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September 24, 2012

Dispatches from Dixie

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- This weekend presented Missouri the first opportunity to make a road impression in the SEC.

The team? Well, hopefully first impressions aren't everything. But the fans -- at least in some capacity, the fans appeared to have a good showing in Columbia East.

That may have been a little unexpected to the staff of one chain-bar, located in the Vista area of "Cola." A bouncer at Pavlov's explained that, at this establishment, the bar staff made a pact to take a shot of alcohol for every Missouri fan they saw at the restaurant.

"I've already seen a good number of Missouri fans," I said, lauging.

"Yeah, I wonder how they're doing," the bouncer said.




Growing up in the South, I'm somewhat familiar with South Carolina. I became more acquainted with them when one of my best friends attended college there after we graduated high school in 2005. And, from what I've seen and heard, Missouri's fanbase may actually have the most in common with the Gamecocks' than any other SEC school.

South Carolina has Missouri beat on pageantry and volume and decibles, easily. But, from a historical standpoint, there's plenty of similarities. Both programs are close in all-time wins (625 for Missouri, 555 for South Carolina). An up-and-down bowl career includes an absence of BCS bowls. In the best seasons for each team in recent history, both Missouri and South Carolina won their conference division before getting roasted in the conference championship.

(That happened to the Gamecocks and Tigers in back-to-back years, 2007 and 2008 for Missouri, 2010 and 2011 for South Carolina.)

But -- in my small-sample size of South Carolina fans -- there seems to be another philosophical similarity between them and Missouri. It's a "Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop" mentality, where even good events are just stop-gaps until the inevitable failure.

My friend who is an alum proved this point best. Throughout the week, despite me telling him I believed South Carolina would win, he texted me why he thought the Gamecocks would blow the game. When the game got out of hand early, one of my other friends asked him if he ever predicts a South Carolina win.

His reponse: "Low expectations yield surprisingly pleasant results."

One similiarity I didn't realize between the two fanbases was a love of schadenfreude. Toward the end of the game, Williams-Brice Stadium erupted in the haunting rumble of the Florida State warchant and tomahawk chop. Of course, that's because the Seminoles hosted in-state rival Clemson that night, which South Carolina fans sarcastically refer to as "Clemons."

For all the cheers that erupt at Missouri's Memorial Stadium when an announcement informs the crowd that Kansas is losing, I'm sure that's a sentiment that Missouri fans can stand behind.




Off the field at least, Missouri made a good showing during the weekend. Everywhere I went (Pawley's Front Door for dinner, a much-too-early stop at Pavlov's, Jake's Bar and Grill, Carolina Ale House, Groucho's delicatessen for a pre-game brunch), Missouri and South Carolina fans mingled, and it seemed like Tiger fans received warm welcomes.

I asked the bouncer at Pavlov's why that unfortunate bar staff thought there wouldn't be many Missouri fans. He said many of the locals didn't think Missouri traveled like an SEC fanbase. I asked two cab drivers (including one simply called "Mr. C") if they noticed any difference in the volume of fans for the weekend.

They said that, while it wasn't as packed as a Georgia weekend, it felt like any other SEC home game because of the influx of out-of-towners.

The welcomes ended toward the end of the game. Before South Carolina went into the tomahawk chop, the eponymous "SEC" chant rang down from the heavens. It was a sarcastic, biting chant, telling Missouri it didn't belong in the conference after a bad loss.

But, don't worry Missouri fans. In Columbia East, you're right at home.


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