Why Tailgating in the SEC is the Best Thing About Fall

Gary Clark
Does the game happen if you didn't tailgate before?

It used to be that a football game was just a football game. Then they added halftime shows and even after-the-game band concerts to encourage fans to stay awhile and ease the traffic congestion of departure.

Now there’s a pregame ceremony of growing popularity that’s drawing fans an hour or more before gametime and keeping them so well occupied they don’t always get to their seats in time for kickoff.

It’s called tailgating, and it is a happy blending of two pleasant ingredients, footballing and picnicking. Some people make it just a family affair, but those who really are the tailgate types take along their neighbors or even make a date to meet old school friends from another city at “the west end of Parking Lot C, 1p.m. sharp.”

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Of course, there are no picnic tables in parking lots. So most people just spread a blanket on the ground and let down the tailgate of the station wagon–thus imparting the make of their ceremony. Down comes the tailgate and out come the stadium chairs or blankets. Picnic baskets and portable coolers yield treasures of fried chicken, potato salad, ham and pimiento cheese sandwiches, coffee, and iced tea or soft drinks.

It’s not difficult to discover why tailgating has become such a popular addition to a football game. With the excitement generated by thousands of fans moving toward their seats, the fluttering pennants above the stadium, and the possibility of running into someone you haven’t seen in years, tailgating is bound to become an inseparable part of the football season’s special flavor.

As yet, no official recognition–in the form of specially designated “tailgating areas”–has been given this pregame ceremony. But in and around football stadiums all over the South certain “in” locations are establishing their reputations as meccas for hungry fans.

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When Ole Miss plays its game at Oxford, the “Grove,” a wooded area near the Lyceum, the college’s imposing antebellum main building, is usually filled with tailgaters by noon.

Fortunately for Vanderbilt fans, Nashville’s Dudley Stadium is just a block from Centennial Park which, with its spacious grounds, lake, and Parthenon replica, affords both ample tailgating room and picturesque surroundings for all picnickers. However, only the early arrivals have time to feed their sandwich scraps to the ducks on the lake and to pose for pictures on the steps of the Parthenon.

At the University of Georgia, “Ag Hill” is the rallying point for tailgaters. For home games at Tuscaloosa, the Quadrangle of the University of Alabama is the destination of the picnic hamper-laden crowd. At Auburn, it’s the big flat field between “Vet Hill” and the stadium.

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When University of Virginia fans decide on a football picnic, they head to the hillside beneath the scoreboard of the stadium and have a leisurely meal while never missing a play.

Although heavy traffic and the surge of humanity encountered upon entering the stadiums are the incentives for most tailgating parties, the mountain scenery and roadside parks near the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, attract as many tailgating fans as bona fide football fans on a bright fall Saturday.

Although Southern football fans have no monopoly on tailgating, they do have a much longer season to practice it. While Eastern and Midwestern fans are shivering beneath their topcoats and laprobes, the followers of football in the South are happily chewing on their pregame chicken in light-jacketed or shirt-sleeved comfort.

Success of the football teams seem to have little to do with the popularity of the picnic. In fact, tailgating has seemed to boost otherwise doubtful attendance at some games, where the popularity of the party takes some of the pain out of the pounding the home team takes.

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