Photo: Taylor Mathis
Photo: Taylor Mathis
Photo: Robbie Capponetto
Photo: Gary Clark
Welcome to tailgate season in the South. Down here, tailgating isn't just a way to kill time an hour before kickoff. It's an all-day ritual—a divine potluck of a family reunion, cocktail hour, and fashion show that keeps us coming back year after year, decade after decade, to the same sun-drenched fields. Only in the South do fall weddings revolve around bye weekends, do supermarkets stock up in anticipation of the invading RV armada, and do small towns such as Athens, Georgia, and Norman, Oklahoma, double in population come Saturday. And some of those fans don't even set foot in a stadium. When top-ranked Alabama and LSU played last season in a heated regular-season meeting, more than 60,000 folks showed up—without tickets. Nobody does it like we do.
As the author of multiple books on college football, I've tailgated at every major stadium in the South. I've even ventured to games up North, only to rapidly scurry back South when I realized that the women wear ski pants to tailgates. Yes, ski pants. Not so in the South, where Sunday best comes out a day early. Pearls, sundresses, and bow ties? Check, check, and (gingham) check. That same attention to detail translates to the makeshift living rooms we set up under tents, complete with floral arrangements and flat-screen TVs. Men, I speculate, can take credit only for the satellite hookup. I've been to one Southern tailgate without the presence of a woman. Upon arrival on a blustery fall day in Lexington, Kentucky, we discovered we had 178 cans of beer, three cans of Pringles, and a tray of Kroger-purchased meatballs. We ate the meatballs with our bare, wind-chapped hands. If a woman had been present, cocktails would have been passed on melamine trays and, by God, there would have been table linens-monogrammed, most likely.
All of this pregame effort is, of course, rooted in fan rivalry—when else do you devour your opponent (gator bites, wild boar)? So when Southern Living asked me to write about tailgating as part of their inaugural The South's Best Tailgate, I was just happy that I didn't have to pick the 20 contenders. (Trust me, I already get enough hate mail.) The even harder part is up to you. So polish the silver Koozies, pull out the cornhole set, and let the smack talk ensue. May the best tailgate win.