SAN ANTONIO — The parking lots and plaza surrounding the Alamodome were alive with the chants of “Boomer Sooner” before the Big 12 Conference Championship. Crowds were clad in crimson and cream, ready to root their team onto the Fiesta Bowl.
And there were Tiger fans, too.
There was no denying that MU fans made their presence felt on Saturday. But this game didn’t have the neutral feel it was billed to have — at least not from the outside.
Still MU fans made up for their small numbers with the most creative costumes. Two resembled professional wrestlers. Travis Stauffer, from California, Mo., and Brandon Self, from Tipton, just needed black Spandex, instead of MU T-shirts, to pull off the complete costume.
While strolling around the River Walk on Saturday, they bought two gold masks. Then they had messages airbrushed on them in black. Stauffer’s mask read “Big 12 Champs.”
Was he too presumptuous? “We’re going all the way,” said Stauffer, high-fiving the crowd milling outside the Alamodome. His cape, an MU flag, billowed behind him.
He was heckled just like any wrestler. “I’d cover my face, too,” yelled an Oklahoma fan.
Brad Dittmer’s back was covered in stripes. A stuffed tiger’s head was perched on top of his baseball cap, and the blanket sewn to it cascaded down his back. The Springfield resident found his costume at a truck stop in Sapulpa, Okla., balled up near some arcade games. His friend, Kevin McWilliams, bought it for $25.
“He’s a natural-born tiger king,” McWilliams said.
Dittmer said he was “just like MU — sneakingly vicious.” But he was not alert enough to catch a Sooners fan prowling behind him.
“I said I was going to kick you in the butt,” the fan told him as they posed for a picture.
But more MU fans were coming to protect Dittmer. “I think there are more coming in now since it’s closer to game time,” MU senior Adria Schlotz said.
Schlotz made the 14-hour drive from Missouri to San Antonio along with friends and family and set up shop near the northeast corner of the stadium.
Schlotz attributed some of the lack of black and gold to a rather large road trip last weekend to Kansas City and the fact that OU fans had only seven hours to drive to get to the game.
Despite their small numbers, they compensated by enjoying the unique nature of the game and the spoils that can come with the victory — no matter what team colors are the dominant shade inside.
“I think the fan base will be mostly MU inside,” said Scott Schlotz, Adria’s father. “The enthusiasm is there and since this is new to them I think it will be. Everyone likes an underdog.”
PLAYERS’ PERSPECTIVE: Three Tiger fans familiar with the MU football program tailgated in a modest hotel parking lot a few blocks outside the commotion that suffocated the stadium.
Former Tiger players Marcus Bacon, Scott Paffrath and Justin Smith met in Houston on Saturday and made the two-and-a-half-hour drive to San Antonio together to watch their alma mater play for a trip to the national championship.
“This kind of thing doesn’t happen very often,” said Paffrath, who played offensive tackle for the Tigers until 2004 and now works for Quicksilver in Orange County, Calif. “We’re here to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Bacon, a former first-team all-Big 12 linebacker who graduated last year, wore a Tiger T-shirt and proudly showcased his Sun Bowl runner-up ring. He said that he knew this year’s team would be good, he just didn’t expect it to be contending for a national title this late in the season.
“I won’t lie, I thought this team was up-and-coming,” he said. “But I didn’t think it’d happen this fast.”
Bacon now lives in Houston and works for Sprint. He said he still has hopes of joining an Arena League Football team and keeps in shape during his down time. And even though it appears he graduated a year too soon, he insists he isn’t bitter about missing out on this year’s run.
“I get asked that question all the time, and I’m really not (upset),” he said. “My experience here was worth everything. We helped build this program, so watching these guys have success is worth it.”