COLUMBIA — It started from a room in Schurz Residence Hall during a time when college students made friends face-to-face, not through Facebook.
Now TigerBoard.com connects thousands of Missouri sports fans scattered across the globe, and before MU’s biggest game in decades, the message board has become a haven for taking jabs at the Jayhawks.
When Dave Reid was a freshman at MU in 1996, people were beginning to discover the Internet. EBay had been around for a year. Web sites for sports were rather bare, featuring scores, stats and recaps. Tiger fans had nowhere to congregate online and discuss their favorite team.
Reid created a Web site dedicated to MU sports using his student account. He posted his musings and analysis about MU sports. Soon, he was conversing with fans across the country via e-mail and including those remarks on the site. When the volume of e-mails became too overwhelming, he scrapped the format for a message board.
Although Reid didn’t advertise the site, fans learned about it through word-of-mouth and stumbled on it using search engines. He realized it was growing when a fan posted from the green land of Guinness.
“Someone from Ireland posted and said he was a big Tiger fan. He couldn’t get any news, and he loved coming on and being a part of it,” Reid said.
But the message board got too much traffic, jamming the network. MU could no longer host the site. The information technology department sent Reid an email telling him the message board was taking up 75 percent of the resources on one of the servers. As a student, Reid couldn’t afford to move the bulletin board elsewhere. He had to shut down the site during the summer of 1998.
But Nick Witthaus, who graduated from MU in 1992, resuscitated it. During one day at work in Chicago, the former computer science major made his daily visit to the site. But it was gone. He e-mailed Reid, and then offered to pay to host the site. TigerBoard.com was officially registered, and the two formed a business partnership.
Both Witthaus and Reid now live in Columbia. Since Reid is a graduate student at MU while working full-time, Witthaus maintains the site while working on web development projects. He fixes glitches and makes sure discussions are civil enough as the site’s chief moderator.
Witthaus understands what makes TigerBoard popular. “If the team’s doing bad, no one wants to talk about it,” he said.
With the Tigers having their best season since 1969, users are flocking to TigerBoard. During a typical football and basketball season, the site averages 6 million page views and 50,000 unique visitors per month. But in October those numbers ballooned to 9 million page views and 110,000 unique visitors. Now with Saturday’s game against Kansas looming, the board is inundated with posts.
“You miss it for 10 minutes, and you’ve missed a page of conversation,” Reid said.
More than 17,600 registered users are hashing out every detail of the game, including the coin toss. They berate anyone associated with the Jayhawks, including former Kansas City mayor Kay Barnes, who picked KU to beat MU in the Kansas City Star. Even the TigerBoard acceptable use policy takes a shot against Kansas. “Make sure you are discussing something,” one of the rules reads. “Since it is a fact that KU sucks, it really doesn’t lend itself to a very good discussion. Try to provoke some thoughtful discussion with your posts.”
But KU fans are fighting back this week, Witthaus said. Instead of a handful offering rebuttals in lopsided debates, around 50 have come to the site to defend the Jayhawks. But the most infamous KU poster, Timmy the Tiger, has retired.
Timmy the Tiger posed as an irrational MU fan, becoming a legend on TigerBoard with his hilarious posts. Here’s an example of how he broke down the 2003 game, which Kansas won 35-14, “Defense. Once again, you’ve got to put this one in the MU column. The defense is stifling. The only way teams can get past our defense reliably is with gimmicks and cheating. Advantage MU 7 points.”
For some fans, TigerBoard is more than just humor. It offers psychological relief. Posting calms them down, allaying their fears that the Tigers will lose.
“They’re trying to talk themselves out of their fear by saying that their team (MU) is going to beat the other one to hell,” Witthaus said.
And while this week drags along, fans are expressing their anxiety before the game touted as “Armageddon” arrives.
Down Under Tiger, who lives in Sydney, Australia, was worried he might not be able to watch the game. He posted in despair, asking where he could watch it in the city. A user named Implode commiserated with him since he will be in New Zealand on Saturday.
Others doubted if they will survive if the Tigers win and advance to the Big 12 Conference Championship.
“Longest week ever,” justwinbaby posted Wednesday. “If we win Saturday, just think how long next week will be.”