NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Fifteen minutes prior to kickoff for Missouri's game against Vanderbilt, a piece of developing Commodore tradition emerged from the tunnel of Vanderbilt Stadium.
Just as it has before every Vanderbilt home game since 2004, the Anchor began its journey toward midfield. Resting on the shoulders of two female ROTC students, the aluminum ship anchor, painted a dull gold, has become an object of ritual for Vanderbilt's football program.
The students gently set the Anchor on the goal post with 10 minutes to go before kickoff. Vanderbilt's mascot, Mr. C, danced wildly in the end zone. Patches of empty seats remained in the student section, but the anticipation was building.
Foghorns bellowed throughout the stadium walls, just as they had periodically leading up to kickoff. The Anchor once again was hoisted onto the shoulders of the two students, the chain dangling at their sides. Mr. C had stopped his antics. He was now standing in a formation along with a group of alumni all stationed behind the anchor.
"It's time to Anchor Down," the public address announcer said.
The march began toward midfield. As the group methodically trekked toward the large star on Vanderbilt's 50-yard line, all eyes in the stadium were fixed on the 6-foot-tall, 40-pound anchor.
The group was ready to perform the final step of the ritual. Place the Anchor at midfield. Just as the gold paint was set to meet the turf, a spattering of boos emerged from Vanderbilt's student section. Missouri's players had charged out of the locker room and down the east sideline.
The farther down the sideline Missouri ran, the quieter the boos became, and the louder the cheers grew. A mass of yellow stood out against the duller gold of Vanderbilt. Missouri's fans had laid claim to the east side of the stadium, and Missouri's entrance had taken all of the attention away from the ritual at midfield.
Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham turned to Levi Copelin in disbelief
"Man, doesn't this feel like we're at home?" Green-Beckham said.
Vanderbilt is building tradition, albeit slowly. The Commodores have been to bowl games in consecutive seasons, and coach James Franklin has worked to get more fans to games and give the program more flavor. That's part of what the Anchor represents.
But on Saturday night, Missouri bested Vanderbilt on the field with a 51-28 win. The Tigers also flexed their muscles as a program. Missouri filled a significant portion of Vanderbilt Stadium and dictated the atmosphere all night.
Tradition was far from Vanderbilt's mind when Missouri drove 75 yards in five plays to start the game and take a 7-0 lead. The positive steps Vanderbilt's football program has taken weren't evident at the end of the first quarter when Missouri had a 20-0 lead.
Even when Vanderbilt coach James Franklin was featured in a motivational video on the scoreboard at the north end of the stadium in the third quarter, progress never seemed too far way.
"Change the culture," Franklin said in the video.
But the culture felt the same. Just below Franklin's face on the video board, the score revealed the truth about Vanderbilt football. Missouri 30, Vanderbilt 14. Seconds after the video ended, Henry Josey punched in a one-yard touchdown to extend the Tigers' lead to 23 points.
The Commodores fought back in the fourth quarter, pulling within two scores, but not many Vanderbilt fans were around to see it. The student section was almost completely vacant when Vanderbilt forced Missouri to punt for the first time. Sarcastic applause was the only response the crowd could muster.
Moments later, the sections of Missouri fans filled the airwaves with a familiar chant.
"M-I-Z," the crowd started. "Z-O-U."
"Might as well say it was a home crowd," L'Damian Washington said. "Our fans get it. First game of SEC play, and they stepped it up."
For a change, Missouri was the team imposing its will on a Southeastern Conference team, not the other way around. The 4-0 start in nonconference was more than a mirage. The Tigers have now picked up a conference win after only mustering two all of last season.
The Anchor had disappeared into the depths of the stadium as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The symbol of the progress Vanderbilt has made would have to wait another week. Progress wasn't coming on this Saturday night.
On the opposite sideline, Missouri fans were still packed into their section, celebrating with the players as the band played victory songs. The 5-0 start for the Tigers in 2013 has provided nothing but progress.