COLUMBIA — Gator fans from across the country are converging on Columbia for Saturday's showdown between the Missouri Tigers and the Florida Gators.
Longtime Southeastern Conference competitors, the Gators traveled to Missouri, bringing their fans and their traditions in their wake. On Friday morning, fans had begun setting up their RVs, taking in the downtown scene and exploring Missouri's campus. Some Gator fans from Florida said they traveled more than 1,000 miles to reach Columbia.
Gator fan R.W. Walker of South Carolina had set up shop outside his RV, which was decked out in Gator flags and had the team's logo stamped on the back.
"The crowd will be old like us, rather subdued, polite," the 65-year-old said of fellow Gator fans. "You probably won't see too many fist fights with 70-year-old fans."
The 'chomp,' the fight song, the boys of old Florida
The most recognizable of Florida traditions is the "chomp," in which Florida fans mimic the snap of gator jaws by extending their arms and clapping.
Walker and his wife, Teri Walker, said they chomp every time they cross state lines out of Florida.
On the way back into the state, the Walkers sing the whole fight song, "The Orange and Blue," including the first verse — which Teri Walker said is often not sung in games.
"On brave old Florida, just keep on marching on your way, on brave old Florida, and we will cheer you on your play, rah rah rah!" R.W. Walker sang.
They said they expect to chomp multiple times at Saturday's game.
R.W. Walker said that after the third quarter of the football games — away or home — Gator fans put their arms around one another and sing, "We are the Boys of Old Florida."
Dressing like they're from Florida
At some SEC schools, fans dress up in sundresses and bow-ties for games. However, Gator fan Brian McDowell, 50, said most people from Florida dress like they're from Florida — in board shorts and flip flops.
"Contrary to the newspaper this morning, Gator fans do not wear denim shorts — jorts!" he said.
Mike Pritchard, 47, of Florida stood in front of the MU Columns with some friends from his Florida graduate school days. He said they will wear orange and blue garb for the game, and he'll likely don a Florida sweatshirt.
Bringing personal traditions on the road
The Walkers named their RV the Gator Victory Express, a tribute to the train that used to take University of Florida fans to watch the Gators play against the Florida State University Seminoles.
A plastic gator head sat outside of the Walkers' RV on Friday morning, its teeth sunk into a miniature stuffed Truman. Teri Walker bought the stuffed animal in Columbia Thursday night to keep up the family's personal tradition of buying a stuffed animal at every SEC school they visit.
After their Columbia visit, the gator will have sunk its jaws into every SEC mascot.
Gator fan Gayle Urwiller of Florida said many Florida fans aren't alumni. Not an alumna herself, she attended her first game 27 years ago and was hooked. She and her husband, Chuck, have been on the road since University of Florida's game against Alabama on Oct. 6. They don't plan to be back in Gainesville until the day before Florida's Homecoming on Nov. 9, when the Gators will play Vanderbilt.
At every SEC venue, they try to eat at a popular locality and said they planned to visit Flat Branch Pub & Brewing on Friday night.
Gator fan Barney McDowell, 80, of Florida and originally from Odessa, Mo., said he has seen every SEC venue. None of the family, except for Barney's wife, Marcia, has seen a Missouri home game. And that was more than 50 years ago.
"All I remember was the lady I was following into the stadium was wearing a full-length mink coat," said Marcia McDowell, 77.
As Missouri is a new SEC school, R.W. Walker said he has no ill will toward Missouri fans.
"We don't have 100 years of hatred built up," he said. "Ask me again in a 100 years."
Some Gator fans said they expect a low-scoring game with the Gators winning. David Frederick of California, a friend of Pritchard's, said he expected the Gators to take the game 13-10.
"Do you know our most recent game day tradition? Really bad offense," Frederick said.
Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.