By Stewart Mandel, SI.com
ST. LOUIS -- On a sunny, picture-perfect day here (it's too bad they're playing the game indoors), I took a stroll through the tailgate lots adjacent to the Edward Jones Dome and was quickly reminded of everything that's great about college football.
While the bright orange attire of the Illinois revelers is more eye-catching than the black and gold of Missouri fans, it would be nearly impossible to miss The Zoubus -- a former yellow school bus purchased by five Mizzou alums, who spent $10,000 to turn it into a black-and-gold striped tailgating haven.
One of its proprietors, Brock Paalhaer, welcomed me inside the converted 1990 GMC Blue Bird, which now sports a deck, field-turf, Tiger-striped sofas, a 600-watt sound system, a 13,500 BTU air conditioner, framed Missouri memorabilia (including a 2007 Sports Illustrated cover that features a certain writer's byline) and more than 500 signatures on the ceiling from current and former Tigers players and coaches. (You can view pictures of the makeover process at Zoubus.com.
The bus attracts a slew of visitors every week, and the guys have been doing it since 2004 -- long before the Tigers became a top-10 team.
"We just like to have a good time with good people," said Paalhaer. "We'd be doing this even if [the Tigers] weren't good. We're true fans."
It brings a smile to my face knowing there are literally hundreds of thousands of "true fans" engaging in this very same ritual all across the country today -- many for the first time in nine months. Football season is officially back.