Tiger Ticket-Holders: Missouri football tailgates become Arens family tradition over more than 50 years

Dick and Shirley Arens have tailgated before Missouri football games since the 1950s, a tradition that now includes their children and grandchildren.
Shirley and Dick Arens greet former Missouri Director of Athletics Mike Alden during the Arens family's tailgate on Saturday, Oct. 5. Photo by Michelle Gutierrez

Dick Arens remembers buying his first tickets to a Missouri football game in 1949 as a high schooler at Montgomery County R-II High School.

Fast forward 70 years, and at 86 years old, Dick and his wife, Shirley, sit underneath tents in the parking lot at Memorial Stadium tailgating before Missouri’s game against Troy.

They’re joined by their three children, Kim, Brad and Jeff, as well as their respective spouses, Paul, Lynn and Amanda. Jeff and Amanda’s youngest son, Lafe, is also there, as well as a number of other extended relatives and family friends. Former Missouri Director of Athletics Mike Alden even makes an appearance, now a close friend of the family.

I’m greeted by everyone I’m introduced to with a handshake and a big smile.

Most of them are season ticket holders like Dick and Shirley, and have been since before any student currently enrolled as an undergrad at MU was born. Many of them were also Tigers themselves, if even for just a year. Shirley attended MU for one year from 1950-51, and Dick graduated in 1956. He and Shirley married in 1957. They’ll celebrate their 62nd anniversary on Nov. 2.

Kim, the oldest, attended MU from 1977-81. Brad did not attend MU, but his wife, Lynn, earned her masters as a Tiger. Jeff attended MU from 1983-84 before transferring to Columbia College. His wife, Amanda, earned both her undergraduate and masters at MU.

Over the years, the family has witnessed many important Missouri games. Of course, they were there in 1990 for the infamous Fifth Down Game against Colorado. Both Shirley and Kim specifically remember the way they reacted to the extra down that gave the Buffaloes a win.

“Everyone around us was counting,” Kim said. “Everyone was adamant about it being an extra down. We were so astounded when they didn’t call that play back which cost us the game.”

At the time, Dick and Shirley’s season-ticket seats were at the very top of the stadium on the 50 yard line.

“I was on the last row screaming because I knew it was fifth down,” Shirley said.

Each of Dick and Shirley’s three kids still remember when the family would tailgate in Lot D, the current Mizzou Athletic Training Complex parking lot. They point the spot out to me from their current location right outside gate 2W of Memorial Stadium. No one can quite seem to remember when they made the switch though. Dick just decided one year they were finally going to make it.

For Jeff, the youngest of the Arens siblings, Lot D provided some of his earliest memories of tailgates with his parents.

“Crossing the road was a big deal,” Jeff said. “There was no crosswalk. They’d have a highway patrolman at the four-way up here at Providence and Stadium, and I remember distinctly he would always say ‘Okay fans, it’s your turn.’ And that means all traffic stopped and everybody could walk across.”

Kim, the oldest, tells me she remembers her parents’ tailgates before her and her brothers were even allowed to attend them.

“When mom and dad were tailgating, they would leave my brothers and I at home,” she said. “We had someone that we could check in with — I was old enough to watch over everyone — but they would pretty much leave us and they would be gone all night.”

Lot D was where pretty much every Arens family tailgating tradition started. One of those in particular is “The Pot,” a collection of $1 bids on the final score of each game. Dick was the first to keep track of participants’ bids and money, sometimes even on the bills themselves. He likes to joke about how he’d pay for his own kids to participate.

Eventually he passed on the number and money handling to Kim, who in turn passed it on to her daughter Erin. With most of the grandchildren in different parts of the country now, the responsibility bounces around to different parties. For the most part, though, the responsibility lies with Kim.

At its largest, the Arens’ think the pot probably reached anywhere from $80 to $100. On Saturday, it rests somewhere around $20, which means that almost every person I can count in attendance is participating.

Missouri football is so important to the Arens family that in 2012 — the same year the Tigers joined the Southeastern Conference — they took family pictures on Faurot Field for Dick and Shirley’s 55th wedding anniversary.

They even got to kiss the 50 yard line, knocking the popular MU tradition not many complete off of their lists.

Amanda shows me the pictures, scrolling through a Facebook album on her phone. She tells me it was incredibly hot the day they took them, and Jeff points out that it’s also always 10 to 15 degrees hotter on turf fields.

It was brand new turf as well, installed fresh with the brand new SEC logo on the field. Both Jeff and Amanda remember watching the field maintenance crew clipping the blades with scissors. By the time they started taking pictures though, they had the whole place to themselves.

Missouri is such an integral part of the Arens family identity that Kim’s oldest daughter, Erin, chose black and gold as her wedding colors, had the fight song played at her reception and served Mizzou football cookies as her gifts.

The one mistake Erin made, however, was scheduling her wedding the same day as Missouri took on Kansas at home.

In the end, Dick approved the double booking. The family just made sure the game was on TV somewhere nearby.

Lafe Arens is the only member of the family left at MU. The youngest of the grandchildren, he’s in his senior year, but still spends game days with his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Once the game starts however, you’ll find Lafe in Tiger’s Lair, MU’s designated student section. He’s been a proud member for four years, and has painted up more than 14 times.

He’s also a member of Hitt Street Harmony, a vocal jazz ensemble run through the School of Music. Coincidentally, the group is a sort of reincarnation of the one his parents, Jeff and Amanda, met in during their time at MU, called Singsations.

“It’s not the same group now, but it’s the precursor to what he sings in now,” Jeff said. “It’s pretty cool to go back and to watch them sing and to go ‘we did that.’”

Jeff comes up and asks how long I’m sticking around. Apparently Lafe invited some of his choir friends at the request of his parents, and the group is planning on singing the alma mater.

They aren’t lying. When three of Lafe’s friends finally arrive, the group of six moves off to the side to practice their harmonies before gathering everyone under the tents for the performance.

Although he’s not in it anymore, Lafe also played on Mizzou Quidditch for three years, going to three national tournaments, including one in Florida, where Dick and Shirley go to escape the cold after Christmas.

His grandparents actually attended one of Lafe’s games, and Jeff remembers calling Dick after the game to ask how it went.

“Well, I don’t know what the hell we were watching, but we were there.”

There’s an abundance of food at the Arens’ tailgate, much more than the group, which hits about 23 at its peak, will be able to finish before heading into the game.

Paul, Kim’s husband, spends the most time at the grill. The family is breaking in a new one after using their old grill for 20 years. He keeps breaking off bits of steak to hand to me as I stand and talk.

Ribeye steaks are the main course, sliced thin for sandwiches. There’s also a rack of ribs. And baked potatoes. And caesar salad, broccoli salad, chips, vegetables and deviled eggs. Some sort of apple-cinnamon crumble that’s a new recipe. Of course, there’s two coolers filled with different brands of beer and other drinks as well.

You name it, the Arens family has it at their tailgate. Or at least, they have at some point.

There’s been king crab legs, beef tenderloin and cranberry sauce, omelets in a bag and Taco Bell. They used to pick up a bucket or two of chicken from the now-gone KFC on Providence. Jeff jokes that once they stopped going there, the place went out of business.

Patsy and Brent Speight, who brought the steak this week and are longtime friends of Dick and Shirley, said they even remember having fajitas once.

The one consistent main dish is chili dogs, which the family does once a season, usually when it starts to get cold out. This year, they’re planning on making them before the Nov. 16 game against Florida, when all of the grandkids will be in town.

Although there’s dispute over whether it actually occurred on the day of the Fifth Down Game against Colorado, the Arens family got early revenge on some Colorado natives by serving them buffalo — without telling them.

Food at the Arens family tailgate hasn’t always been so fancy, though. The rule used to be that everyone would bring their own sandwich. It wasn’t until Missouri hit what they referred to as a “14 year drought” — starting sometime in the late-80s and ending in the Chase Daniel era — that the Arens’ started to step up their tailgating cuisine.

Kim, the only member of the Arens family proper to attend a full four years at MU, said some of her earliest memories of the tailgates came in college.

“It was a huge, huge thing when I was here for me to bring all my friends, my group over and tailgate,” she said. “That’s what we did. We didn’t plan anything else, that’s what we did. That was a huge thing ‘cause my mom and dad are always so welcoming to everyone. They brought us in, they fed us.”

Dick and Shirley begin walking towards their entrance gate about 45 minutes before the game starts. It takes them a little longer to get there now, understandably, and Shirley warns me that she’ll have to take a break about halfway.

She doesn’t end up needing to, though, as Dick waves down a club car roaming the parking lot for this exact reason. We climb on, and I sit next to Shirley in the second row. She leans over to explain to me that the couple moved their seats to the Tiger Lounge four or five years ago when it became too hard for Shirley to walk down the steps in the stands. She smiles.

Jeff was the first to tell me that he thinks this is Dick and Shirley’s last year tailgating.

“It’s probably their last year, we’re pretty sure,” he said. “As far as the rest of us? I don’t know, it’ll be tough. It’ll be tough.”

The topic is a sensitive one of course, but Kim said it didn’t really hit her until I asked. She tears up talking about the tradition her parents have created.

“We are here for my mom and dad,” Kim said. “Always have been, always will. It’s hard for us to think that this might be their last year. The idea that they’re still here and they’re both 86 is phenomenal. They still get up and go. They are still the leaders of the pack. My brothers and I are still true Mizzou fans, so I’m not sure that giving it up — that part will never be an option. Where we tailgate, how we tailgate may change.”

Brad shares the sentiment most concisely.

“Just Missouri and mom and dad, it means a lot to me,” he says.

The three siblings aren’t ready to let Dick and Shirley’s tradition simply end, though. After more than 50 years of an Arens family member attending every Missouri football game — with the exception of the two years Dick served in the army — there’s too much love for Tiger football in the family’s DNA.

“Fall Saturdays, it’s Missouri football,” Brad said. “Didn’t matter where it was. If it was away, we were watching it on TV or radio. I’ve been to seven or eight away games. Like to go to more. One of these days I will be able to.”

The bond the Arens family shares is what most would call a special one. Jeff says family friends have echoed the sentiment time and time again. Jeff and his family don’t see it as special. It’s just how they are.

“We see it as normal,” Jeff said. “But apparently, we’re not normal in some aspects. In that, we do this stuff together. All that credit is because of [my parents]. They just make it happen.”

When next season rolls around, there’s still uncertainty if the Arens family will be at their spot outside gate 2W. No matter where they are though, Kim is certain of one thing.

“Even when we’re not here, even when my mom and dad aren’t here, they’ll be here.”

Edited by Wilson Moore | wmoore@themaneater.com

Share: Facebook / Twitter / Google+

Article comments


This item does not have any approved comments yet.

Post a comment

Please provide a full name for all comments. We don't post obscene, offensive or pure hate speech.