardy.
Missouri, with a shoddy offensive line and a shaky backup quarterback, was a speed bump on the path to No. 15.
“I mean, anything can happen in a football game,” said Chris Golden, who traveled to Missouri from Florence, Ala. He, like many around him, had the number 14 stamped on the front of his hat. “But yeah, I’d say I’m about 98 percent sure we’ll win.”
Alabama’s players eventually did arrive, flooding out of coach buses. Quarterback A.J. McCarron walked down the ramp and into the stadium. Running back Eddie Lacy and linebacker Nico Johnson soon followed.
A Missouri fan in a bright gold shirt held up a sign as they passed. The white poster was barely decorated, with bold black type presenting a clear and desperate plea.
“Take it easy on us!” the sign begged.
As each player walked by, one after another, the crowd around them cheered with increasing ferocity. Finally, the fan lowered the sign below his knees, shrugged his shoulders and began to walk away.
It was no use. On a cloudy, overcast early afternoon in Columbia, fans hoped for the best and prepared for the worst.