Tiger fans lounged their way around Columbia in unusually high numbers Friday evening.
It's the University of Missouri's Family Weekend, bringing scores of parents and siblings of MU students to the city. And after a week of temperatures in excess of 90 degrees, the weekend's cooler weather might have attracted a few extra faces to the picturesque downtown district too.
But the biggest reason for the influx of people in town likely is the Tigers' Southeastern Conference opener against defending conference champion and No. 2 Georgia. While most of the crowds are decked out in black and gold, pockets of red and black have sprouted as well.
Bulldogs supporters have a reputation as some of the best travelers in a conference loaded with large, passionate and mobile fan bases. By Friday afternoon, their presence could be felt throughout Columbia.
At 2 p.m., a silver Toyota SUV parked outside Calvary Episcopal Church at the corner of Locust and Ninth streets flew the red fan flags of those who own it, each emblazoned with a large black "G." It was one of many among cars bearing Missouri plates.
As afternoon became evening, Georgia fans swapped vehicles for walking shoes to explore the town. Some were visiting Columbia for the first time. Others, such as the middle-aged man and woman who strolled past Harold's doughnuts in their red and black attire, were seeing familiar sights.
"I've been to this doughnut place before," an observer overheard the woman tell the man.
Three Bulldogs fans with varying amounts of exposure to mid-Missouri relaxed on the corner of The FieldHouse's patio overlooking the hustle and bustle of Broadway.
Andy Sorrells, Ed Phillips and Chip Massey live in three different towns within an hour of Athens, Georgia. They hit the road for the 10-hour drive to Columbia at 3:30 a.m. Friday to make it to town with time to explore. They received a surprise in the afternoon as they settled into a local Holiday Inn — the Georgia Bulldogs themselves, live mascot Uga and all.
"(They looked) in the zone," Phillips, 31, said. "Headphones on. They're serious. Didn't speak to anybody. None of the players did."
Phillips is visiting Columbia for the first time. As he approached the city, he first noticed the rows upon rows of corn welcoming visitors to Missouri. He was impressed, however, upon arriving in town.
"(It's a) great town," Phillips said. "This is cool. It really is. It's nice.
"So far, all the Missouri fans are super nice. I've been to other places where they've been super disrespectful. But everyone's been having fun, and that's what it's about."
The group spent Friday night bar-hopping, and planned to visit Harpo's later in the evening. Phillips heard from friends who had made the trip in previous years it was "the place to be."
Sorrells, 31, is one of those friends with prior experience in Missouri. He's visited MU every other year since 2012, when the Bulldogs were a part of the Tigers' first slate of home games as members of the SEC.
Those three trips are a tiny piece of Sorrells' much larger story as a traveling Georgia fan. When the game kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday, it will be the 220th straight Georgia game, home and away, he has attended. The streak started in 2001, when he was just 14 years old.
After visiting so many different schools over the course of the past 17 years, Sorrells is uniquely qualified to speak on the cultures of college football fan bases, programs and conferences.
"In 2012, everybody was really, really nice to us," Sorrells said. "You know, welcoming us to the city. I can see the progression as the years have gone on, where the fans have become more SEC fans rather than Big 12 fans. People are still really nice, don't get me wrong, but there's a little bit more hostility now than there was in 2012."
Many traditional SEC fans might scoff at the notion that the Missouri faithful are taking on the characteristics of the rest of the conference — and one, right nearby, did.
"I don't know about fitting in with the SEC," Phillips said when asked about the Columbia culture.
He turned to his left and asked the well-traveled Sorrells for his thoughts.
"They're getting there."
Phillips considered his friend's words for a second. Then he countered.
"It's Missouri. What's southern about Missouri? It's midwest."
The conversation subsided. Phillips returned to his beer as nearby Tiger and Bulldog fans continued to drink, chant and shout as they enjoyed a fall Friday night ... in SEC country.
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.