COLUMBIA — Jay-Z blared from the Memorial Stadium speakers on Saturday afternoon, but everyone waiting for the Missouri football game to start had but one problem.
Call her what you want, but Mother Nature was in full force.
Rain descended upon Columbia throughout the day and left the tailgate scene around the stadium mostly extinguished. Several groups took cover inside parking garages, and one couple simply opened the trunk of their minivan and sat under the transplanted suburban shelter with their legs dangling above the drenched pavement.
After the Tigers walked across the Providence Road bridge connecting the training complex and the stadium parking lot, several fans took cover under the structure’s roof.
Ninety minutes before kickoff, the southwest tunnel at Faurot Field was bustling. In the tunnel entrance stood a pack of Arkansas Red Wolves, reluctant to step onto the turf for fear their coats — or Beats headphones — would be drenched. An assistant Arkansas State coach eventually came along to force them into the downpour.
An ESPN cameraman bent down to check a piece of equipment that he had just dragged out of the elements.
“Thankfully,” blared a radio broadcast from the video board, “we are still indoors.”
The forecast called for lightning, but the precipitation never yielded any true danger. Soon after the visiting players took to the field, a loud crack startled everyone in the stadium — just ROTC students testing the north endzone cannon.
Two Arkansas State assistants walked out onto the turf, but one did not have a proper credential, and a member of field security turned him away after a war of words. Having stepped into the rain for nothing, the young coach stormed back into the tunnel.
Two students watch the steamed coach stalk by: one from Missouri, one from Arkansas State. The young men will be wearing mascot costumes tonight, and they looked out at the weather with annoyed expressions. The Missouri student said he would be wearing one of the older Truman the Tiger getups. The school has several, but they don’t want the newest one getting too wet.
A cheerleader bravely passed through the entrance carrying two gigantic flags over her shoulder: Missouri’s official three-striper and a black and gold Tiger logo.
By then, most of the Red Wolves had invaded Faurot Field, and the rain was starting to slip off to the east. With no thunderstorm in sight, they had dodged one forecast, but another loomed: Most Las Vegas oddsmakers predicted a three-touchdown win for Missouri.
Arkansas State is here to pick up a paycheck and, likely, a sizable defeat on the field. But this is the last contest of small-game season; the Tigers can only prey on helpless Wolves for so long. There won’t be a single opponent the rest of the way that will be afraid to step into Memorial Stadium and put up a fight.
In 21 days, Florida will pay its first visit to Columbia.
And Gators like the rain.
Greg Bowers is supervising editor.