This is a laundry story. A tale about two Missouri football equipment managers and 2,000 pounds of towels, pants, undershirts, shorts and socks.
About 13-pound boxes of Tide, five hampers and a black Dodge Ram cruising Providence Road with the girdle of quarterback Chase Daniel stinking up the back end.
This is about two guys riding with dirty threads. About Austin “Tex” Hall and Adam Borts shoving quarters into tiny slots, so tight end Martin Rucker can run gassers in style.
Progress has forced the MU equipment staff to improvise. Construction of a new training complex near Tom Taylor Building closed the former laundry facility. A new one won’t be completed before the upcoming season.
Since the start of fall camp, Hall and Borts have made do. They have washed the team’s smelly stuff off campus. By December, they will have spent about $7,500 mopping up sweat and bacteria and Lord knows what else from Missouri football’s finest.
Dedication carries Hall and Borts through the dog days — even when all else suggests the effort isn’t worth their reward. Their situation translates into a fraternity-style atmosphere, a fertile ground for camaraderie. And the feeling grows with time.
They tease one another endlessly, curse like it’s their job. Laughter never stops. For them, their bond makes the gofer work tolerable, the grunt life fun.
The spark lasts until the day’s duties are done.
“Excuse us, we stink,” says Hall, stepping inside the truck under Faurot Field’s south stands. “It has been a long day.”
“We’ll just rub some of that Tide under our armpits,” says Borts, gripping the clutch, laughing. “That should take care of it.
“Hey, Tex, don’t let your leg touch mine. That’s gross!”
Hall and Borts persevere. They go on despite the heat and thankless labor. They don’t have much choice. It’s what they do.
They are behind-the-scenes guys, people who take care of the small things. They are part of a 12-member staff. They are responsible for a lot. Laundry’s just the start.
They load the equipment truck. They unpack Nike polo shirts, place pylons in end zones. They pick up tackling dummies, drive John Deere gators. They dress offensive linemen.
They make Missouri football tick.
“Tex, if you can’t see a bubble in the Culligan jug,” Borts says, “it means it’s empty. Fill the (expletive) tank! Three times now, I’ve tried to get a drink, and it has been empty.”
“No. 1,” Hall says with a sly grin, “I’ve never had it not bubble. And No. 2, management’s never told us how.”
Borts, who graduated from MU this past spring, has done equipment work for four years. Hall, an MU sophomore, begins his second.
Outside the Missouri football family, not many pay attention to them. They are fine with that. They are used to the pecking order. Coach Gary Pinkel doesn’t even know them by name. Not many do.
They are background noise, invisible bystanders to the glory on the field. You won’t see their names crack a Heisman Trophy watchlist anytime soon. In fact, you will be lucky to see them at all.
They know they don’t have a glamorous gig. The pair jokes about making an episode of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” someday. They don’t do this for attention. They don’t do this for fame.
“Every day is something different,” says Don Barnes, director of equipment operations. “I may be the face of the staff. But these guys are the hands and feet and grunts.”
Every morning, the grunts begin work at 6. During two-a-days, they will be lucky to leave by midnight. There’s always one more towel to fold, another grass stain to scrub. The work never ends.
As pay, a few athletic department T-shirts may come their way. Perhaps they will receive a monthly stipend to help with textbook costs. After practice, chicken teriyaki lunches in the press box never hurt. Shooting the breeze with players is a perk. Traveling with the team, too.
But something more genuine, something more sincere, drives motivation.
“Just being around the game, it’s a job I love,” Hall says. “Laundry’s just a small part of it. ... The benefits outweigh the negatives.”
The benefits look like this:
Hall — tall and stocky, carries a conversation outside Hearnes Center with women’s soccer players, who address him by his nickname.
Borts — Extroverted and jovial, dances to Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” with members of the training staff during downtime in the office.
The benefits sound like this:
Hall — “Most players are cool. ... Just the other day, (linebacker) Dedrick Harrington stopped by and said how much he appreciates what we do.”
Borts — “We see a lot of people walk up to the stadium gates and think this place is the coolest thing ever. This is where we work. It’s become second nature to us.”
Perhaps this second nature keeps them going.
Borts likes to tell about the time he ran into former offensive lineman AJ Ricker inside MU’s Brady Commons. They struck up a conversation, two acquaintances with vastly different visibility joined by a shared bond. Students nearby began to stare.
Borts wondered why.
“Look who you’re talking to,” Ricker had told him.
Hall and Borts work on the inside. Every fall, thousands come to Faurot Field to catch a glimpse of what they live every day. The public’s spectacle has become their routine.
Their job isn’t easy, they understand that. They arrive six hours before a game, go home six hours after. But Hall and Borts carry on, building relationships with some of MU’s most prominent faces. They immerse themselves in a game they love.
This sense of exclusivity makes work their play — even if it takes a laundry run to discover fulfillment from the journey.
“It takes a special person to work here,” Barnes says. “That person has to be loyal. They have to love Missouri, love the program.”