MANHATTAN, Kan. – Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel has been considered a long shot to win the Heisman Trophy in recent weeks. But on Saturday, no other candidate was closer to the coveted prize.
The trophy was on display less than a mile from where the MU bus dropped off the players outside Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The Heisman display, presented by Nissan, was just one of many exhibits at the ESPN The Magazine Gridiron Blowout 2007, a 10-city campus tour that promotes the magazine’s sponsors.
The Blowout was billed as a tailgate, but the scene looked more like a bustling city market.
Fans could pick up a complimentary razor at the Gillette station or attempt a game-winning field goal at the Field Goal Challenge. If they needed a break, they could chill in the ESPN tent by lounging on leather couches and watching football on flat screen TVs. If they got hungry, they could pick up some spiced jerky at the Jack Link’s station. And, on the off chance they forgot to put on a pair in the midst of rushing out to the tailgate, fans could pick up a pair of plaid – or polka-dot – boxers at the Hanes tent.
While the fans made their rounds, loud music blared from the ESPN tour bus, where tour manager Shawn Whitehurst picked out the beats and plugged the magazine.
“I’ve been on the Gridiron tour for three years and it’s by far the best,” Whitehurst yelled over the music. “How can you beat partying at a college town on game day?”
Whitehurst said that the Heisman exhibit is always one of the most popular attractions, but with a Heisman hopeful in town, there was an added buzz, especially for the MU fans who made the four-hour drive to the Little Apple.
When Ted Stipanovich, 26, and his brother, Brad, 14, heard the Heisman was in Manhatten, they immediately asked for directions from their tailgate. The two were dressed perfectly for the photo opportunity, wearing black T-shirts proclaiming “Daniel for Heisman” in yellow capital letters. They bought the shirts from a fraternity before last Saturday’s game against Texas A&M.
“I don’t think there is anyone more important to his team,” Ted Stipanovich said.
BAND TOGETHER: The soundtrack to most tailgates usually consists of whatever random song will pop up on someone’s iPod. But in Cat Town, a tailgate area about 400 feet northwest of Bill Snyder Family Stadium, a band called Southwind used classic rock-and-roll staples to create its own musical background for Wildcat games.
“From the Beatles to Garth Brooks to Sublime, we have a wide swath of songs we play,” guitarist Phil Stein said.
Stein, along with band mates Dustin Dreiling and Rob and Adam Watson, formed a group eight years ago and began playing gigs around the Manhattan area. On this day, the quartet pumped out hits like “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan, “Country Roads” by John Denver, and, fittingly, “Purple Rain” by Prince.
Stein said the band has original material but prefers to stay with covers that the fans will recognize. College tailgates have always been a hotbed for the unique and festive, but as Stein put it, a band in this environment can liven the atmosphere at a college football game even more.
“Anytime you can have live music, it’s great,” Stein said.