COLUMBIA — Coming out of the tunnel at Sanford Stadium before last week's win over Georgia, Missouri football players couldn't help but notice the crowd. Thirty minutes before kickoff, empty seats were tough to find among the growing mass of red and black that was quickly approaching the 92,746 capacity.
The Tigers were a little jealous.
On coach Gary Pinkel's weekly radio show on Monday, defensive tackle Marvin Foster and center Evan Boehm expressed some frustration with the attendance at Memorial Stadium early in the season, particularly during pregame and in the second half.
"We have good fans," Foster said on the radio show. "But they really like tailgating."
Boehm echoed Foster's sentiment, saying the stands surrounding Faurot Field were often half-empty in the second half.
Pinkel urged fans to pack "The Zou" at least 30 minutes prior to kickoff against Florida on Saturday.
Missouri fans appeared to respond. The scoreboard in the north end zone read 45 minutes to go before kickoff, but the stadium was already filling in. The green grass on the hill surrounding the "Rock M" was barely visible beneath the black and gold. The bleachers got more packed by the minute while the Tigers warmed up on the field.
Missouri fans didn't pass up tailgating for the 11:21 a.m. kickoff, either. Fans were setting up tents as early as 5:45 a.m. in the 30-degree temperatures on Saturday morning.
With Missouri 6-0 for the first time since 2010 and welcoming Southeastern Conference powerhouse Florida to town, Tiger fans rose the occasion. Games like the one on Saturday can be a measuring stick, and not just for the team. The fans seemed to understand that.
Florida fans showed up in droves, too, the blue and orange clashing against the black and gold both in the parking lots before the game and in the stands.
But instead of lingering in the parking lots, Missouri fans showed some urgency getting into the stadium. Maybe it was the requests from the Missouri players. Maybe it was the high-profile opponent. Or maybe it had something to do with the Tigers' perfect record.
Unlike earlier in the season, Missouri had a full crowd moments before kickoff with even more fans flooding down Tiger Avenue toward Stadium Boulevard.
Missouri football knew Saturday's game was a chance to make a statement. The games get bigger and bigger with each passing week, players insisted. And the Tigers had the full attention of the fans.
With the best crowd of the 2013 season at Memorial Stadium, attention shifted to the field, where a Missouri win against Florida could make an even louder statement.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.