COLUMBIA — A few hours before Missouri’s final home game against Syracuse on Saturday, a steady stream of football fans descended down Stadium Boulevard toward Memorial Stadium. Dressed mostly in black, the group looked like it could have been headed to a funeral instead of a football game.
With Missouri’s seven-year bowl streak likely hinging on the results of Saturday’s game, the fans could have been mourning the end of one of the program’s greatest runs.
The crowd outside of the stadium was even more sparse than usual, as vacant parking spaces outnumbered occupied ones. Desperate scalpers stood outside the west end of the stadium, in front of the smiling statue of former coach Don Faurot, and pleaded for passing fans to buy their tickets.
On a day when most students were already home, delivering loads of dirty laundry to parents and counting down the days until an artery-clogging Thanksgiving dinner, the scalpers’ cries fell on deaf ears.
The dedicated fans who did park and set up tailgates soldiered on, displaying tables overflowing with fried chicken and hot wings. Televisions stashed inside open trunk doors showed other football games, most involving teams who had more to play for than Missouri on Saturday night.
The smell of burned food hung unpleasantly in the air, overpowering the more appetizing aromas emanating from nearby tailgates. One man, dressed in a black Missouri sweatshirt, yelled at passing fans who weren’t donning black and gold, demanding more dedication from the meager crowd.
Atypical for a day so late in the fall, the temperature hung in the high 50s, allowing those outside to remain comfortable wearing sweatshirts and jeans. Two trees outside of the front of the stadium produced bright red leaves that littered the black pavement below, blowing around the feet of beanbag-tossing tailgaters.
The sun, threatening to go down before the 6 p.m. kickoff, hung low in the sky on the west side of Memorial Stadium, its bright rays peeking through the fenced sides of the bridge that passes over Providence Road.
It was one of those days where, because of the smaller crowds, familiar faces were met with little or no recognition. Athletics director Mike Alden strolled through the west parking lot, in the shadow of the video board, and no one stopped, turned or gave a second look. Former Missouri basketball player Steve Moore’s head poked clearly above the crowd that surrounded him, a result of his 6-foot-9 frame, and his presence produced no reaction.
The lack of enthusiasm wasn’t only associated with Missouri, though.
Before the team’s game against the Syracuse Orange, the most orange seen outside the stadium was worn by the Memorial Stadium event staff, who stood outside each gate of the student section, tearing tickets and checking student IDs.
The visitor’s seating area, located in the southeast corner bleachers, held only a few rows of orange-and-blue-clad fans. Several more rows around them remained empty, exposing lonely silver bleachers.
It seemed, in a game featuring two 5-5 teams, that neither fan base was enthralled by the rare matchup of SEC and Big East opponents.
As the game began shortly after 6 p.m., entire sections on the far ends of the east bleachers remained nearly empty, with a few fans appearing as mere dots, outliers lost in the middle of an empty mass of bleachers.
This wasn’t the Georgia game, or the Alabama game. Heck, it wasn’t even the Vanderbilt game.