For week five of the 2018 SEC football season, Tailgating SEC Style ventured to Starkville, Mississippi to tailgate with Mississippi State University Bulldog fans. If you read the story about my visit to Starkville last year, you’ll recall how impressed I was with their tailgate atmosphere. My second visit to MSU confirmed my assessment and the hospitability extended to me by Bulldog fans was superb. Mississippi State tailgating fans gathered for the Gators, anticipating the return of former coach Dan Mullen who left at the end of last season to take the Florida job.
I have several friends that are alumni and fans of Mississippi State so finding people to tailgate with isn’t too difficult. Apart from the engaging and electric atmosphere, you’ll discover at most SEC tailgates; my favorite part is meeting new people because they always seem to turn into new friendships. This year’s trip to Starkville was no exception.
There are two things you can always count on when meeting Southerners. First, it’s a tiny world and region when you quickly discover how many mutual friends and acquaintances people have in common. Second, the hospitality Southerners show – especially SEC football fans – is nothing short of amazing. Jane Foster, who hosted me a couple of weeks ago in her Zebra Tent at Ole Miss, connected me with Jenn Prather, who is the Director of Tourism for Starkville’s Tourism and Economic Development Agency. Jenn was gracious enough to recommend several tailgates I might want to check out and provided me a run-down of game-day activities in The Junction, or the large area outside of Davis Wade Stadium.
Mississippi State Tailgating
Arriving on campus just before 11:30 a.m., fans were starting to pour into the tailgate areas near the stadium for the 5:00 p.m. kickoff. The MSU campus is large and spread out, however, what I like about their tailgating area around The Junction is it’s so compact, yet has ample space for the hundreds of tailgate tents that dot the landscape. Although sunny and warm, temps remained in the 80s and felt great compared to the 90 plus degree weather of the four previous Saturday’s.
Walking toward the stadium, I spotted Jack Henry of Crawford, MS. He was prepping a large charcoal grill by himself, and my intuition told me this guy was a great cook. Jack was about to cook a Boston Butt along with barbecue chicken and pork for several of his nine children, and many grand and great-grandkids that would be joining him later. Jack was kind enough to invite me to stop by on my way out and made a mental note to mark the location, and I wouldn’t regret it.
Many fans congregate around the Barnes & Noble bookstore which sits just west of the stadium and near the school’s welcome center. I walked around the area, surveying the tents and fans and deciding which ones I may want to interview. Most SEC fans use tents for their tailgate area, but as I was walking near the Bost Extension Center, I noticed several groups setting up tailgates under the buildings covered walkway. One well-decorated table receiving finishing touches caught my eye, so I asked if I could photograph their work before a group of hungry boys attacked the fried chicken and other tasty treats on display.
Shannon & D.R. Bozeman of Flora, MS, along with Ashley & Jonathan Clark who reside in Cumming, Georgia, put this tailgate together for family and friends and as I learned, have quite a story. Shannon and Ashley grew up together in Brandon, MS and were roommates during their days at MSU. Plus, Shannon’s husband, D.R., played football for the Bulldogs from 1988-91. But here’s the kicker; the two couple’s daughters, Emma and Ansley, are are now freshman roommates at MSU, following in their mom’s footsteps. The Bozeman-Clark tailgate was simple, yet “southernly elegant” and filled with Kentucky Fried Chicken, sandwiches and other sides and yes, gourmet cookies in the shape of the state of Mississippi and dog bones. And yes, it only took us a few minutes to determine we shared mutual friends.
Another friend of the groups, Emily Leiter and her daughter Grace offered to walk me around and introduce me to some of their friends. Do you ever encounter people that seem to know everybody? That was Emily! She spoke with a few dozen Bulldog buddies before we landed at Jason Young’s large tailgate in the Southern Traditions tailgate area. Jason lives just outside of Jackson, MS and hosts a massive tailgate for every MSU game. They were grilling an assortment of protein, including steaks, bacon-wrapped beef and two large cast iron pots of jambalaya that looked delicious. In addition to tailgating and like many Southern men, Jason also enjoys hunting and offered to take me to his hunting club, an invitation I would relish since duck hunting in the Mississippi Delta is an experience no Southerner man should miss. Similar to tailgating, Southern hunting clubs are infamous for their food and hospitality.
Seeing old friends at the various SEC tailgates is something I relish. Since our sons were in daycare and elementary school at Christ Methodist Day School in Memphis years ago, Greg Livingston and I have been friends. I tailgated with Greg and his crew last year and stopped in again because I knew Greg and his “tailgating-buddy-in-crime” Len would be decked out in the latest Bulldog attire. I wasn’t disappointed. Len’s diamond-patterned Bulldog slacks are always a hit with the dozens (probably hundreds of thousand) female fans seeking him out for pictures each gameday. If you’re curious how several thousand cowbells sound when rang at the same time, then watching the players exit their buses and walk through The Junction before the game answers that question. If that isn’t enough, then venture inside the stadium, and the decibel level gets even higher. Check out this video of a cowbell anthem as the players run onto the field. IMG_8611
Next to Greg and Len’s tent was the Vicksburg Dawgs, where along with family and friends, two sisters who are graduated from MSU and are both accountants had been prepping for kickoff. Lori Beth, her sister Caitlin, along with Caitlin’s former roommate Heather, all predicted a Bulldog win. Unfortunately, they were a few points off today but rest assured this group will be ready for Auburn.
SEC tailgating, once relegated to eating homemade food from Styrofoam coolers pulled from a truck, or station wagon has elevated itself in luxury, size, and scope. Many SEC schools are contracting with companies such as Southern Tradition Tailgating to provide turnkey setups for fans and alumni. In addition to Mississippi State, other SEC schools served are Ole Miss, LSU, and Tennessee. Their black tailgate tents are easy to spot in Starkville and located just west of The Junction and just north of the Newell-Grissom Volleyball complex, near fraternity row. However, hundreds of other tents cover the land around The Junction for each home game.
Mullen’s Return to Bulldog Country
Bulldog fans appeared energized by this Saturday’s matchup since former MSU, and current Florida Head Coach Dan Mullen was in town and would be standing on the opposing sideline. Some fans are upset Mullen left Mississippi State for Florida earlier this year, but others appreciated his contribution to the program. Nonetheless, they wanted to remind their former coach why he should have stayed. Mullen’s Gators were lucky to leave town with a 13-6 victory, in what was a lackluster performance by both teams.
Part of what creates an engaging tailgate environment is when students, alumni, and fans all come together on a fall Saturday to support their favorite SEC team. One of the many things that impressed me about Mississippi State’s tailgating scene is the number of students who hang out in The Junction after kickoff to watch the game and support their Bulldogs.
If you stand toward the right side of the stadium’s South entrance, the large jumbotron scoreboard is visible, allowing a few thousand fans outside the stadium to watch the game. That explains why fans that tailgate along Creelman Street, just east of Dorman Hall have a birds-eye view from their lawn chairs perched on the small hill by the road.
A couple of fans offered me tickets to the game, but I decided to remain in The Junction. The Mississippi sunset going down on MSU and Davis-Wade Stadium created an ideal late afternoon environment to enjoy college football. Fulfilling the promise I made earlier in the day, I stopped by Jack’s tent on the way out to sample the meat he had cooked. His Boston Butt cuts were incredibly tender and the barbecued chicken wings melted in your mouth. He also prepared grilled cabbage wrapped in bacon that was also delicious. To my delight, Jack sent me away with two large plates of meat, which I devoured on the drive home.
If your team is traveling to Mississippi State for a football game – or any athletic event – I highly recommend making the trip to Starkville. The fans, campus, and the town are hospitable, and I couldn’t have asked for a better tailgating day. If you have questions about Starkville or MSU, then contact Jenn Prather of the Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Next week Tailgating SEC Style travels to Fayetteville, Arkansas to watch the Crimson Tide take on the Arkansas Razorbacks. It’s a special trip for me since my son is a freshman Kappa Alpha Order pledge and accounting major at Arkansas and it will be our first game together as Razorback fans.
If you’re looking to enjoy the Mississippi State tailgating scene, then check out Tailgate Connect. They match fans with tailgating groups at most SEC schools, and it’s an easy way to get in on the fun of Tailgating SEC Style.