COLUMBIA — It takes speed, agility and talent to create an athlete. It takes athletes to create a football team. And for some die-hard fans, it takes rituals to create a win.
MU junior Austin Huff keeps to a good-luck schedule that begins the night before the game. Patrick Elmore, this year’s MU Homecoming king, holds a game-day pancake breakfast. Jon Higgins at Truman State University grills steaks in the shapes of the opposing team’s initials — and devours them.
Rituals matter to the fans, says Stuart Vyse, a psychology professor at Connecticut College and the author of “Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition.” Fans take on the identity of their passion — as Missouri Tigers, for example — and events such as games become critical to that identity, he said. Rituals soothe their anxieties and give them the sense that they’re helping their team to victory.
Rituals based in superstition give fans the illusion that they can do something to make their team win or lose; it gives them what Vyse calls the illusion of control. Even though the ritual doesn’t really make a difference, people feel as though it does, he says.
Some people believe in the magic of rituals, Vyse said. Or they want to.
On the home front
Huff gives his weekends over to MU football. The night before every game, Huff and 11 of his friends sleep over at his duplex off East Old Plank Road.
“We call it Game-day Dudes Night, or GDN for short,” Huff says.
The morning of games, the dozen guys wake up at 9 a.m. to watch ESPN’s “College GameDay”, then prepare for their Saturday activities.
Huff is from Nashville, Tenn., and while in Missouri he continues his Southern tradition of dressing up for sporting events. “In the South at all (Southeastern Conference) games people dress up for the games,” he says. “Guys wear ties and girls wear dresses.”
At every game, weather permitting, Huff wears the same button-down gold shirt, a black tie, black hat, khaki shorts and black flip-flops. After getting dressed, Huff, his friends and about 40 other people continue their game-day activities and travel to east campus for a free pancake breakfast hosted by Patrick Elmore.
A senior, Elmore has attended every football game this season except for Colorado. He and his roommates host the breakfast for football fans all over Columbia.
“Anyone is welcome, and we just try and let people hang out and get to know each other,” Elmore says. “For the Nebraska game, we had about 60 people, including about 15 Nebraskans, in our house for the food.”
Game-day rituals, however, do not have to be so elaborate. Elmore also has a personal ritual he continues on behalf of his friend Clay Smith, a huge MU football fan who is studying in Australia this semester: At every game, Elmore wears Smith’s hat.
“I make sure a piece of Clay is able to see every game of Mizzou’s record year,” Elmore said.
MU senior Hossien Oveys and his friends bring luck to the team through their ritual of wearing the same clothes — the same shirt, socks and “lucky” underwear. At their tailgates, Oveys and his friends make a special game-day drink they call “Simply Crown,” which includes lemonade and Crown Royal whiskey.
For MU sophomore Philip Makarewicz, rituals are the best part of waking up on game day for him and his roommates. “The first person to get up turns on the Mizzou Fight Song, runs into the other three rooms and starts singing the song to wake them up,” he says.
Then, in unison, the roommates sing the fight song en route to the television for ESPN’s “College GameDay.”
Says Makarewicz: “It is a great way to start off the football day.”
On the field
Tiger’s Lair is a bright gold chunk of the student section. Established in the early 1990s, it was created to get the students to go out to games, says Eric Hobbs, a sophomore at MU and a coordinator for Tiger’s Lair. All students are welcome in the section but must sign up in Brady Commons during the first week of classes.
Hobbs explains there used to be a limit of about 700 students, but this year about 1,100 students signed up. “This past year we expanded it because it was a break-out season,” he says.
The Tiger’s Lair students go through an orientation in which they practice specific cheers and claps as well as listen to the fight song, Hobbs says.
As a coordinator, he helps create what he calls the biggest Tiger’s Lair ritual: the painting of the people in the front row. Every week, the coordinators work together and come up with a saying relevant to the team MU is playing that week. There is space for 60 people to stand on the front row of the section, so the coordinators have limited space for their creativity. On the mornings of games, the first 60 Tiger’s Lair students who arrive at the stadium are the lucky few who have their chests painted: one letter or symbol on each person.
Once in the stadium, the ritual continues with the presentation of the painted people.
“When the clock says 55 minutes until game time, one of the coordinators will walk onto the hill and yell, ‘Naked time!’ or ‘Shirts off!’ to which everyone responds by taking off their shirts,” Hobbs says.
Marching Mizzou, MU’s marching band and, according to the university, the largest student organization on campus, also has its on-field rituals.
MU sophomore Gabrielle Roman, who plays alto sax, says that during the morning rehearsal on game day, the band pulls a ladder to the center of the field and gathers around it. Michael Knight, director of Marching Mizzou, climbs the ladder and gives a speech urging the band to help the team win the game.
“He almost always includes the phrase, ‘No one scores in our end zone unless we say it’s OK,’” Roman says.
After Knight’s pep talk, Marching Mizzou sings “Old Missouri,” plays the fight song and then, of course, cheers like mad. While lining up in parade formation to march to the stadium, Roman says, each section of the band plays its own cheer. “Sometimes they’re familiar tunes like ‘Low Rider’ and sometimes just things that the other members of the band have dances and words to.”
After the game, when MU wins, band members put their hats on backwards to celebrate.
“It’s considered bad luck to put it on the front way,” Roman says. “If you don’t want to wear it backwards, then you’re just not supposed to put it on at all.”
“Must attend MU” is not included in the small print for being a Tiger fan. Truman State University, in Kirksville, has plenty of Tiger fans as well.
Jon Higgins, a junior at Truman State, and his friends have practiced the same ritual before every MU football game since their freshman year. The friends meet up a few hours before every game and buy two large steaks, season them and let them marinate for a while. While the steaks marinate, Higgins and his friends fix the rest of their meal, usually including potatoes, rice, noodles and a vegetable — corn on the cob when the rival is the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
“After the steaks are seasoned, we cut each of them into letters of the school we are facing,” he says. “For instance, this past week we carved our steaks into a K and U and grilled them.”
After the “teams” are grilled, Higgins and his friends devour them, “because we know the Tigers will on the field,” he says with energy.
“Must be a college student” is also left out of the requirements of being a fan. Before each MU football game, Rock Bridge High School senior Jack Mueth and his friends play rounds of “Guitar Hero,” a music video game created by Harmonix Music Systems, and wrestle to get pumped up for the games. During the games, Mueth and his friends remain standing until MU scores.
“It’s kind of like we’re putting our own happiness on the line for MU’s success,” he says. “It makes us feel like we’re a part of it.”