It started out just like any football Saturday in Columbia, Missouri. Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” was echoing throughout the halls of my fraternity house as I rolled out of my bed after tossing back my traditional Saturday cocktail of Pedialyte, Advil, and Adderall. The day was launched. God had graced us with a beautiful, partly cloudy, 75 degree Midwestern day. The stench of stale beer and extinguished cigarettes permeated throughout the house.
This was back in 2006. Yes, a long time ago. I’m an old bastard. Mizzou was still in the Big 12 and we were playing Ole Miss in a massive non-con bout with a storied SEC school. Everyone had the game circled on the calendar for months, and the buildup to the game was as hyped as I’d ever seen on campus.
Enough generic scene-setting. This was right around the time when Mizzou had started its mighty trek to occasional relevance on the national stage behind the on-again, off-again leadership of Gary Pinkel. Kickoff was at 11:30 a.m. The party started early. We were pounding screwdrivers at sunrise and our house chef had laid out a fantastic game day spread for us to set a solid base of grease and protein on which we would pile stupendous amounts of alcohol. Once the formality of food was done, we all set forth to our tailgate.
This was the first year our house had claimed ground at Mizzou’s legendary “Frat Pit.” Frat Pit was Mizzou’s version of The Grove, except much smaller and under much less adult supervision. It was exclusively for students, and only seven fraternities were allowed to have tailgates in the area. It was simple. A literal pit: it sat just off the main road next to Faurot Field and accommodated each fraternity’s tent setup on an empty gravel lot. It was shut down in 2007 after a particularly rowdy tailgate before a game against Illinois State, in which several members of an unnamed fraternity flipped the bird and did the DX “suck it” motion in the direction of the chancellor and his family. Obscene gestures notwithstanding, it’s amazing that Frat Pit was not shut down after what transpired on this fateful day.
The Pit was a ghost town when we arrived. The pledges had been up all night, setting up our tents and loading up the coolers. There’s really nothing quite like the taste of a Natty Light that’s been on ice all night, especially when the taste of beer is enough to cause you to hurl that morning’s breakfast behind a tree.
The crowd started sauntering in. Since it was an early game, it only took just a few sips of beer to send the growing crowd into a sloppy tornado of drunken humanity. It was barely 10 a.m. and several of my friends were already orally intertwined with their sorostitute du jour, while sloshing the contents of their solo cups around without a care. Heaven.
I hadn’t gone out the night before, so I was relatively alert while observing the quickly degenerating scene around me. It happened in the blink of an eye, as these things tend to do when your 80 closest friends also happen to be degenerates.
At one point, all of these things were happening at the same time: there was one guy who was urinating just 10 feet from the tent, full Pooh Bear-style with his hands on his hips. Another was on top of a truck bed with a metal baseball bat, cranking half-empty beer cans into the swarm of coeds who had gathered, much to the delight of the crowd. A senior’s sophomore girlfriend was on the bar 69’ing her big in order to take a tequila shot out of her navel in front of a gawking horde of horny guys. It was actually a pretty disturbing display, but I loved it.
Right when I thought the party couldn’t get any more out of control, it did. A large group of Ole Miss students rolled up to Frat Pit. They stuck out like you would imagine a bunch of preppy Ole Miss students would at a tailgate in mid-Missouri in 2006.
Times have changed since Mizzou made the switch from the Big 12 to the SEC. Common tailgate attire at Mizzou games pre-SEC included a North Face fleece, blue jeans or khakis, a Mizzou T-shirt, and New Balances. These fuckers rolled up looking like it was time for happy hour at the yacht club. They were navy and red blazer-clad with Bama Bangs and bowties, drunk as hell. They were about to receive a large dose of Midwestern hospitality.
“School picture day is just a bit up the road, fellas,” someone shouted from the back of the crowd. Of course, the shortest dude in the group threw off his blazer and marched toward wherever he assumed the insult came from. He started peeling through the crowd. This guy was the Napoleon Complex personified: 5-foot-8, ‘roided out of his mind, but with a respectable beer gut. I pulled him aside and told him to calm down–that there was no place for that here. He wasn’t having it. I loomed over him with my 6-foot-4, then 220 pound frame and told him that it would be in his best interest to leave. He attempted to make up for his boyish height by shouting louder and louder. I turned to look away from him and get some help with escorting these guys out of there when I saw my buddy Pumbaa (his pledge name stuck) eyeing this short little fuck while reaching into the beer trough. I knew exactly what was about to happen. Puumba had a penchant for tossing beer cans. Pumbaa had a helluva cannon for an arm, too. He turned down a full ride to play baseball at a small school in Tennessee before the frat gave him a bid. In life, some things are more important.
Before I could even step in, Pumbaa took a two-step crow hop, wound up, and launched a full, unopened can of Natty directly at this munchkin. Time slowed as the can magnificently tumbled toward Thumbelina’s face. It was truly beautiful. It struck him directly in the forehead and exploded everywhere. The resulting “OHHHHHHHH” from the crowd sent Tiny Tim into a fit of little man rage and his buddies were right behind him. The fight that ensued was straight out of “Road House,” and I found myself playing peacemaker, à la Wyatt Earp in “Tombstone.” Short Stack called down the thunder.
Tables were flipped over, girls scattered, beer cans flew into the air, and the fuzz was nowhere to be seen as the fracas escalated. I got tangled up with one of the Ole Miss guys and ended up pulling the whole “bro, chill” routine while we were grappling on the ground. The fight went on for probably a good five minutes before the cops showed up and threw Half-Pint into cuffs and marched him toward a patrol car.
Pumbaa didn’t get off as easily. He took a haymaker to the back of the head and had to go to the hospital. We dropped him off and made sure he was taken care of and, you know, wouldn’t die before heading back to the tailgate. It was only 11 a.m. and the game hadn’t even started. We weren’t going into the game until the second quarter, so we still had another hour and a half of drinking left. The girls finally filtered back in and tales of grandeur about the fight started to circulate. Time flew by as I iced my hand in the melting beer trough, functioning as a drunken mall Santa while girls came over to sit on my lap to check on me. Of course I played up my injuries, making it seem like I had just singlehandedly fought off a massive platoon of foreign invaders, here to drink our free booze and violate our women. Probably threw in a “we lost a lot of good men out there” for good measure, but I don’t really remember.
As the tailgate wore down, a shadowy figure approached us from the road. It was Pumbaa, still in his hospital gown with his head wrapped in bandages. I tossed him a beer as “Take Me Home, Country Roads” began to play. It really was almost heaven. Turns out John Denver wasn’t full of shit.
I’ll never forget that day–the day we stood tall as one and sent that unnecessarily angry, height-challenged fuck back to Oxford with a court date and his tail between his legs..