Maybe it’s just another number, just another gameday in Columbia. Or maybe it’s a chance to celebrate a way of life. It’s a chance to add a little extra juice to tailgates, to raise a toast to the old bowl south of campus, to think about all the good, fun and emotionally scarring times you’ve had there.
The stadium was a child of the Roaring 20s, when the nation was both looking to honor soldiers from the Great War, eventually known as World War I, and also build bigger venues to support the nation’s rapidly growing college football obsession. The stadium’s first game was Oct. 2, 1926. Like my brother's and my first Madden video game matchup, when we didn’t know the controls, this first Memorial Stadium game ended in a 0-0 tie, played on incredibly muddy surface that was more bark and sawdust than actual grass.
Missouri fans have been enjoying fall Saturdays there ever since.
Few things in everyday life link us to 1926 like Memorial Stadium. It was another time. Annie Oakley and Wyatt Earp were still alive, as were veterans of the Civil War, including Quantrill’s Raiders. Alcohol sales were illegal, as Prohibition dragged on.
When dawn broke on that long-ago October Saturday, the St. Louis Cardinals had never played in a World Series game. But they played their first on that same day, Oct. 2, a World Series won by the Cardinals that ended with, as God is my witness, Babe Ruth attempting to steal second base.
But Saturdays at Memorial Stadium link us to those seemingly ancient times. Through generations, fans have gathered there, celebrated there, had their hearts broken there.
It was here that Tiger fans saw the Don Faurot years, and the Dan Devine years. This was the site of the Fifth Down game, the kicked ball loss to Nebraska in 1997, the redemption comeback win against Nebraska in 2003, the 2010 win over Oklahoma that opened with Gahn McGaffie’s kickoff return for a touchdown that maybe set the stadium’s sound record.
Memorial Stadium is the gasps and then silence in 2013 when Missouri’s field goal hit the upright in double overtime against South Carolina, losing the game. Memorial Stadium is nearly being moved to tears when Henry Josey, playing on the field where he wrecked his knee two years before, burst through the line for the winning touchdown in 2013 to lift the Tigers to the SEC Championship Game. Memorial Stadium is a gorgeous sunset setting the sky ablaze as the 2014 Tigers, ever resilient, got up off the mat and came back against a strong Arkansas defense, each drive like a long, white-knuckle covered wagon ride over a mountain pass, clawing their way back to another SEC title game.
It’s all that and more, like the trees that peek over the south stands and frame the stadium with autumn color each season, and the Rock M, which has been there since the second season.
Perhaps you remember your first game at Memorial Stadium. For your sake, I hope it was better than mine, a 38-0 beatdown at the hands of K-State and Bill Snyder. But if our first days at Memorial Stadium are a mixed bag, our best days there are always worth remembering, moments that fill the photo albums of our memory.
Mizzou football is something to share with friends and family for generations, and for Memorial Stadium to have racked up 500 games worth, well, that’s a lot of good times to celebrate.