The weather in Atlanta (around 40 degrees most of the day, inching up to 47 at kickoff) may not have provided the southern welcome that many fans venturing to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game were hoping for, but fans of the Auburn Tigers and Missouri Tigers were undeterred in making the trek to the Georgia Dome.
For Mizzou fans, traveling in from the Show-Me State was the biggest challenge. Most of the state, particularly in the southern region, was hit by a massive storm that brought snow, sleet and freezing rain of up to a quarter-inch. The National Weather Service issued winter storm or ice warnings on Friday for the state and temperatures were more than 40 degrees colder than they had been earlier in the week.
Most of southern Missouri has been under winter weather warnings the past two days, with up to 8 inches of snow in some areas on Friday evening.
But Mizzou was playing for its first ever SEC Championship and while some fans reported that they had seen literally hundreds of cars on the side of the highway on their trip down, they made it to Atlanta in droves to support their team.
“We’re just huge Tiger fans so we want to support our team,” said Michelah Orchard, a Missouri fan who said she drove 12 hours through the snow from St. Louis to tailgate and watch the game. “I think people are just really determined to get down here.”
Orchard was far from alone. Other spectators from St. Louis as well as Columbia, Kansas City and other parts of Missouri described the often icy road conditions that they braved on their way to Atlanta.
“We’re new to the SEC so it’s important to show [that] we’re traveling, we’re coming all the way to Atlanta,” said Ray Brown, a Missouri fan who lives in Columbia, Mo. “But we’re making it, we want to be here.”
Brown was part of a mixed group of Missouri and Auburn fans who came together to share a beverage and toast their teams’ unexpected success in the SEC this season.
“What brings us together is the fact that we were both terrible last year and now we’re at the top of the heap,” said David Brown, an Auburn fan tailgating with Ray Brown (no relation) outside the Georgia Dome. “I don’t know about [Missouri] but we were underdogs in damn near every game that we played, [so] it’s nice to be here.”
David Brown, known to friends and family as “The Godfather” of Auburn sports, says he has been to every Auburn game since 1984, taking in more than 300 games during that span. His wife, Teresa, said that it was the 1984 Iron Bowl game in which Bo Jackson ran the wrong way on a blocking assignment.
“This is the 355th straight Auburn game he’s been to, since Bo ran the wrong way,” said Teresa. “We were sitting in front of the TV and we were like, ‘Why are we here? Why are we not there?’”
“If we’d been there he wouldn’t have gone the wrong way,” said David. “I would’ve pointed the right way. He would’ve seen me.”
The fan camaraderie and warm welcome from Auburn fans, who far outnumbered their counterparts from Missouri, was a common site outside the Dome. Many Missouri fans said that they’ve come to feel at home in just their second year in the Southeastern Conference.
“A lot of the games I’ve been to I’ve been really happy because SEC fans have been very welcoming to us being in the conference and just saying, ‘Hey, welcome to the SEC,’” said Odie Swanegan, a Columbia, Mo. Native who now lives in Atlanta. “I’ve gone to the Georgia game, the Vanderbilt game this year and [Missouri fans] have shown up really well. I’m happy to be in the SEC, happy that they’ve got Mizzou there and ready to go.”
As for their predictions of who was going to win the game, fans were a bit less united in their responses. But both were certain that it would be a win for the Tigers.