DALLAS — Verandah Park, at least on this Sunday afternoon, might as well be renamed Tiger Park. For the time being, the atrium of the Hilton Anatole Hotel in downtown Dallas is littered with specks of black and gold.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 Missouri football fans congregated at the hotel where the Tigers players and coaches are staying for the Cotton Bowl to take part in a pep rally that, as the day went on, started to resemble a rock concert with the Tigers as the featured performers.
The lobby of the Hilton acted as stadium concourse as fans made their way out to the stage to catch the show. Seven stories of balconies surround the area with bars, restaurants and gift shops selling Missouri and Cotton Bowl paraphernalia.
But the park is where you wanted to be on this day. The flood of Missouri fans, most arriving in Dallas within the last 48 hours, showed their support with fervor.
“It’s great having the Tigers here in Dallas and having Chase back in his hometown,” said Joe Mutti, a 1977 graduate of MU living in Dallas, referring to MU quarterback Chase Daniel.
The city boasts the second most MU alumni in the country at about 3,500, according to Carin Huffman Grinch, an assistant director with the Mizzou Alumni Association. But MU students and alumni from all over the country also descended on Dallas.
“It’s exhilarating to be around so many Tiger fans, because we are usually around other fans when traveling to away games,” St. Louis MU alumna Kathy Cook said. “It’s nice to have this atmosphere, and as far as that theory that Missouri fans don’t travel well, I think we have dispelled it.”
Jeff Cook, Kathy’s husband, added, “These are 20,000 of my closest friends,”
The Cooks traveled to Dallas on Saturday on a charter plane with other MU alumni. Jeff Cook brought a Tigers flag on a 30-foot pole that he waved at the pep rally.
“It gets a little unwieldy with the wind,” he said after extending the pole to its full length.
Up on the stage, Truman the Tiger was the opening act. Backed by the sounds of Marching Mizzou and fronted by the Tigers cheerleaders, Truman worked the crowd, bouncing from one end of the stage to the other.
The mascot strutted to the school fight song before cheering for Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and a group of Tigers players during an ovation that is usually reserved for the final act of an arena rock show.
Pinkel closed out with the M-I-Z-Z-O-U chant at a Steven Tyler-esque high pitch, leaving the crowd eager for the Tigers’ last show of the 2007 season: the Cotton Bowl.