By Stewart Mandel, SI.com
ST. LOUIS -- Welcome to the site of the 2008 State Farm Arch Rivalry.
First thing's first: We need to get this game a better name if Missouri and Illinois are going to continue being relevant. "Arch Rivalry?" How's that supposed to stack up in a world of Red River Shootouts and Outdoor Cocktail Parties.
A few media comrades and I had an interesting evening last night, albeit an unusual experience to spend the night before a big college game in a largely deserted big-city downtown. Besides the smattering of orange-clad Illini fans checking into my hotel, there was little evidence of the next day's game besides the two enormous banners pictured above.
We did, however, enjoy a fine Italian dinner at Charlie Gitto's, a St. Louis institution and favorite of opposing Cardinal's baseball opponents. The walls are plastered with memorabilia. Our table happened to be next to a framed Tommy Lasorda photo -- which led to no shortage of requisite Fletch jokes. Afterward, one of my female colleagues had the genius idea to take a horse-drawn carriage ride to our next stop.
Five blocks and $35 -- yes, $35 -- later, we arrived at Lucas Park Grille, a surprisingly hopping club (it is, after all, the "Place to See and be Seen," according to the reputable Sauce Magazine) where many of the decked-out female patrons would have easily fit in on the Sunset Strip in both their attire and behavior. (I'd share those photos, but they're not safe for family viewing. Let's just say the song I Kissed A Girl has made its way to St. Louis).
At one point, my California-bred colleague turned and said, "Are we really in Missouri?" It was an extremely impressive Midwest showing, though it should be noted that it was quite clear these girls -- and most of the bar -- were not here the football game.
On that note, I'm about to head over to the Sky Box sports bar down the street from the Edward Jones Dome where a bevy of flat-screens carrying the first games of the day await. Later, I plan to check in with the Illinois and Missouri tailgaters and provide you guys a bit of that scene as well.
I've only got nine hours to kill before kickoff.