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Bil Gilbert
September 01, 1980
There's nothing quite like an archrival for turning on a college town, and no town has more spirited folks than Columbia when Missouri takes on Oklahoma
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September 01, 1980

Hold That Tiger—big Game At Mizzou!

There's nothing quite like an archrival for turning on a college town, and no town has more spirited folks than Columbia when Missouri takes on Oklahoma

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"The college athletic business is getting to be tougher and tougher with inflation and the new responsibilities for non-income programs like women's sports. [Last year at Old Mizzou $800,000 was spent on women's athletics, the income from which was $6,000.] We're breaking even on basketball, and it looks as if it may start making a little money, but football is the major income producer. We have to keep spending there to make money for other programs, but we may be approaching the limits of what football can generate. Year in and year out we're among the top 10 schools in the country in attendance, and in the foreseeable future there is no way for us to add many more seats to the stadium. Raising ticket prices again is a possibility [a Mizzou general-admission ticket now costs $9.50], but we may be approaching a diminishing-returns situation there. The only other major source of income left for us, and one we're trying hard to develop, is gifts from alumni and other friends of Tiger athletics. Let's face it, how well we do there depends pretty much on football, on consistently producing exciting and winning teams."

Last year about $900,000 was donated to the athletic fund. Depending on the size of their contributions, patrons received preference in, among other things, buying choice seats to football games and access to the VIP lounge.

Some contributions are made in kind rather than money. For example, the athletic department has a dining hall in which it daily feeds 260 scholarship athletes. It cost $400,000 to run the hall last year. It would've cost more except that a retired professor of agriculture, as his hobby and contribution to Tiger athletics, solicited farmers around the state to donate produce and meat. "Last year we got from the state fair the grand champion steer, hog and lamb," says Hart. "They were all eaten by Tiger athletes in our dining hall."

Understandably, while Hart and other athletics administrators who are constantly grappling with finances tend to look upon a big game as a crucial business transaction, in a lighter vein it might be compared to an enormous masquerade party. Thousands of people dress up in costumes and uniforms to play roles or to pretend they are something they ordinarily are not. Some are simple outfits, featuring a yellow-and-black cap, and a shirt or jacket such as the groundkeepers, gate guards and concessionaires wear. Others are very exotic; for example, the full tail-to-head Tiger suits worn by two students who help lead cheers and entertain fans at the games. Some members of the athletic department are a little dissatisfied that they must get along with costumed students while the Colorado fans have a real buffalo, the Oklahoma State Cowboys a horse and rider and the Sooners a claim jumper's team and wagon. One of the people who have brooded about the mascot problem and feel that the current arrangement makes Old Mizzou look low-rent, says, "A few years ago we had a real tiger lined up. He was a beauty, from a wild-animal park. We could've found some money to take care of him, but then along came Title IX and instead of a Tiger what we now have is a goddam women's volleyball team."

Among the most somber but visible of the uniforms are those worn by the 300 or so cops who work the game. State troopers are responsible for getting the crowd into Columbia. According to Captain J.L. Englehart, the commander of Troop F, which covers central Missouri, travel to and from the game affects traffic patterns for 150 miles in every direction. Columbia municipal police deal with the fans while they're in the city, but once in the stadium they are the responsibility of 200 university and state police. Their command post is a platform high above the press box, which is equipped with cameras, radios and telescopes.

"We're interested in preventive law enforcement," says a university policeman. "From up here it's fairly easy to spot any sort of potential trouble anyplace in the stadium, even a little commotion between two or three fans. We notify one of our teams in the stands and they can usually be there in a matter of seconds and get things calmed down. If somebody is feeling a little too good, we're trained to turn the troublemakers around so we can get a full face shot of them on the cameras up here. We film the whole incident just in case there is any question later about identification or legal action. Big Brother is watching in this stadium, but the whole point is to make the game safe for everyone and enjoyable for almost everyone."

The university police get nervous about one-sided games no matter who is winning. Eighteen points seems to be the critical margin, the police have determined. People start losing interest in what's happening on the field. They start overcelebrating or taking out their frustrations on people around them.

Speaking of spirit, the group of spirit people who wear the least, take the longest to dress. These are the Golden Girls, 24 coed beauties who dance at Tiger games. (On Sundays some of them moonlight at the games of the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL.) They wear brief body suits covered with glittering gold sequins, which make them resemble large, sinuous, upright lizards.

"I suppose I spend an hour and a half getting dressed for a game," says Karen Welton, an elementary-education student who aspires to become a professional dancer. "You know how it is with a girl—lots of fussing with the hair and makeup to make sure everything is right."

The Golden Girls strut in with Marching Mizzou at the beginning of a game, put on a brief dance routine at halftime and otherwise are decoratively displayed just beyond the north end zone. "I know people think we're just sex symbols," says Welton, "but we practice three hours a day and get just as dirty and sweaty as anyone. You hear some bad remarks from the stands, but I think men are afraid of us. They think we're something special and unapproachable."

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