Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: Booches Billiard Hall

Missouri vs Alabama – Tigers drown by the Tide…

Columbia hates me.

I’m starting to wonder if it’s personal.  During my first visit last year, an icy wind howled through the parking lots.  Cutting through layers of clothing, upending tables and tents, we were driven out of tailgating, retreating instead to the comforts of Shakespeare Pizza.  As the Tigers moved to the SEC Conference this season, I circled the biggest game on the calendar at Memorial Stadium in 2012; the #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.  A short two hour drive from Saint Louis, Mizzou would be a welcome reprieve to the long travel hours I’ve already logged this year, and a chance for Chrissy to give me the VIP tour of “COMO” (an abbreviation of Columbia, MO).

Cruising into town after work, it feels good to be back behind the wheel of the Jetta. Friday night starts promptly at Booches Billiard Hall when I drag Chrissy and her family there.  A 128 year old throwback of pool hall splendor, I wrote extensively about the Columbia institution last year here.  Settling into a sturdy oak table, the aloof waitress delivers a few of their signature burgers, each slid onto the table on single sheet of wax paper. A couple of Stag lagers wash the feast down, under the glow of those same classic neon beer signs. I note a yellowed sign above the bar that reads “unattended children will be sold as slaves”, one of a handful of crass statements found tacked on the walls.

A few hours later we slip into Campus Bar and Grill, knocking on the alley back door in speakeasy fashion and gliding past a familiar bouncer.  Formerly known as the Big 12 Pub, the joint was forced to change its name after a lawsuit from the football conference bearing the same name.  Stainless steel bar tops swarm with red Cardinals shirts, students clutch pitchers of cheap swill, all glued to flat screen TV’s aglow with the MLB playoffs.  In the 9th inning the Cardinals come back in thrilling fashion to clinch the opening playoff series. The entire bar erupts in celebration, fans standing on tables, beers tossed into the air in a foamy shower.  Chrissy’s friend Mary slings drinks behind the bustling counter, the entire length stacked three deep.  Our drinks flow constantly, perhaps too quickly.  We take shots.  Then take a few more.  A few Irish Car Bombs follow.  What started innocently turns into a big night.

Saturday morning, I wake up to the patter of rain. A glance out the window confirms the weather turning even more lecherous than last year.  We tempt the tailgate anyway.  An ash sky swirls overhead, and clouds hover ominously above black tents and flapping yellow flags scattered throughout tailgating Lot X.  Unsure if the weather will hold, we drink beer to appease the tempest.  Craft beer actually, a fine offering of local Schlafly seasonal ales presented to the gods.  Mine goes down like battery acid, a reminder of the late night before, each sip a test of will.

After a few hours in the lots, we brave the elements and file into the student section in Memorial Stadium.  The gate attendant inspects student ID cards methodically like a rookie bouncer, but not carefully enough.   I glide past her with my phony plastic credentials.  Assuming standing positions on the greasy aluminum bleachers, our footholds grow slicker each moment as the rain gets heavier.  Before kickoff  the drizzle turns to a downpour, and, without raingear, we’re woefully underprepared.  A few students produce flimsy plastic ponchos, others remove their shirts entirely.  For lack of alternative, we get wet.

The game kicks off under the steamy, warm rain and Missouri is whiplashed by the caliber of the defending National Champions.  Hardly 15 seconds into the game, Alabama reels off an 80 yard touchdown run, dampening the already soaked spirits of the crowd.  A few minutes later Alabama scores again and the rout is on.  Despite performing competitively with the middle of the SEC pack this season, against the Crimson Tide the Tigers are decidedly outmatched.  With a 28-0 blowout mounting in the second quarter, a flicker lights up the blanketed sky in the distance.  Then another, closer.  Finally, a flash of lightning penetrates the grey fold, erupting in brilliant tendrils streaking over the press box of Faurot Field.  The referees halt the game, a mandatory 40 minute rain delay leaves the crowd stranded in the deluge, staring at an empty field.

Soaked to the bone with a blowout mounting, we hoof it out of the stadium for drier pastures.  After a quick wardrobe change, we retreat to the shelter of Campus Bar once again, burying my nose in the thick foam of a fresh Guinness pint.  It nourishes the soul.  I stare into one of the few TV’s playing the Notre Dame game, erupting in fits and glee during the Irish dramatic overtime win against Stanford.  From there, the night devolves into a pub crawl.  Sprinting between bars, splashing though puddles and huddling beneath awnings amidst heavy showers, each pub is crowded and steamy. Despite the weather, the town still swarms with revelers.  We put together an impressive string of bars, Willie’s, The Field House and a handful of others.  A small cross section of the impressive night life to be found in Columbia.  Underrated among the college football town landscape, perhaps the move to the SEC will help more traveling fans discover the jewel of Central Missouri.  It’s truly a magnificent college town.

Perhaps next year I’ll finally catch some decent weather there…

 

Special thanks to Chrissy for playing tour guide all weekend, and showing me just how popular she still is in Columbia!

 

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Missouri vs Texas – The full “COMO” experience…

The alarm clock starts it’s frenzied dance at 6:00AM sharp, pulling me grudgingly out of a seven hour coma from a heavy Italian meal at Cunetto’s the night before.I move to wrangle my friend Pat off the couch, but he’s already awake, eager for his annual pilgrimage back to Columbia.A friend from Dallas and die hard Mizzou fan, he’d flown in the night before for the final Texas Longhorn matchup against the Tigers.We’d picked this game earlier in the summer expecting it to have late season Big 12 implications, but only Texas came into the contest ranked at #16.With a blasphemous 11:00 AM kickoff, we hustled into the Jetta early for the quick two hour jaunt out to “Como”, as the locals colloquially refer to Columbia, Missouri.

After parking, we immediately head to Harpo’s, a landmark pub in Columbia found on any “best of” list of college sports bars.Decked out in an array of Tigers memorabilia, Harpo’s is mecca for returning Mizzou fans.In additionl to the usual grub and swill, the place is famous for keeping a stash of hacksaws on hand for big Mizzou contests.When the Tigers knock of a top ranked opponent, as they did last year against Oklahoma, fans tear down the goalposts and drag them 12 blocks back to the pub.The bright yellow pipes are then sliced up as fan keepsakes, with a few larger chunks remaining to adorn the walls of the bar.Surveying those storied walls, I order up a hearty breakfast: Guinness.Pat opts for his customary Bud Light.They go down surprisingly smooth for the early hour.

After a few cold ones, we head around the corner to Booches Billiard Hall.Occupying the same Columbia storefront since 1884, Booches is a preserved relic of pool hall splendor from a bygone era.Fixed stools line the ancient wooden bar, and scores of dusty black and white Mizzou football photos bask in the amber neon glow of an old Stag beer sign.Six plastic covered billiard tables precisely set and leveled fill the cavernous space, the floor worn through into rings around them, ground down from eons of cockeyed pool sharks lining up their next shot.Rows of custom cues line the wall like maple ramparts, each nested into its own numbered holder, safely secured with tiny brass locks.

Entering Booches for the first time is like stepping into Fenway Park or Notre Dame Stadium, there is a palpable connection to history in these yellowed walls.A connection to our fathers and grandfathers.To our roots.It is, respectfully, one of the most enduringly authentic places I have encountered on my travels.

Settling into a few of the creaky wooden chairs, the Booches waitress recites the menu gruffly; “We have burgers and chili”.We opt for a couple of cheeseburgers apiece, guzzling a few bottles of Stag lager during the thirty minute wait.When finally ready, the burgers are delivered unceremoniously; tossed onto the table on a single sheet of wax paper each.No plates. No silverware. No pretension.Sized in between a slider and regular burger, two is the perfect number for Booches’ signature fare.Delightfully greasy and indulgent, with the perfect ratio of burger to bun, they prove worthy of their lofty reputation.Booches has certainly had plenty of years to perfect their craft. We relax with a few more cold Stags, soaking in the experience for a few minutes.

With kickoff fast approaching, we begrudgingly drag ourselves out of Booches and make the trek over to Memorial Stadium.We bought our tickets the night before from a connection Pat had made online, 65 bucks apiece for a couple of 50 yard line seats.Squeezing into our seats shortly after the national anthem, a brisk wind howls through the stadium.It’s going to be a big day on the ground, we surmise.

The game starts out high tempo, both offenses marching speedily downfield against reeling defenses.After the initial onslaught, however, the contest slows and both teams settle into a sloppy defensive standoff.The crowd at Mizzou wavers between restless and aloof, rising to their feet on only a handful of occasions, the entire place oddly quiet for such a big game.A strange feeling settles over the atmosphere in “The Zou”.With a mediocre record and imminent departure for the greener pastures of the SEC in 2012, Mizzou fans are noticeably disenchanted.Despite a handy 17-5 victory over the Longhorns on the day, their first since 1997, the crowd listlessly empties from Faurot Field.The goalposts remain proudly upright and intact.

Following the game we make our way over to the tailgating lots to meet up with a few of Pat’s friends.The wind whips through the parking lots, jostling tents and upturning a few tables.Most cars speed off, only the dedicated remain.We mill around until the cold gets the better of us, then load up the cars and retreat to the glow of Shakespeare pizza downtown, huddling into the warmth.

A favorite reunion place for Mizzou grads, fans wait up to two hours on gameday for their handmade Shakespeare pie.Six of us cram into one of the lone open oak booths, downing a few pitchers before the hot, bubbling pizzas are set onto a wire rack in the middle of the table.Loaded with cheese and luxuriously thick slabs of pepperoni, we descend on the pies like vultures on carrion.Bellies satisfied after a long day, it’s time to hit the robust Mizzou nightlife.We take our party onto the bustling sidewalks, and bravely into the “Como” night we go…

Special thanks to my good friend Pat for giving me the full tour of the Missouri experience, can’t wait to hit a handful of Tiger SEC games with you next year!

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