SHREVEPORT, LA. – If you were to write a manual on the intricacies of being a college football fan, you would be wise to consider Ron Fauss and Doc Bryson for your subjects.
Without a doubt, the two embody the core virtues of the ideal American sports fan: They are loud, happy, drinking, cussing, normal Joes — united in their unwavering support of everything Missouri.
On Thursday morning, the pair left the Show-Me State and made the 11-hour drive down Interstate 71 in their 1977 Ford Ltd., an old clunker that has been spray-painted black, with white and gold stripes spanning the length of the automobile. The car is very conspicuous, much like the outfits worn by the two men.
As they stood outside the gates of the University of Missouri Alumni Association tailgate Friday, in the electric hours before Missouri’s 38-31 win over South Carolina in the Independence Bowl, the two were in full game-day costume. Fauss, a short, boisterous man from just outside Higginsville, wore a felt, tiger-print hat, most likely designed for a woman, and a pair of homemade black and gold overalls. Bryson, long bundles of gray hair spilling out from under his Missouri cap, was dressed with equal spirit.
A few feet away, inside the gates of Missouri’s official tailgate, wealthy bankers and former sorority girls ate and laughed with graceful elegance. Under large tents, and with members of the Missouri band and cheerleading squad providing pleasant entertainment, members of Columbia’s high society sipped from glasses filled with expensive alcohol from the well-stocked bar.
Outside, Ron and Doc sipped soda out of cans and wine out of plastic cups. They were not concerned with paying the $35 entry fee into the Alumni Association’s tailgate, and so they hadn’t, opting instead to start their own two-man tailgate. Yet, somehow they were also the life of the party.
Missouri fans stuck disposable cameras through the metal bars of the gate of the museum’s entrance to snap pictures of the men’s car. An elderly woman with gray hair wearing a Missouri T-shirt approached the two men to ask if she could get a picture in front of it. A middle-aged couple asked what the “SAN2KU” license plate meant.
“Say no to KU,” said Doc, pulling on a cigarette. And then he smiled.
In a sports world where the average fan has become increasing apathetic and overly prone to fair-weathered tendencies, Fauss and Bryson offer a welcome change. They support their team unconditionally, and they do it with flair. They don’t necessarily seek the attention, but it usually seems to find them anyway.
The night before Friday’s game, they went to the Isle of Capri casino for a small taste of the Shreveport nightlife. You should have seen the looks they received, Doc says, as they pulled into the circle drive of the casino in the “TigerMobile”.
“The ride down here, we’d pass Missouri fans, and they’d wave and honk, stick their heads out the window,” Bryson said. “And we’d see the South Carolina fans, too, and they’d do the same thing. They were smiling, it’s all fun.”
It is worth noting that Fauss and Bryson did not have tickets to the 2005 Independence Bowl when they hopped in their car Thursday morning. They bought tickets from scalpers for $30 a piece, and even though the seats were located in the South Carolina section, you got the impression that they did not mind. They enjoy conversing with fans from other schools, seeing how others in the college football world go about supporting their football teams.
The pair was not deterred, either, by the lack of Missouri fans present in Shreveport. In 2003, when Missouri appeared in the Independence Bowl, Missouri sold approximately 8,000 tickets. This year, after the Tigers dropped three of their last four regular season games and finished 6-5, Alumni Association executive director Todd McCubbin estimated that only about 3,000 tickets had been sold. They are also part of a small breed of Columbians: Gary Pinkel supporters.
“I like the guy,” said Ron, his mustache dancing as he spoke. “I like him for two reasons: He graduates our players. And two, he runs a clean program. And I say it’s all going to come down to next year. As long as he can win seven or eight games, they got to keep him, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.”
Fauss and Bryson, along with the rest of the Missouri fans who made the trip to Shreveport, were severely outnumbered Friday. South Carolina fans came out in droves, so much so, that if you didn’t know that the Independence Bowl was held annually in Shreveport, La., you would be quite sure that the game was being held in Columbia, S.C.
College undergrads strolled by with their crimson and white T-shirts, which usually read “Cocks” or “Got Cock?” or some variation of the school’s Gamecock nickname. They wore these shirts with coy smiles, as if they were supremely pleased with the fact that they were wearing shirts marked with the word “Cock”, like a group of fifth graders during sex education week.
But these fans had nothing on Fauss and Bryson, and they knew it as they carried on their personal, low-maintenance tailgate.
As game time approached Friday, a visitor who had been observing the small spectacle, announced his departure.
Fauss, who had been packing hamburger meat with his hands, wiped his right hand on the pant leg of his yellow and black striped overalls, then stuck it out. And in that moment, with the remnants of red hamburger juice stained on his fingers and a smile forming across his round face, you knew that you were in the presence of a one of the last true American sports fans.