For many founding members, being an Antler is a lifelong sport.
Years after graduating from MU, a founding member of the Antlers, John “The Bicycle Repairman” Miller went down to the court to yell at an official after MU lost a game at the buzzer.
Miller became so excited that the stitches from his recent wisdom teeth surgery broke. He continued to yell at the official even as drops of blood fell from his mouth.
“There was a lot of yelling going on,” he said. “I don’t think I ever got the attention of the official, but some people along press row were kind of terrified.”
His fiancée watched from the stands.
“She married me nonetheless,” he said, with a laugh.
Since their creation in 1976, the Antlers, a rowdy, organized fan group, have been scrutinized for their antics. In 1985, the group mocked then-Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs. Tubbs had been struck by a hit-and-run driver. The group made a cardboard car which it paraded around Hearnes Center and pretended to hit a fellow member dressed as a jogger.
Seven years later, the Antlers waved a hog’s head on a pole in front of then-Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson and his team. Over time, reports of the story have varied from the Antlers spilling pig’s blood on Richardson’s suit to brandishing several hogs’ heads.
The group has most recently come under fire for comments member Seth Rollins made about Oklahoma coach Kevin Sampson’s daughter. At a Feb. 12 game against Oklahoma, Rollins made mocking mention of Sampson’s daughter being used as a recruiting tool.
Some folks considered the remark “over the line.”
Miller and five others thought their antics were all in good fun.
Miller, along with Jeff “Ramone the K” Gordon; Rob “The Hammer” Banning; “Jungle” George Stoecklin; Roger Geary and John “Phlogdo of the Ozone” Shouse, were growing weary of the polite atmosphere at basketball games.
“At most games during the week, there were seven to eight thousand people there, and you could hear a pin drop,” Gordon said. “Three guys could distract a team because no one was doing anything.”
They set out to make that happen by providing their support in unconventional ways.
The Antlers drew from sketch comedies of the ‘70s. “Monty Python and The Holy Grail” influenced their performance, while “Saturday Night Live” gave them their name. In an episode of “Saturday Night Live”, Lily Tomlin danced with her hands at the side of her head, fingers outstretched like she had antlers. As Gordon and Banning watched it in the lounge of the fourth floor of Hudson Hall, an idea was born. At one of their first games as an official group, the Antlers orchestrated their dance during the “Missouri Waltz”.
While most attendees swayed their arms side-to-side above their heads, the Antlers wobbled, hands at their heads. Others took note and laughed. Soon the group became known as the Antlers.
The audience’s reaction was mixed.
“There’s always been the same reaction – some people were amused, some don’t know what to make of us,” Miller said.
Stoecklin said that while the Antlers were not the first overzealous fan group in the country, they were the first in the Midwest.
“Players that came from opposing teams did pay attention to us,” he said. “I think we did affect games, however slightly.”
“We like to think that we got a couple of points in the Tigers’ favor,” he said.
For years, the group taunted players and prided itself on securing the best seats in the Hearnes Center: section A-16. At one point, the Antlers pitched their tents in front of the Hearnes Center for eight days in November to secure tickets. Janet Shouse, wife of Antler John Shouse, said that often the Antlers would camp out for long periods of time, even when attendance to basketball games waned.
“Nobody else showed up,” she said. “They camped out for no reason other than to show their enthusiasm to Mizzou basketball.”
MU’s Athletic Department gave the group two rows of A-16 after it signed a sportsmanship agreement, restricting the use of profanity, to secure the seats. In 1995, the athletic department, citing no particular incident beside its consistent behavior problem, suspended the group for a year and put the seats in the student lottery. The next year, the Antlers moved back to A-16. Since then, they have continued to face problems with their seating arrangements.
Although the Antlers were sometimes known for their obnoxious behavior, all of the founding members graduated with high GPAs. They have since become successful engineers, attorneys, veterinarians and journalists.
Gordon graduated from MU in 1979 and writes Gordo’s Zone, an online sports column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He said he fell into sports writing while at MU and thinks his Antler days helped his career in sports talk radio. He said he looks back on the Antlers as a fraternity he and his friends created.
“As time goes on, you have kids and you hear from each other once in awhile,” Gordon said. “You get a job, get married, have kids and do your best to behave at games.”
He keeps in touch with a couple of the Antlers, especially Banning.
Banning, who received his nickname “The Hammer” from his ability to scream loudly for a long time without becoming hoarse, runs a plastics consulting and design company in St. Louis.
Banning said he never left the Antlers. After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1979, he came back several times to sit with the group. Banning admires the group’s longevity.
“They’re still there 30 years later,” Banning said. “I have kids the same age as the Antlers. That alone makes me feel a little bit older.”
Antler members Miller, a season ticket holder since 1977, and Geary are attorneys in Kansas City. They still attend MU men’s basketball games but do not participate in the Antlers’ activities anymore.
“Jungle” George Stoecklin, who received his nickname for his love of animals, is a veterinarian in Las Vegas. He stayed with the Antlers until he graduated in 1983 and opened his own practice where he treats small and exotic animals. Stoecklin’s brother Paul became an Antler over a decade later.
Shouse, an Antler from 1976 to 1982, is an engineering manager for an industrial automation company in Nashville, Tenn. He met his wife while in line for MU basketball tickets. She was a season ticket holder in college and sat a section away from the Antlers.
Janet Shouse attributes their 21-year marriage to John’s involvement in the Antlers.
“If he had been a typical spectator, I would’ve never seen him,” she said. Janet Shouse said her husband was shy outside of his Antler persona.
“He was very different from what I’d see in the basketball arena, and then what I saw when we went out,” she said.
John Shouse said he stays in contact with his fellow Antlers, including Cathy Boyd, the first female Antler.
Since leaving college, many of the original members still have their Antler values, even if they can’t fit into their black and gold T-shirts.
While Miller still has his shirt, he said he didn’t think he could get into it.
“The shirt has shrunk too much,” he said.
Some of the former Antlers have kept up with each season’s Antlers over the years. Gordon said the current Antlers are under more pressure than the Antlers of his era.
“Norm Stewart loved us, so we could get away with murder,” he said. “We had a free run of the place, and it was a different time, before political correctness.”
MU’s Faculty Council recently dropped a proposal to regulate fan behavior after the Antlers’ actions at a Dec. 19 game against Indiana University. The council dropped the proposal after it found out Tad Dunn, director of game operations, had sent the group an e-mail about its behavior.
Faculty Council member Rex Campbell drew up the proposal last month.
“Some members of the Antlers make some very awkward comments about persons from other communities,” Campbell said. “I don’t mind razzing, but when you personalize it, it’s uncalled for.”
Chad Moller, director of media relations for the athletic department, did not specifically single out the Antlers but did discuss fan behavior in general.
“Whenever something happens that crosses the line, we do our best to deal with that,” he said.
Stewart, the MU basketball coach from 1967 to 1999, said he liked the Antlers because they made basketball games more fun. He keeps in touch with Miller and Geary.
“All of those guys showed a lot of imagination, a lot of creativity and they were also controllable,” he said. “Sometimes they lost it, but they would still come back to center.”
Geary described the Antlers’ harassing as a mingling of art and science.
“It’s a combination of journalistic research techniques combined with psychology and theater when it’s done well,” he said.
The Antlers take teasing seriously. Since its early days, the group’s code has not allowed drinking on game days.
“You have to be on for three and a half hours,” Gordon said. “You just can’t be sharp if you’re drunk.”
Geary said some might not believe the Antlers were serious about their jest and grew up to be serious adults.
“Perhaps surprising to some, we have generally blended into the normal population fairly effectively,” he said.
Despite this, some of the founding Antlers do not repress their avid fandom.
“I find myself hollering at the TV all the time,” Shouse said. “No doubt about that.”
Gordon does, too. He said he sometimes has flashbacks to his Antler days at his children’s sporting events. His wife, Leigh Anne, has to keep him in line from time to time, he said.
“Sometimes she has to slap me and tell me to shut up,” he said.
Leigh Anne Gordon agreed. She knew many of the Antlers while attending graduate school at MU, when they looked out for her. Years later, she notes how the Antler-like behavior never left her husband.
“The Antlers are very much alive,” she said.