I was moving briskly with the masses from the parking lot toward AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The sun was setting on a Friday in late December while the anticipation was building for a Cotton Bowl game that evening between Missouri and Ohio State. It was then that I heard the first call to arms.
It was the preamble of a timeless chant that has echoed for decades throughout the Tigers’ fan base at events such as this. Missouri football coach Eli Drinkwitz uses it as punctuation for his interviews. It’s very tribal in nature. Plants a black and gold flag firmly in the ground and awaits the equally timeless reply.
With that, Missouri fans had identified themselves for one another and joined forces. In this instance, I was part of the reply. My “ZOU” was more tentative than full-throated, however. Sounded more like Don Knotts than William Wallace. Well, I was out of practice.
By my memory, I last had a seat in the Mizzou cheering section in 1979. Back then, I was a transfer student – pre-portal vintage – who had an end zone seat at Faurot Field for football games and a rafters perch at the Hearnes Center for basketball.
The transition to a career in sportswriting began shortly thereafter. My seat moved from the stands to either the press box or press row. My mentality began to shift as well. A Missouri football game, for instance, became work, not pleasure. While I still shared the same stadium with the fans, still walked among them and recognized their battle cries, I was in a different place.
As I marched toward the stadium for the Cotton Bowl, I tried to remember the last Missouri football game I attended without a press pass hanging from a belt loop or a computer bag slung over my shoulder. I tried and I failed.
Instead, I recalled covering Missouri’s 50-17 thrashing of the Vols at Neyland Stadium in 2018. My assignment that night was writing a Missouri sidebar. Tigers quarterback Drew Locke didn’t do Tennessee fans any favors, throwing two touchdown passes. But he was a sportswriter’s good friend with some salty quotes afterward.
So, I was on my own in making my way back to a fan’s perspective. At least I had help. At the Cotton Bowl, I was sitting with Jeff, my old Missouri dorm roommate, and his family. And I found some former colleagues/alums in the stands beforehand. They gather in Columbia, Mo., every fall for a game.
Finally, the Tigers did their best to pull me back in with a spirited fourth quarter rally and a 14-3 victory . It would’ve been a great quarter to chronicle – one of the best in program history – but I was very content with high-fiving everyone sitting around me.
In moving with the masses out of the stadium afterward, I got another crack at the “ZOU” chant. I was in better form, sounding more like someone another fan would recognize.
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 1988. He is a 2022 inductee to the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.