Don Sturkey

In October 1966, Southern Living introduced readers to a party genre that seemed tailor-made for a region where food and football are equally revered. “It’s called tailgating,” the magazine announced, “and it is a happy blending of two pleasant ingredients, “footballing and picnicking.”

Fans would choose a spot, spread blankets on the ground, and lower the tailgate–of their station wagons–to break out the cooler of fried chicken and potato salad, and catch up with old friends. (Absent a station wagon, Southern Living pronounced it acceptable to pop the trunk.)

While tailgating had not yet become the cultural phenomenon that it is today, it was already popular in the late sixties, Ole Miss fans were gathering at the Grove, while Bama had the Quadrangle and Tennessee fans started riding boats on the Tennessee River to the waterside stadium in a flotilla that’s known as the Vol Navy. Today, the pregame picnic has become such an important part of the whole football experience that some schools have carefully orchestrated tailgate plans and guidelines.

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Back in 1966, Southern Living pointed out that, while Southerners have no exclusive on tailgating, they can enjoy it longer “in light jacketed or short-sleeved comfort” while Big Ten fans are “shivering beneath their topcoats and laprobes.” 

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The editors also locked into the lasting appeal of the tailgate, namely that it gives fans something to look forward to even when the outlook for their team is grim. As Southern Living put then, “The popularity of the party takes some of the pain out of the pounding the home team takes.” We might not make it to the Sugar Bowl, but as long as the pimiento cheese is good, we’ll get somehow through the season.

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