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Sports | Published Dec. 7, 2013 | 0 comments

Mizzou fans brave elements to celebrate in Atlanta

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A Missouri traveler braves severe winter weather on I-57 in Illinois on Dec. 7. The interstate was riddled with will abandoned vehicles and stranded trucks. Tim Tai/Staff Photographer

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Auburn senior Drew Sansing (center) throws a ping pong ball during a game of beer pong in front of the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Dec. 5. Mike Krebs/Staff Photographer

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Sen. Claire McCaskill stands with her family Saturday at the MU alumni tailgate in the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. McCaskill flew to Atlanta from Columbia to attend the Southeastern Conference championship game. Tim Tai/Staff Photographer

Wintery weather wreaked havoc for Missouri drivers, extending the drive times for many fans who left Friday.

ATLANTA — As Missouri fans flocked south to watch their Tigers in the Southeastern Conference Championship game, more than the Auburn Tigers stood in way of jubilation.

Winter Storm Cleon buried parts of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee in rain, snow and sleet. Some spots received up to 11 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service.

The treacherous roads didn’t keep some black and gold faithful from Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, though.

Buses of Missouri fans plus a caravan of Tiger tails on interstates 70, 64, 24 and 75 rolled over the South’s white carpet of snow and ice.

Megan, a 2007 MU graduate, and Jason Toalson left Columbia at 4 a.m. Friday. She said she wanted to get down to Atlanta at a decent time due to the forecasted inclement weather.

Jason drove a white 2013 Nissan Pathfinder. The couple fought through snow and ice. Megan said one highway lane was plowed, if they were lucky. Some spots weren’t even treated.

“I wouldn’t look when we passed accidents,” Megan said.

The Maneater counted 62 of them on its trip to Atlanta Friday.

Amy and Larry Buccero brought their sons Grant and Nick, a freshman at MU, along with friend Levi Riley, a sophomore. The family took an all-wheel-drive 2010 black Honda Odyssey.

Amy said did not have any issues on the snow and ice. The group left from Lee’s Summit at 2:30 p.m. Friday. The traffic, though, extended the travel time by several hours.

“The drive was miserable because of the weather,” Larry said.

Nick said the once they reached Nashville, Tenn., the snow turned into rain and the drive was better.

Unfortunately, they experienced some issues in Atlanta. Amy said the group arrived at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis around 3:00 a.m. Saturday. They waited 10 minutes for a bellhop to show up at the front desk. Then, the hotel employee didn’t know how to make them keys, so the group was just let into their room.

“(Missouri’s) in the SEC Championship and the excitement around the game was definitely worth the drive,” Megan Toalson said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill avoided the weather and flew with her family from Columbia Regional Airport earlier Saturday.

“It was a black and gold flight,” McCaskill said. “In fact, the gate agent as we were boarding said, ‘Blue and orange board last.’”

McCaskill arrived in three hours to Atlanta’s 50-degree weather and camped out at the Mizzou Alumni Association’s official tailgate party at the Georgia World Congress Center across the street from the stadium.

She said incoming Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin and Alumni Association Director Todd McCubbin told her the event was even more crowded than anticipated.

“I feel outnumbered on the streets,” she said. “It’s warm and fuzzy in here.”

But senior Ryan Anderson and four friends braved the roads like so many other compatriots. His white Toyota Corolla pulled out of Columbia at 2 a.m. Thursday to avoid Cleon.

That effort proved unsuccessful, he said.

“I hit the storm at about 4:30, and there was a solid four hours where we were barely moving,” Anderson said, holding a Budweiser in the parking lot of Mary M. Bethune Elementary School where Missouri faithful assembled. “There were several close calls. Luckily everyone else was asleep.”

Shotgun passenger Grant Abell, also a senior, said he tried to keep an eye open.

“I woke up about 10 different times because I felt a jerk,” he said. “We made it.”

Several tailgating Auburn fans said the drive was fine up to Atlanta from Alabama.

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