In the Southeastern Conference (SEC), football is a religion, and Saturday is the holy day. The conference has a long history of sporting some of the best teams in the nation, and is a perennial favorite to produce the national champion each and every year.
Powerhouses like Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Florida call the conference home, as do newcomers like Missouri and Texas A&M. These college towns aren’t content simply watching their team at home on a big-screen TV, either. The grill will be fired up, the beers chilled, and the cornhole boards laid out in celebration of an iconic collegiate tradition: tailgating.
Tailgate parties are basically gigantic outdoor picnics. Though they are ostensibly organized around the local game, many attendees are not ticket holders and are content with partying outside all day. The SEC, in particular, boasts wonderful weather for these outdoor activities, at least as long as you can scope out some shade. Regardless, tailgating in the SEC offers a wonderful combination of barbecue, Southern hospitality, and high-level college football.
Rise and Shine!
Tailgating in the SEC is so absurdly popular you will find it difficult to host your own party unless you plan well ahead and arrive early. Generally, locals establish their favorite spots week after week. This means it can be difficult to obtain a location. The only way to guarantee yourself a spot is to arrive early, sometimes as early as Thursday afternoon (for a Saturday game) at places like Auburn! This situation benefits those prepared to remain on location overnight. At Florida, for instance, many people will park their RVs in designated parking lots and simply stay there for a few days.
If you’re not interested in hosting your own tailgate, but would still like to attend, then you certainly can! Driving around these college towns is typically difficult on game days. This makes it important to plan out your travel arrangements, and to be prepared to do a lot of walking.
Always remember, the SEC is in the South, so there will be plenty of Southern hospitality to go around. You should also seek out local information on the internet, as there are often great pointers on the best places to find great tailgating. It is not uncommon for absolute strangers to offer you gumbo at a LSU tailgate, or wonderful barbecue sandwiches at one on the Texas A&M campus.
Food may be the single most important part of the tailgate. Well, maybe the actual football is slightly more important. The SEC is mostly scattered throughout the southeastern United States, and as a result there is a vast variety of foodstuffs available depending on the city you’re in.
Missouri is world-renowned for its barbecue, Louisiana for its Cajun cuisine and crawfish, and the entire region for its grilling methods. You definitely shouldn’t shy away from something just because it seems a little strange. As an example, LSU fans have been known to serve gator tail when the team takes on the University of Florida!
Though you should always feel welcome at the tailgate party of a friendly Southerner, it is important that you contribute your fair share. Most folk are happy to offer food and drink to complete strangers. It is just part of the whole collegiate atmosphere. But, if you make something of your own and share it with others, the whole experience becomes incredibly communal and fun.
SEC football fans accompany the delicious food with large amounts of alcohol, regardless of the local liquor laws. Though in many cases it is not legal to possess alcohol on the campuses themselves, for the most part, if you are not belligerent, then the police leave you alone.
As with the food, the standard B.Y.O.B. (bring your own beer) rule applies: if you plan on drinking, you should bring your own alcohol to contribute to the party. Most everybody simply has a communal ice cooler (or even multiple coolers) where you can pitch in and are encouraged to sample whatever is available.
Beer is the drink of choice for many, and you’ll most often find fans partaking of popular beers from large breweries like Coors. There are also outstanding craft brewing communities in some of these cities, and most of the time it is easy to purchase alcohol on the day of the game from local grocery stores. If you’re in a new place, be sure to confirm the local alcohol purchasing laws, as some cities have restrictions.
Many fans enjoy harder cocktails, even early in the morning. You can usually find mimosas, Bloody Marys, or other juice-based cocktails. Later on, more standard cocktails make an appearance, but you have to remember that most of these games are scheduled in the middle of the day in the Southeast United States. Hence, there is often sweltering heat, so most of the cocktails you’ll find are of the sweet and refreshing variety.
For example, at Kentucky games, you probably won’t be able to walk ten feet without finding someone sipping a mint julep.
Entertainment & Games
While the food and the beverages occupy a lot of time, there are a number of other things to do as well. Lawn games spring up wherever there is enough room to set them up. Baggo (also known as “cornhole”) is everywhere, and many people own custom versions of the game. Ladder golf is popular, and, if you’re lucky, you can find bocce ball and even croquet. You can always find someone to play catch with. Sometimes, there will even be flag or tackle pick-up games, but generally these take up too much room to be super common.
Finally, of course, it is incredibly easy to actually watch football. The wealthiest tailgaters have wonderful television set-ups, complete with subscriptions to the SEC Network and high-definition televisions to watch the games live. If you wander from tent to tent, you’re bound to find a game that interests you.
College football tailgate parties are immensely popular and entertaining due to the passionate fans of the sport. Nowhere is that passion more evident than in the SEC, where incredibly talented teams spar off on a weekly basis. Between the wonderful local food, the party atmosphere, and the actual football, there aren’t any more pleasant ways to spend a Saturday in the fall.