When the gates of Memorial Stadium opened Sunday, a mass of black and gold engulfed the turf of Faurot Field. Excited fans bypassed the stadium stairs and raced down the grassy hillside above the end zone to get a closer look at the MU Tigers.
Tiger fans gathered Sunday afternoon to meet their favorite players at MU’s second annual Fan Day. Coach Gary Pinkel and his players signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans who anxiously waited in lines.
Loretta Lowery of Columbia brought her 11-year-old son Daniel to meet quarterback Brad Smith.
“He’s the best player, and he’s got sweet moves,” Daniel said.
After getting Smith’s autograph, Daniel held up his freshly signed football and pointed.
“I just told him to sign it right on the white spot,” Daniel said.
Tiger pride was everywhere. MU’s mascot, Truman the Tiger, was giving out hugs and handshakes to children in the south end zone.
The Golden Girls dance squad and the MU cheer squad were also on hand to sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans.
Charles McDonald, 70, has been coming to watch the Tigers practice for 10 years, and he attended the first Fan Day last year. He noticed a significant increase in the number of people attending Sunday’s festivities.
“I’d say turnout is a third larger this year,” McDonald said. “I’m glad they had a big turnout;everybody loves a winner.”
There’s a reason for the crowd. Anticipation for this season is higher than usual. The last time the Tigers were ranked in the pre-season polls was 1980. But after an 8-5 record this past season and a trip to the Independence Bowl, MU enters the upcoming season ranked as high as No. 14 in the national polls.
The excitement enticed more than a thousand people to the stadium.
Quarterback Brad Smith was clearly the center of attention. Lines to see Smith stretched the length of the football field at times. Fans were asking him to sign footballs, posters, T-shirts and other memorabilia. Other players, including All-American candidate and team captain James Kinney, were engaging with the fans as well.
Fans also made their way to the stadium box office to purchase tickets for the upcoming home games that begin Sept. 4 against the Arkansas State Indians.
Jim Hutchings, 63, of Liberty came to get a poster autographed to put up in the barbershop he owns.
“I think this is fantastic. We never get to meet the boys on a regular basis,” Hutchings said.
As for the preseason hype surrounding the team, Hutchings is glad to see the Tigers getting some national exposure.
“It tickles me to death. Been waiting for it for years,” he said.
Tanya and Rob Watson brought their sons, 10-year old Johnathan and 3-year-old Dylan, out to see the team.
“Being a loyal Tiger fan, I’m here to meet and greet the players and let them know I’m here for them and will support them all the way,” Rob Watson said.
He said he’s really looking forward to seeing the Tigers take the field this season. He hopes the preseason polls are a sign of things to come.
“I feel great. I think that’s the tip of the iceberg, “ Rob Watson said. “We’re going to rise to the top.”