The second installment in my look back at the 2014 season. In this section I fly west to Seattle, visit one of the winningest Division 2 programs at a small town in Northern Missouri, watch 4 games in 24 hours in Texas, and tailgate with the Tuohy family (of Blind Side fame) at The Grove. Along the way, I further explore the ways in which money is impacting the college football experience and have my first real encounter with the terrifying reality of concussions.
If you had to choose a town to represent America’s Heartland, Maryville, Missouri would be a pretty good choice. The town sits in the Northwest corner of the state, in a place that one resident described as “two hours from anywhere.” Drive North and you’ll hit Des Moines, South and you’ll hit Kansas City, and West and you’ll hit Omaha. But stay within two hours of town, and you’ll see nothing but big sky, small towns, and rolling hills filled with corn and soybeans.
The town is home to 11,000 people and another 6,000 when the college is in session. Downtown is made up of a handful of restaurants, bars, shops, and a four-story courthouse, one of the tallest buildings in a forty-mile radius. Drive a few miles towards the outskirts, and you’ll find a few fast-food joints, a car dealership, and a Wal-mart that attracts shoppers from over an hour away. “It’s a humble place,” one man told me. “Everyone knows everyone.”
If not for the state university, Maryville would be just like any other small farming town. But Northwest, or more importantly, Northwest football has put the town on the map. The Bearcats have appeared in eight of the last sixteen Division 2 national championship games, winning four times including last season. They are currently ranked #1 in the country and own a 20-game win streak.
Like most towns in the Heartland, football is central to life in Maryville. There are more radio stations broadcasting football on Friday nights than playing music. “There’s not much to do around here,” one resident explained. “On Saturdays in the fall, everyone goes to the game.” High school games attract a few thousand fans while college games regularly bring in eight or nine thousand. Walking around during the week, talk centers on the team’s past performance and their chances going forward.