CECIL HURT: A quiet football Saturday in Missouri, but a chance to reflect for Alabama AD

Cecil Hurt
Tide Sports

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The signs said it all.

“No Tailgating. No Gatherings.”

Nearly every promising grassy spot near Missouri’s Memorial Stadium was dotted with the warnings. With that edict of “no fun of any kind,” necessary in the age of coronavirus, there was no particular reason for Tiger fans to wander in the vicinity. Unlike Bryant-Denny Stadium, the Zou (the common nickname for Missouri’s home) isn’t nestled cozily on campus, a short walk from an oak-shaded Quad or friendly establishments selling various thirst quenchers. There’s a four-lane highway running behind the north end zone and a hospital complex on the other side of the road. If a good time was to be had in the pregame, it was a mile or two away in downtown Columbia. 

Alabama Athletic Director Greg Byrne said in May that he expected a collegte football season to be played in full stadiums. Now the Southeastern Conference has had conversations about cancelling nonconference games after the Big Ten and Pac-12 have already acted.

If there was a true celebration going on anywhere, it was in downtown Birmingham. Regardless of the flat atmosphere on some of the campuses, the league was able to have all seven games played without a single cancellation due to the coronavirus. That luck, if you call it that, may or may not hold. Driving to the game on Saturday morning through the Ozarks, a scenic part of the world even with the leaves just beginning to turn,  it was obvious that most of the citizens in that part of Missouri consider masking a mere nuisance or worse. (That’s not to claim any high moral ground for large parts of Alabama.) Columbia proper seemed a little more cognizant although there was talk all week that the Tigers were close to depleted at some position groups and that only a determination of false negatives among Missouri’s tests a week ago let the show go on.

“If you had told me in July that I would be sitting in Columbia, Missouri, for our first game, I wouldn’t have known what you were talking about,” Alabama athletics director Greg Byrne said Saturday in the Mizzou press box. “First of all, they weren’t on our schedule. And there were serious obstacles to overcome. 

“It’s different  There was a time this morning, sitting in the hotel room, watching 'GameDay' (on ESPN) that it felt almost normal. We got on the bus and rode to the stadium, and it was almost normal. Then we get to the lobby of the press box and everyone is wearing masks.”

The game, though, is the main thing  

“I’m really proud of our conference, Greg Sankey, Coach (Nick) Saban and all our leadership for staying patient through a challenging time,” Byrne said. “I think there is a lesson here, that patience is often rewarded with good decisions. I am really happy that we chose that path.”

Byrne also noted that Alabama fans had been a part of the return of football in 2020.

”I really want to give a shout-out to our fans,” he said. “Over 90 percent of our supporters have backed the decisions that we have made on capacity and ticketing and that support has helped make it possible to have a season.”

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt

Cecil Hurt