The jerseys lined the Memorial Stadium tunnel before the Tigers strolled in.
William Ratliff donned a black Missouri football jersey with a No. 11 on his chest. So too did his ten-plus relatives as they waited for Aarion Penton and the rest of the Missouri football team to walk thru the tunnel to its locker room.
“We want to represent our grandson,” Ratliff said of the replica versions of Penton’s jersey.
The jerseys were Penton’s aunt, Tracy Ratliff’s idea. She asked Penton if he wanted his family to don t-shirts with his name, or custom jerseys, this season — his first as a full-time starter at cornerback for Mizzou.
“Jerseys,” Penton told her.
So Tracy Ratliff and all of Penton’s other family members — there will be 22 of them at Mizzou’s game this season, Penton’s mom, Kimberly Penton said – wore jerseys. Tracy Ratliff said she plans to wear one every week, having bought a white one, a gold one and a black one.
As Penton and the Tigers made their way down the tunnel, the sophomore hugged members of his family, and picked up his four-year-old brother George Penton, who was caught dancing on an SEC Network promotional commercial.
George loves Mizzou so much, William Ratliff said, the whole family calls him “The Mizzou Baby.”
On the other side, William Murphy smacked hands with Missouri players before hugging his son, senior Marcus Murphy.
“Mizzou football, baby,” William Murphy said. “Here we go.”
William Murphy had a jersey on too, though his was a bit more worn and faded than the Pentons. His son is a senior after all, in his last year before the NFL — now playing not only running back for the Tigers, but wide receiver as well.
“It’s a new experience,” William Murphy said. “It’s different from the others, because this is the last and most important.”
He added: “When you know this is it, it’s a whole different thing. You take every moment to really take it in.”
William Murphy said he has never missed any of his son’s college games. The Pentons are the same way.
Kimberly Penton said she’d missed just one of Aarion Penton’s football games since he was six. It was his freshman year of high school. She was busy giving birth to George Penton. As she was in labor, she called her husband; he opted to go to Aarion’s game.
Missing the game wasn’t all for not. It brought Aarion’s biggest fan into the Earth.
When Tracy Ratliff was visiting the Pentons in St. Louis, George asked his aunt if she wanted to watch TV.
“Sure,” she said.
He asked if she wanted to watch Cowboys and Tigers.
“OK,” she said.
The young boy turned on a recorded version of last year’s AT&T Cotton Bowl. He called out the plays before they happened to his aunt. He rewinded and rewinded, over and over again.
“I love playing football,” George said.
He loves watching it, too. And finally, after months of waiting, he gets to do that live, once again, with his brother as a starter.