Each season a handful of SEC rivalry games determine bragging rights for the next year, but nowhere is the intensity greater than when Auburn and Alabama face off in the Iron Bowl. For the sixth series in our “Tailgating SEC Style” coverage, my good friend and tennis buddy Tim Sammarco, owner and president of Sammarco Electric, and I ventured to Auburn, Alabama where the number one ranked Crimson Tide came looking to retain their perfect record. Too bad sixth ranked Auburn had other plans.
With few exceptions, the weather across SEC land this season has been incredible and Saturday, November 25 was no exception. This nationally televised game kicked off at 2:30 p.m. so we arrived on campus just after 9:00 a.m. with the hopes of experiencing a full day of Auburn tailgating. ESPN’s College GameDay was broadcasting from Toomer’s Corner in downtown Auburn and fans from both sides were jacked up and ready to go.
RELATED: Tailgating SEC Style: Georgia
For those not familiar with Auburn football, Toomer’s corner, located at the intersection of Magnolia Avenue and College Street, is scared ground. If you recall, in 2010 an Alabama fan poisoned two large oak trees after Auburn’s Iron Bowl victory. The trees were significant for their history and because after wins fans roll the large trees with a few hundred thousand yards of toilet paper.
A large crowd had gathered at Toomer’s Corner for the GameDay broadcast eagerly awaiting the day’s predictions. Auburn fans expressed their displeasure with loud boo’s when Lee Corso and the rest of the broadcast crew picked Alabama to win. Auburn basketball standout and guest picker Charles Barkley was in town for the unveiling of his statue and as he did on the court, took pride defending Auburn’s honor.
The best part of any tailgating experience is the people you meet. While I met lots of die-hard Auburn fans, few are more fanatic than Kara Kennedy of Fultondale, AL. Kara is an Auburn grad I’ve had the pleasure of meeting since we’re in the same business. She and her dad, former Minor High School Coach Houston Kennedy, arrive early to tailgate for every Auburn home game. The day was even more special for Coach Kennedy since he was instrumental in helping Charles Barkley secure his scholarship to Auburn and got to say hello to the basketball legend.
We ran into Jon Nelson who walked us over to the “Tigeritaville” tent, whose name originated from a love of Auburn football and Jimmy Buffett. Kevin Sidor, along with his wife Julie and sons Chris and Carter, began tailgating in 1994 and with a large group of War Eagle fans who gather near the Ag building for great food, drinks and some killer Bloody Mary’s. That’s for the kick-start Bloody y’all!
Roy walked us over to our next stop which was a decked out customized black trailer known as Skipper’s Tailgate. Jay Skipper and his wife Jamie live in Ft. Walton Beach, FL and have been working on their trailer for a couple of years with the intention of creating the ultimate Auburn-tailgating trailer.
What made this couple unique is the story of how they met. Jay was introduced to Jamie at an Auburn tailgate and after relentlessly pursing her, managed to coax her into saying, “yes” at a nearby rose garden near their tailgate spot. I asked Jay and Jamie to recreate the scene for me and they were kind enough to oblige. To the group’s surprise, Jamie even said, “yes” one more time!
Many of the “tent’s” and tailgating spots I visit are elaborate and well-stocked with food and beverage, but I always try to connect with fans whose tailgate supplies consist of folding chairs and a tumbler full of their favorite beverage. Tammy and Russell Baqir and their friends Lee Nast and Richi Ross, were content to plant their chairs near Toomer’s Corner and absorb the pre-game atmosphere.
Located in a prime location near the College GameDay stage on Toomer’s Corner, one tailgate in particular caught my attention. This large group of tents was well-organized with multiple TVs, a couple of dozen chairs, a few tables full of delicious food and a special table where two rum infused cocktails, the Yellow Hammer and the Pink Panty Pulldown, were being served.
I’ve seen many nice tailgating tents but this one was unique not only because of its location, and to my amazement, was an Alabama tent! Savannah, GA residents Marc & Meredith Lipson, along with Kevin and Michelle Kirsch, began tailgating a few years ago when their kids met in Tuscaloosa and have a heck of a set up. When I asked Marc how he snagged such a prime spot near Toomer’s Corner, his candid response surprised me.
“We drove around looking for a spot and on our second pass noticed the area was large enough for our tents so we just started setting up. We figured someone might say something or ask us to move but they never did so here we are.”
Their tent is sponsored by Bacardi so for the record Marc, I’m planning to take you up on your offer to come down to Tuscaloosa next season.
RELATED: Tailgateing SEC Style: Alabama
Tim had secured tickets for the game and not wanting to miss the pre-game action, we headed toward the stadium. On the way and right on the next corner we ran across The Patio, a tent managed and run by long time friends Lee McDaniel and Joe Thombley. There I caught the aroma of meat cooking and found Justin Ferguson attending to a large charcoal grill of hamburgers.
A few stops later and right before reaching the stadium I spotted a sign that reminded me of the first adult beverage I “borrowed” from my parent’s bar refrigerator. I bumped into Margaret Stewart, a recent Auburn grad with a degree in sports journalism who gave me a quick tutorial of Auburn tailgating and how much empathy she felt for the Bama fans given they head back to Tuscaloosa with their first regular season loss. Great prediction Margaret!
Tim was pulling for Alabama and all I was hoping for was to witness a classic match-up between two stellar SEC programs. Gus Malzahn and his Auburn team never let up, containing Jalen Hurts’ Alabama offense while taking advantage of Jarrett Stidham’s consistent play on their way to a 26-14 Iron Bowl victory.
Auburn has a wonderful campus and I highly recommend a road-trip if your team is playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The campus is easy to navigate through and around and the fans show the Southern hospitality our region is known for. I’m looking forward to visiting more schools next season and returning to those I was able to highlight this season.
Thanks to all the incredible fans who made this trip special and for the warm, “Southern” hospitality extended this entire SEC football season.