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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