Our fourth series in Tailgating SEC Style led OneSouthernMan to Tuscaloosa, AL as the University of Alabama Crimson Tide hosted the Ole Miss Rebels. A 7:30 p.m. kickoff provided ample time for a long, hot day of tailgating and needless to say, the atmosphere was electric.
Arriving around 1:30 p.m., I drove around the stadium area in search of a parking spot. Bryant-Denny Stadium is located on the southwest part of campus, an easy walk to the strip where bars such as The Houndstooth, one of the top sports bars in Tuscaloosa, and Buffalo Phil’s, serve a few thousand hungry and thirsty Bama fans in the hours before and after a game.
The general tailgating scene at Alabama is somewhat spread out. Lots of fans set up tents or tables in neighboring parking lots and given the number of houses around the stadium, I saw lots of “yard” and “house” parties. The most populated tailgating spot is The Quad, a large, grassy area located in front of the school’s main library and directly across from the president’s mansion. It’s also where the Denny chimes are located and where you’ll find the largest concentration of tailgating tents.
Games such as corn hole are a popular way to pass the time before kickoff, but what stood out most to me was the number of beer pong games I saw. Every third tent or so had a long folding table where co-eds and millennial alums, showcasing their skills of placing a ping pong ball in a Dixie cup (red of course). A couple of tents I ran across raised the game to another level by substituting sparkling wine (commonly called Champagne) for beer. Hey, when you’re the number one team in the country, why not!
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Compared to The Grove at Ole Miss, the Alabama tailgate scene is more casual in tone and attire. Granted, temps were close to 90 degrees that day, but Bama tailgaters prefer jeans, shorts, and t-shirts to khakis and button downs.
After walking around The Quad to get a feel for Bama’s game-day atmosphere, I kept passing a large area of four tents with an incredible aroma coming from a huge charcoal grill. The sign near the entrance read “Quad Pounders,” and when I asked who was in charge, everyone pointed to Joe Greer, a guy with the physique of a miniature linebacker, who was busy shuffling meat to and from the grill. The groups slogan says it all, “We tailgate harder than your team plays.”
Joe, who is a resident of Tuscaloosa, and his group organized themselves in 2009 and haven’t missed a game since. His usual game-day fare is burgers, hotdogs and savory sausage that was almost ready to come off the grill. As with any respectable tailgate, there was a well-stocked supply of beer, vodka, and bourbon to get everyone ready for kickoff.
However, this group’s secret weapon was kept in a few quart jars and lucky for me, I was allowed to sample several versions of homemade moonshine. For the record, this is the first and only tent I’ve visited where I was offered a taste of the South’s most captivating liquid refreshment. While the Apple favored version went down like water, I knew my limits and decided after three sips – well maybe it was four – I needed to quit. Thank’s guys!
And who says cheerleaders don’t eat well? Of course, I’m referring to the Quad Squad, a group of former cheerleaders who don’t have to be so rigorous about watching their caloric intake these days. Susan Rhodes of Prattville, AL was busy cooking for the group, including some wonderful bacon-wrapped delights she allowed me to sample off the grill.
Like any college game day, Alabama is steeped in tradition. Two and a half hours prior to kickoff, the Crimson Tide, led by Head Coach Nick Saban, are escorted via bus to Bryant-Denny Stadium. There they embark on the Walk of Champions while the unofficial anthem of the state, Sweet Home Alabama, blares through the crowd.
About an hour before kickoff, the entire Million Dollar Band gathers on the steps of the Gorgas Library and plays fan favorites like Yea Alabama and other notable Crimson Tide songs. Afterwards, the band splits up into groups and performs at various spots on their way to the stadium. It’s a cool part of the university’s game day experience and even if you’re supporting the visiting team, make sure you take in as much of Alabama’s pregame experience as possible.
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The Tide was hosting Ole Miss on the day I visited and to my surprise, very few Rebel fans made the drive from Oxford. It certainly didn’t take a Ph.D. candidate in statistics to predict the outcome of this game.
Compared to other SEC campuses, parking near the stadium is pricey, with budding entrepreneurs (obviously business majors) charging $50 for yard parking. However, a few blocks away you can find more affordable $20 lots. What I found interesting is there are lots of the houses, apartments, and condos within an easy walk of the stadium. And when I say close, I’m talking a couple of hundred yards from the stadium gates. With the exception of Vanderbilt, whose stadium is just off West End Avenue, one of the city’s busiest streets, I can’t think of another campus where these many houses are so close to the stadium.
And speaking of houses that are close to the stadium, some of the more prominent fraternity houses, Delta Kappa Epsilon, are situated almost directly across from Bryant-Denny Stadium. Others such as Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Kappa Alpha, and Alpha Tau Omega are just on the other side of The Quad. Some of the fraternities even had bands and DJ’s entertaining brothers and guest on their manicured front lawns.
Although I’m not an alum of Alabama, I managed to find my fraternity house, Phi Sigma Kappa and wondered in for an impromptu tour from a group of brothers and pledges. It certainly brought back lots of memories from my fraternity days! It was also impressive the pledges of all frats were attired in Navy blazers, red ties and khakis on such a hot, fall day. Thank’s for the tour and refreshments brothers!
Finally, no trip to Tuscaloosa would be complete without stopping at Dreamland, one of the state’s best-known barbecue restaurants.
Unlike other campuses I visited, Bama fans didn’t offer much food when I visted their tents so I stopped off at the Northpoint location for some Big Daddy Nachos on the way home and they did not disappoint.
If you haven’t experienced a football game day in Tuscaloosa I highly recommend it. The campus is gorgeous and it’s fun to see the excitement of a fan base whose team has dominated college football for the last several years.
OSM is visiting Athens, GA and the University of Georgia next so stay tuned. There’s lots more SEC football and food to enjoy this season.