The SEC can lay claim to at least two championships in 2017. First, they have the nations best college football program and the second is the best tailgate experience in college football. Monday night’s national championship game between Alabama and Georgia will determine who wins the gridiron battle and I’m prepared to name the best tailgate in the SEC, as well as the nation, here.
Last August I embarked on a journey to determine which campus offers has the best tailgate in the SEC with a series titled Tailgating SEC Style.
I visited six of the SEC’s 14 schools and the experiences and friendships I made were priceless. SEC fans and Southerners, in particular, are famous for their friendliness and hospitality and nowhere are both more prevalent than on an SEC Saturday. You can read more about my experiences in previous articles so I won’t go into great detail about them here.
So, with no further fanfare, the best tailgate in the SEC is…
1) Ole Miss and The Grove
It’s often said, “Ole Miss may not win the game but they always win the party.” Hoddy Toddy.
After building a successful football program over the last several seasons, Rebel fans had to endure a coaching controversy and severe NCAA penalties in 2017 and handled it with much grace and many cocktails. Wins may be tough to come by for a while, however, no one should argue the area known as “The Grove,” isn’t college tailgating’s “field of dreams.”
What gives The Grove all the ingredients of winning recipe is a beautiful tree-lined area in the middle of campus, a history rich of tailgating tradition, combined the intensity of the fans and the incredible southern style they can bring to a 10×10 canopy tent.
In fact, many of these tents are better furnished and decorated than the average Mississippi living room. Color coordinated chairs and tablecloths often sit beneath outdoor chandeliers that light up perfectly decorated tables with some of the best tailgate delicacies you can imagine.
And to boot, no campus I’ve ever visited brings as much fashion to a college football tailgate as Ole Miss. As I wrote in my article, a visit to Oxford, MS for an Ole Miss tailgate should be on your bucket list. You won’t be disappointed!
2) Mississippi State, Georgia, Auburn
Second place is a three-way tie and I’ll start with Mississippi State. I had never visited Starkville or attended a State game and was extremely impressed with the layout of their campus tailgating areas. Bulldog fans showed tremendous enthusiasm and the food and hospitality were top-notch. State fans are definitely as passionate as their in-state rival when it comes to the pre and post-game party.
Georgia and Auburn were equally impressive. Like Oxford, MS, both are centered in quaint small towns, which sit on the edge of their campuses. The last time I visited Auburn was 1998 when Tennessee was headed toward their last national championship. Experiencing this year’s Iron Bowl was indeed a treat.
I made my first trip to Athens, Georgia and their downtown area was impressive. Georgia’s tailgate scene is more fragmented than other campuses I visited yet they were more receptive to grills and other outdoor cooking equipment.
Somehow it doesn’t seem right to rank the Crimson Tide fifth in anything related to football. Don’t let the ranking fool you because tailgating in Tuscaloosa was fun and I had a blast. With the exception of a few tents, Bama fans don’t place as much emphasis on a well-furnished or decorated tailgate but I can honestly say I’ve never seen as many beer pong games being played in one area in my life. I’m thinking they should dedicate a spot next to the bell tower for the campus beer pong champion. However, if I had run across Marc & Meridith Lipson’s Bacardi sponsored tent on my Alabama visit they might have jumped several spots!
The Saturday I visited Tuscaloosa, the Tide was hosting Ole Miss and I was hoping to see lots of decked out Rebel tents but it was obvious Ole Miss fans chose to stay home, knowing their two-season win streak was about to hit a brick wall. One aspect I enjoyed is many of the fraternity houses on the Alabama campus are along the main drag and the yard parties were extravagant and well attended.
Let me say begin by stating Vanderbilt is ranked last only because fewer fans participate in pre-game festivities compared to other SEC schools. One drawback is there isn’t a large green space available near the stadium for tailgating. The largest tailgate area is a road next to the stadium where fans can rent black tents and accessories on a season or game basis and most everything related to the tailgate experience is in the immediate area.
As for food and hospitality, I could not have asked for a better group to hang out with. If it’s any constellation, my Vandy friends who refer to their group as “You Had Me at Bacon,” served the best food of any tailgate I visited this season and that’s saying a lot because I tasted some fabulous food prepared by some incredible tailgate chefs.
This leaves me with a long list of SEC tailgates to attend next season. They include Tennessee (yes, I’m a fan but couldn’t stomach a trip to Knoxville this season), Florida (I so dread seeing the gator chop), South Carolina, Kentucky, Arkansas, LSU, Missouri and Texas A&M.
Will any of these schools knock Ole Miss off of their perch and lay claim to the best tailgate in the SEC? I doubt it, but I’ll step on each campus with an open mind and empty stomach. If you’re interested in hosting me at your tailgate, send me an email at [email protected]
To everyone that hosted me on my Tailgating SEC Style road trips and was gracious enough to allow my friends and me to “crash” your tailgate, I express my sincere and overwhelming gratitude. I made dozens of new friends and hope I run across each at future SEC games.
Roll Tide, Go Dawgs; SEC rules!