There is nothing like going to a college football game on a bright autumn day.
My wife and I did just that last weekend when we drove to Columbia for the Missouri-South Carolina game.
Since we go to games only occasionally, we have found that finding parking near the stadium can be challenging. We have found a lot run by a charity located next to the train tracks across the road from the State Fairgrounds.
For our $20 donation, we get to park, tailgate, watch the traffic go by and converse with those who pass by. And fortunately, since we are right by the side of the road, once our wheels hit the pavement, it is a mere one hour and 15 minutes until we roll into the driveway in Aiken.
As is typical with Gamecock games, there is much garnet and black in evidence. Tailgaters have a way of showing off their Carolina gear – inflatable Cockys, flags mounted in window openings, hats, shirts, trousers, shorts. If a Gamecock emblem can be printed on it, it is at the game.
We also noticed a bit of the gold and black of the University of Missouri Tigers. This was their first appearance in Columbia (South Carolina that is. They play their home games in Columbia, Mo.) and their first Southeastern Conference away game.
As we backed up to the train tracks to ensure a straight shot forward when the game ended, another vehicle was close behind and pulled into the spot next to us. The SUV almost perfectly matched the deep garnet color of my wife’s car, and when the driver exited the vehicle, he was wearing a collared shirt with the familiar garnet and black. I gave that no more thought as Mary Lou and I began pulling out the food that we had brought with us.
On the other side of the tracks among the many other cars parked in that area was one with music blaring from it. I noticed the young gentlemen who were associated with the car and thought them to be the right age for college, but the music was reminiscent of my collegiate days. There was Bob Dylan and a whole slew of ’60s music that would have made the hippies of my generation delighted.
As I was listening to the music and watching the group across the tracks, the fellow from the car next to us appeared and said, “They don’t look the right age to be playing that kind of music. That’s some early AC/DC he noted.”
The speaker was about my age, perhaps a bit younger, and I noted some of the other songs that I had heard during our time there. I later found out that this was George. He and his wife Shelly were the occupants of the car next door to us, and we soon started a conversation.
There is a saying in journalism that one should never assume anything, because “assume can make an ass out of u and me.”
My thought had been that these were Carolina fans, but when I looked at the license plate of their SUV, I noticed it was from Missouri. Carolina fans who drove all this way to see USC? Not so, George told me. They were Missouri fans who drove from their home north of Kansas City to the Carolinas for some R&R and to take in the game.
George told me he and Shelley came without tickets, feeling sure they could get some once they were close to the stadium. The garnet and black shirt, he said, was camouflage to make sure that an out-of-towner would not be taken advantage of by scalpers. The ploy worked. He got two upper deck seats on the USC side of the field (facing away from the sun) at about the 40-yard line for face value.
It wasn’t his first time to try such a move. George told us of going to Kansas City to watch the baseball Royals play – again with no tickets in hand. They got seats for less than face value. And there was the time when he and his son drove to Kansas City to watch the Major League All-Star game. Again, no problem getting tickets.
He said they have also gone to Chicago to Soldier Field for a Bears game and to Notre Dame for football with no tickets until they bought them off the street.
After a lengthy conversation, George went over to his car and took off the garnet and black shirt, donning a golden one with black trim and the face of a Missouri Tiger on the left side of the breast. We wished each other well and went our separate ways to the stadium, watched the game until the final second ticked off the clock, then went back to our car in the midst of the almost 80,000 other fans who attended the game.
I was surprised to see George and Shelley walking in front of us after we crossed the road from the Fairgrounds. George was wearing a white T-shirt with George Rogers’ name on it (I had told him about Carolina’s Heisman Trophy winner who sets up a table with his trophy in front of the stadium). George had told me they stay until the final gun, but with the game having been decided early and their having to be home Sunday, I had felt sure they might leave early to beat the crowd.
George and Shelley said they enjoyed their trip south. They said they were treated kindly and loved the atmosphere in our Columbia.
It seems strange, however, to have Missouri and Texas A&M as part of the SEC. Check out a map and tell me which part of the Southeast they happen to occupy. For that matter, what part of the Atlantic Coast is Notre Dame near?
The Gamecocks are now in the same division as Missouri, which will make for long Columbia-to-Columbia trips every year for one fan base or the other. I don’t believe, however, that I will be making the trip to the Missouri version of Columbia anytime soon – with or without tickets in hand.
Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard.