A sellout crowd of alumni, students and fans will fill Memorial Stadium on Saturday for Missouri’s 93rd Homecoming game, a tradition that is one of the oldest in the country.
Although the game is the focal point of homecoming weekend, the Missouri football players have other things on their mind, such as beating the No. 22 football team in the country.
“We’re going to go into the game preparing just to win another big football game on our schedule, not to win the homecoming game,” wide receiver Thomson Omboga said.
Homecoming games are often games the home team is expected to win and Missouri’s 52-35-5 record in those games is evidence of that. This year, though, the Tigers are looking to avoid consecutive losses and are playing a ranked team for the second straight week.
“I don’t really care what it is. Homecoming, awaycoming, it doesn’t really matter,” safety Nino Williams II said. “It’s a football game, and it’s a big one that we have to go out there and get.”
The Tigers have played the Oklahoma State Cowboys seven times in Homecoming games since it began at Missouri in 1911 and have a 4-3 record.
The Homecoming tradition originated when athletic director and coach Chester L. Brewer had the task of attracting a large crowd to Columbia for the game against rival Kansas.
Before that year the game had always been played in Kansas City, but a new Missouri Valley Conference rule that said all games had to be played on college campuses forced the change. Brewer negotiated to have the game in Columbia in late January 1911 during a trip to Lawrence, Kan., for a basketball game between the teams.
To fill the stands of Rollins Field, Brewer invited alumni to “come back home” for the game. He talked about his efforts 20 years later in the Nov. 4 edition of the Missouri Student newspaper:
“Naturally we at Missouri were all excited at the thought of seeing a Jayhawk-Tiger game on our own field and we begun talking the affair up around town and the countryside.”
His efforts were successful and about 9,000 fans saw the game. The idea of a passing game had yet to evolve at this point, though, and the teams tied 3-3 thanks to a field goal by Missouri’s Glen Shuck with four minutes left.
Since that game, there has only been one year without Homecoming at Missouri, when the game was cancelled in 1918 because of an influenza epidemic.
The lengthy tradition had led to a common misconception that Missouri is the birthplace of Homecoming. University of Illinois students Elmer Ekblaw and C. F. Williams organized a “Super Reunion” in 1910 when the Illini beat the University of Chicago 3-0.
Homecoming games were held only between Kansas and Missouri until the 1920s and the Jayhawks have been the most common opponent, with the most recent meeting coming in 2002. The Tigers won that game 36-12. Missouri leads the series, with an 18-7-2 record against Kansas in Homecoming games.
Members of this year’s Tiger team said that they try to ignore the talk of traditions and the extracurricular activities that surround the homecoming game.
“I’m not one of those type of guys that lets extra stuff juice a game up,” Williams said. “Because after all the fans, after all the horns and all the cheerleading outfits and smoke blowing you still have to get on that gridiron and play football.”
Some of the other players said they acknowledge that the return of more alumni than usual to this game gives it a special feel, but that the extra energy stays in the stands.
“It’s just another game to us, but not to the fans,” defensive end Zach Ville said. “To the fans it’s the Homecoming game and it’s a big game. But to the Missouri Tigers it’s just another game.”
The Tigers have won their last two Homecoming games and will have to stop the fourth-best rushing offense in the nation to continue that streak. Last year the Tigers beat Texas Tech 62-31 in a game that saw quarterback Brad Smith achieve career highs with 291 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.
Omboga, a senior playing in his fourth Homecoming game, summed up the team’s approach to the weekend.
“We’re going to have a lot of fans that are up for the game because it’s Homecoming,” he said. “We’re going to go into the game preparing just to win another big football game on our schedule, not to win the Homecoming game. We’re not going to pay too much attention to the Homecoming, just play the football game.”