ST. LOUIS — The border lines were obvious outside the Edward Jones Dome before Saturday’s Missouri-Illinois game.
An orange and blue banner reading “Illinois Headquarters” marked the entrance to the official Illinois tailgate across the street from the dome. A few people dressed in black and gold broke up the sea of orange and blue.
Todd Thomas, who was the official DJ of the tailgate, made sure to point out the enemies. He stopped the music, singled out the intruders and urged all the Illini fans to raise their bottles and cups for the team. Then, he took a shot at MU when he introduced the next song.
“And all you here from Columbia, Missouri, with your camouflage hats and trucks, this one’s for you,” he said. The opening riffs of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” promptly blared from the speakers.
MU sophomore Jason Kogut was one of the few Tiger fans there. But he was safe. The rest of his family was decked out in orange and blue.
The Koguts are used to wearing those colors. Jason’s dad, Jim Kogut, and two of his brothers played for the Illini. Jim Kogut was a defensive lineman from 1974 to 1978, and his best game was against the Tigers in 1977. He forced a fumble that Illinois recovered during the fourth quarter as the Illini went on to win 11-7.
From Western Springs, Ill., outside of Chicago, Jason Kogut is the first person from his family to cross the border and attend MU. All of his family has attended Illinois, including his twin sister Jacquelin Kogut. He broke ranks because of MU’s journalism school, he said.
Family feud: Marrying someone who’s a fan of your rival college might not sound appealing to some, but the Lamana family makes the arrangement work.
Charlie Lamana was a graduate of the University of Illinois-Chicago before being transferred to the St. Louis area. That’s when he met his future wife, Diane, a St. Louis native and Missouri Tiger fan. Things get more complicated, though.
The couple’s son, Nick Ritter, finds himself in a similar predicament. His wife, Ginger, is a graduate of — you guessed it — the University of Illinois, and she’s an Illini fan. The two couples come together for every Missouri-Illinois game with good-natured banter.
However, Nick Ritter is not so optimistic about the athletic allegiances of his children, saying “That’s going to be a mess.”
Mixed signals: Two families were able to look past their Missouri-Illinois loyalties and socialize together before the game. But it made for a strange-looking tailgate.
The Kelley family cheered for Illinois and contributed the Illinois flag waving above the RV, an orange tablecloth and orange and blue cups and napkins.
The Mertz family countered by stringing black streamers from the RV’s awning, tying black ribbon to the RV’s antenna and placing black plastic silverware in a gold Missouri cup.
Although they were spirited, the Kelleys weren’t too confident about Illnois’ chances, however.
“We’ll concede (this game) for basketball,” Dennis Kelley Sr. said.
The friends will reconvene for the Dec. 22 basketball game between the border rivals.
Fan Fest: There were plenty of entertainment options for fans of both teams to take part in before the game. Out in the parking lots, fans enjoyed inflatable games like the football toss, bungee-cord football and an enclosed jumping cage, making the atmosphere feel like a bowl game.
There were also options for fans who wanted to take a break from the afternoon sun. The State Farm Fan Experience featured a bright red trailer where fans could play virtual racecar games, NCAA ’08 on xBox 360 or watch college football on high-definition televisions – all in the shade.