Back in October, MU students found a message in their school e-mail inbox that they might not have been expecting.
“Let’s make sure the entire ESPN national audience experiences the best and loudest fans cheering on our Tigers! Sincerely, Gary R. Pinkel, Head Football Coach.”
Missouri Athletic Department spokesman Chad Moller said the e-mail was “kind of an encouragement, as well as a challenge ... (Pinkel) wanted students to know they are very important and we need them to help make The Zou a tough place to play for opponents.”
It’s not often that students hear directly from their head coach, but it’s not that often either that Missouri is poised to be the best team in the nation. Business, students and fans have responded, but can Tiger traditions hang with the big guys?
Wolverines, Trojans and Badgers have one thing in common —— from September through January they eat, sleep and breathe football. Love for the local team is part of growing up in a college town with a strong record.
As MU heads to the Big 12 Championship, businesses are jumping on the bandwagon.
“There’s Only 1 Mizzou” signs from the Athletic Department will be posted along downtown streets, said Carrie Gartner, director of Columbia’s downtown business district.
“We’ve waited a long time for this,” said “Tiger” John Cleek, owner of Cleek’s Appliances and Home Furnishings.
“It’s the biggest buzz we’ve had since the ’60s.”
Since MU is new to the No. 1 scene, the Missourian surveyed campuses used to football success for a glimpse of long-standing football spirit:
The Golden Domers
Every season, Notre Dame sells a distinctive new shirt for fans to wear.
“The Shirt” is designed by students and unveiled at the Blue and Gold football game in the spring. Students, alumni and other fans buy it for $15 and 100 percent of the profits go back to the students through scholarships and support for clubs and organizations.
“I’d say close to 100 percent of the students purchase the shirt,” said Brad LeNoir, a Notre Dame junior and president of The Shirt 2007 committee. “In the past year, for 2007, we’ve sold 135,000 — the second most ever.”
The shirt color can change every year. Ten of the shirts have been green, seven have been blue and gold has been used only once.
“The Shirt is one way students can be part of the football experience,” said Ryan Willerton, director of Student Activities Facilities and adviser to The Shirt committee. “It is also one of the most recognizable features of Notre Dame Stadium when you see the entire student body united in the northwest corner of the stadium wearing the same shirt.”
The Shirt is retired after each season and becomes an instant collector’s item.
“However, every day you see students wearing past years’ shirts around campus,” Willerton said. “They are available exclusively to campus, so you won’t find them in a local department store.”
The Bayou Bengals
Tiger Stadium, more commonly known as “Death Valley,” has earned a reputation as one of the most difficult places to play in college football. But the screams of 92,400 fans aren’t the only intimidation factor in Baton Rouge on Saturday nights.
Lurking just outside the opponents’ tunnel from the locker room is a 330-pound bundle of teeth, claws and striped fur.
“If you’re not expecting to see him, it could be kind of shocking,” said Kyle Whitfield, an LSU junior and online editor of The Daily Reveille.
His name is Mike the Tiger (VI), and he’s still young. Fully grown, he will weigh over 700 pounds. Mike VI, a Siberian-Bengal tiger mix, represents a 70-year LSU tradition of keeping a live tiger on campus. His presence is also a game-day mainstay. As recently as last season, the costumed Tiger would rile up his clawed counterpart on the sidelines. The number of times Mike roared signified how many touchdowns LSU would win by.
According to Mike the Tiger’s official Web site, the original Mike was purchased in 1936 from the Little Rock, Ark., zoo at a cost of $750. The money was raised by collecting 25 cents from each LSU student. In 1956, Mike II was welcomed to campus with a parade and cancelled classes.
Today, Mike VI spends his days in a cozy 15,000-square-foot, $3 million habitat complete with private waterfall. In his downtime, he checks his MySpace profile, which boasts 1,404 friends, including quarterback Matt Flynn and defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.
“That’s not surprising,” Whitfield said. “He practically has a religious following on campus.”
St. John’s Arena is home of the Buckeye basketball team, but during the fall its 13,276 seats are filled by fans of another sport — football. The pep rally, called a “Skull Session,” dates back to 1932.
“You have to get there pretty early because it fills up pretty quick,” Ohio State senior Matthew Boston said.
Fans decked in scarlet pack into the arena until it’s bursting. Sound bounces off the arena’s aging walls, echoing cheers for Buckeyes.
The marching band files in to the roar of the crowd for one last rehearsal and one last time to “think” two hours before every home game begins.
Skull Sessions bring the fans, the “Best Damn Band in the Land,” the team and even the opposing team’s band together to prepare for every home game.
Boston said the football fandom at Ohio State is apparent when Columbus is covered in school colors on game days, and spirit doesn’t depend on BCS ranking.
“No matter if it’s a winning season or a losing season, you’re always a fan of Ohio State,” Boston said. “Ohio State is everything. I bleed scarlet and gray. I literally do.”