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Tailgates, rituals and attire: A look at game day across the SEC

Saturday, November 26, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 11:16 a.m. CST, Sunday, November 27, 2011
Alabama fans cheer at a 2007 game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. While students at SEC schools are known to dress up, attire at Alabama games runs from very casual to dressy. Fans wear a lot of Bama gear, said Calvin Brown, the university's director of alumni affairs.

COLUMBIA — Missouri's switch to the Southeastern Conference brings a whole new way of looking at game day.

Here's how a football weekend stacks up at the 12 teams currently in the SEC. Texas A&M and Missouri will join the SEC for the 2012-2013 season.

This material came from university alumni centers, athletic departments, sportswriters, restaurant owners and spirit-wear retailers.

A child in a "Big Al" hat uses binoculars to watch a 2007 Alabama game. (Photo courtesy of the University of Alabama Athletic Department)

UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA

Hometown: Tuscaloosa

Team: Crimson Tide  

Colors: Crimson and white

Tailgating: The Quad is the center of tailgating at Alabama, according to Calvin Brown, the university's director of alumni affairs.

Hundreds of tents are set up on the Quad for parties, many belonging to vendors. Fans start to arrive on the Friday before the game, and tailgates don't end until Saturday night.

A couple of students founded a company called Gameday Tents, which will set up and tear down a tent site, Brown said. They even provide food and a flat-screen TV.

Attire: Students at Southern schools are known to dress up, but attire here runs from very casual to dressy. Fans wear a lot of Bama gear, Brown said.

Fraternity pledges are typically required to wear coats and ties to a game. 

Food: It often depends on the opponent. For a game against Arkansas, pig roasts are common. Fried gator is served when the game is against Florida.

"Gator tastes like chicken," said Julia Zeiger, an Alabama student.

Rituals: The university's Million Dollar Band has been a Crimson Tide tradition for 100 years. Its 400 members accompany the football players from the Quad to Bryant-Denny Stadium in a parade known as the "Elephant Stomp."

"Big Al," the school mascot, is a fuzzy gray elephant wearing a Crimson Tide jersey. The elephant debuted at the 1979 Sugar Bowl, when the Tide beat Penn State University for the national championship.

The team does not have a logo on helmets or uniforms, so the elephant's likeness often appears on merchandise and souvenirs.

 

UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS

Hometown: Fayetteville

Team: Razorbacks

Colors: Cardinal red and white

Tailgating: Pre-game rituals in Fayetteville can be a multi-day event as fans claim spots and set up red tents early on the day before kickoff.

"Usually the tailgaters get out early in the morning," said Tammy Tucker, director of communications at the Arkansas Alumni Association. "Friday afternoons you'll see people start putting their tents up."

"It's pretty much all over campus that you see red canopies, people eating and gathering and calling the hogs." 

Food: Barbecue.

Attire: "You see lots of red, hog hats, people wearing the little river hog snouts, everything from red pants to red shifts," Tucker said. "Lots of students will paint their chests red in the student section."

Rituals: The athletic team has a live mascot named Tusk, a Russian boar that resembles a wild razorback hog and weighs about 475 pounds.

 

Auburn Tiger football fans gather at Toomer's Corner after the two giant oak trees are "rolled" following the 2010 BCS National Championship win against Oregon. (Photo courtesy of Auburn University's Photo Services)

AUBURN UNIVERSITY

Hometown: Auburn, Ala.

Team: Tigers

Colors: Blue and orange

Tailgating: "The best way to describe it — controlled chaos,” said Mark Cooley, general manager of the popular Momma Goldberg's Deli on Magnolia Avenue, which is close to Jordan-Hare Stadium.

RVs begin to arrive Tuesday before a Saturday game, and the next wave arrives Thursday or Friday morning to rope off an area with orange tape, he said.

"It's amazing how much people spend on the tailgating experience, from the clothing to the tents, the grills," said Michael Hood, service support supervisor of the Auburn Outdoor Events department.

"They really bring their backyard."

Food: Barbecue and potlucks.

"They'll have alligator when we play Florida," Hood said. "For Arkansas, we have roast pig. A lot of people have a whole pig on the grill."

Attire: Khakis, navy blazers and orange ties for Greeks; T-shirts and jeans or shorts for the rest.

Women like orange or navy dresses with cowboy boots, said Jason Harbison, manager of Tiger Rags, spirit-wear store.

Rituals: Before every home game, fans line the route to the stadium, creating a corridor to the field for players called Tiger Walk.

"Thousands of people line up along the walk to support the team," Cooley said. "It becomes a large pep rally."

After a victory, the trees at Toomer's Corner get "rolled" with toilet paper. Toomer's Corner marks the border between downtown Auburn and the university campus.

Fans often see an eagle from the university's Southeastern Raptor Center released to fly around the stadium. The bird symbolizes the War Eagle, another Auburn icon.

"It doesn't sound like a whole lot, but when you see it in person it really is amazing," Cooley said.

 

University of Florida Gator fans erupt in pandemonium at The Swamp in Gainesville, Fla., as a touchdown is scored against the University of Tennessee in September 2007. Photo by Brian Kratzer

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

Hometown: Gainesville

Team: Gators

Colors: Orange and blue

Tailgating: "Good, solid, Southern down-home tailgating," said Doug Brown, associate executive director of Gator Boosters, the university's athletic fundraising organization.

Between 15 and 18 parking lots around campus officially hold tailgate parties, but Brittany Spaziani said that's only part of the story.

"Pretty much there's a tailgate wherever there's a green area, like grass — in front of the library, by the stadium and along the street,"  said Spaziani, an employee at The Colorful Gator, a spirit-wear store in Gainesville.

Food: Barbecue, sometimes "gator tail" and occasionally themed for the opponent, such as Cajun when the Gators are playing LSU.

"It's not elegant tailgating," Brown said. "It's a  good, down-home, fun type of tailgate."

Attire: Most women wear dresses to the game, Spaziani said.

"When it's really hot, a lot of people wear loose-fitting, lightweight dresses," she said. "But usually nicer dresses."

Rituals: Before the game, there's the Gator Walk. Players are treated "like rock stars" as they walk to the stadium "through a bunch of fans, five-to-10 deep," Brown said.

Then, there's the Gator Chomp.

"Everybody puts their two arms together, extends them and moves them up and down like the jaws of a gator," Brown said.

 

UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA 

Hometown: Athens

Team: Bulldogs

Colors: Red and black

Tailgating: Every party has a tent, and a fan will spend at least $100 on tailgating, said Stan Jackson, director of communications for the university's alumni association.

"A lot of people have been on their spots for years, and some of the tailgate spots have been passed down within families."

Food: Low country boils — a one-pot meal, often with potatoes, corn, sausage and seafood.

Attire: Most girls wear sundresses, nice shoes, jewelry — "the whole shebang," Jackson said.

For guys, there is more variation. Some wear coat and tie; others choose jeans and a jersey. 

"Georgia is very similar to Alabama and Ole Miss," he said.

Rituals: The mascot Uga, a white English bulldog, wears a spiked collar and Georgia get-up at games, Jackson said.

He comes to the front entrance of the stadium for photo-ops and leads the team onto the field. 

Uga IX is being introduced this year.  


UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY

Hometown: Lexington

Team: Wildcats

Colors: Blue and white

Tailgating:  Jill Risse, an employee at spirit-wear retailer Wildcat Warehouse, described UK tailgating as "huge tents, food, a lot of drinking. People play cornhole. 

"You just go out and mark your spot off outside of the stadium. It's ridiculous."

Kentucky fans party outside the stadium and at some of the "party houses" nearby, though football isn't as big as basketball at UK, Risse said.

Food: "It depends on the time of the game," said Gretchen Bower, program coordinator at the UK Alumni Center. 

"A lot of our games got moved up to noon games, so people do the full breakfast buffet. It's pretty active out there. Steaks, hamburgers, etc."

Attire: Everyone is encouraged to wear blue, Bower said. 

Sometimes people dress nicer in blue dresses or sweaters, Risse said, and many fraternities and sororities dress up for huge tailgate parties before the games. 

Rituals: In Kentucky, horse racing and football collide.

"In the month of October, we have a horse-race course called Keeneland Racetrack, and people go there to watch the horse racing and then drive in for the games at night," Bower said. 

The wildcat mascot and Scratch, its child-friendly counterpart, celebrate scores with pushups. 

"Every time we score, they do one-handed pushups on a board held by the cheerleaders," she said. "They do a pushup for every point scored, so if we have 50, they do 50."

 

LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY 

Hometown: Baton Rouge

Team: Tigers

Colors: Purple and gold

Tailgating: "We don't just travel, we take over," said Matt Deville, director of marketing and communications at LSU.

"LSU tailgating is a modified Mardi Gras — lots of color, music, sights, smells, cheers and personalities."

On game day, he said, 150,000 people — easily — can be tailgating on campus, he said. One popular destination is the historic Native American Mounds in the middle of campus.

Food: Jambalya, gumbo, boudin (Cajun sausage) and coush coush (a cereal dish) are familiar dishes on LSU tailgate plates.

Attire: "It ain’t Ole Miss," Deville said. "We have more colorful fans."

Tailgating "krewes" compete for awards by dressing in their particular style. Krewes are an integral part of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, known for outlandish costumes and masks.

Rituals: "(A famous chant) ties in tailgating, food, the lingo… it goes, 'Hot boudin / Cold coush coush / Come on tigers / Push, push, push!'" Deville said. 

LSU fans also incorporate their French heritage with cheers like "Geaux Tigers."

A live tiger is the symbol of LSU athletics and a crowd favorite. Team Mike parks the tiger outside the opposing team's locker room at every home game. A costumed Mike is part of the cheer squad.

"His enclosure is the biggest, most posh, most ridiculously accommodating habitat that is better than any zoo in the world," Deville said.

 

University of Mississippi football fans tailgate at The Grove, a large tailgate area in the center of the university's campus shaded by oak, elm and magnolia trees, before the 2010 game against Fresno State. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Latil)

UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI

Hometown: Oxford

Team: Rebels

Colors: Harvard red and Yale blue

Tailgating: A common saying among Ole Miss fans goes like this: "We may not win every game, but we've never lost a party."

Ole Miss is famous for tailgating in The Grove, a large grassy area that becomes a tent city on football weekend.

"You can't have an open fire or plug in electricity at Ole Miss," said Randy Yates, a partner in Ajax Diner on Courthouse Square.

"People have generators and big screen TVs and satellite dishes. They bring candelabras and lanterns. A lot of people like to really do it up. It has become kind of a contest."

Businesses are hired to put up and tear down tailgates, he said. Oxford is a town about 18,000, but on an SEC game day, it's a town of about 100,000, he said.

Food: Classic barbecue, chicken, hamburgers, tenderloin, crawfish, breakfast casseroles and jambalaya.

"Sure, some have sandwiches, but there is no limit to what people serve," said Terry Warren, owner of Rebel Rags, an Ole Miss merchandiser in Oxford.

Attire: Ole Miss loves to dress up, but it's not a requirement. 

"The students wear coat and tie," Warren said. "The ladies wear extremely fancy dress. We don't wear a lot of jerseys, but there are some T-shirts.

"You wear school colors. Really, you can see anything in The Grove. It's like going to a fancy dance."

Rituals: The cheer at Ole Miss is "Hotty Toddy" and is usually initiated by a celebrity or public figure at a football game:

"Are you ready? / Hell, yes! Damn Right! / Hotty Toddy, Gosh almighty / Who the hell are we, Hey! / Flim Flam, Bim Bam / Ole Miss by damn!"

 

MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY

Hometown: Starkville

Team: Bulldogs

Colors: Maroon and white

Tailgating: The tailgating area is The Junction.

According to Whit Waide, a professor at Mississippi State, the area — where several campus roads intersected — was known years ago as Malfunction Junction.

Eventually the roads were ripped out and replaced with a large grassy field.

Food: "A lot of barbecue ... more barbecue than you see at other places," Waide said. "There is an abundance of food."

Attire: Dress is best described as business casual, Waide said. Some students wear dresses or button downs; some don T-shirts and jeans.

Rituals: The football team does the Dawg Pound Rock  on the sideline before the start of the game.

It's the cowbell, though, that defines school spirit. 

"A cowbell will be in someone's pocket, and you can hear the clanging when they walk," Waide said.

The SEC has at times imposed cowbell rules for Mississippi State fans. From 1974 to 2010, they weren't allowed during games. This year they were permitted in the stadium with certain restrictions on use.

 

Fans cheer on the South Carolina Gamecocks football team during the 2009 game against Florida at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. (Photo courtesy of Megan Mabry)

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA

Hometown: Columbia, S.C.

Team: Gamecocks

Colors: Garnet and black 

Tailgating: Partying in a freight caboose is the preferred way to tailgate in South Carolina.

"We have a cockaboose railroad," said Dexter Hudson, editor of the Spurs & Feathers, a weekly recap of Gamecocks sports.

"About 24 cabooses have been painted and have a big Cocky on it, which is our mascot."

Originally people bought the cabooses for about $40,000 each, he said, but they put a lot more into them.

"(They) have bars, chandeliers, TVs hooked up to the stadium," Hudson said. "You can cook in them, have TVs on top and below."

If members of a party don't have tickets, they'll watch it in the caboose.

Food: Fried chicken, chicken wings, burgers and steak. 

"We have pretty good barbecue down here in South Carolina," Hudson said.

Attire: Dressing in school colors, garnet and black, maybe with a nice pair of shorts in the summer.

 

The Tennessee football team runs through the T, formed by the Pride of the Southland marching band, before the Sept. 10 home game against Cincinatti. (Photo courtesy of Cameron Harris)

UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE

Hometown: Knoxville

Team: Volunteers

Colors: Orange and white

Tailgating: A collection of boats docked near the stadium is called the "Vol Navy ," and that's where the parties are.

"We have a lot of people who come up the Tennessee River to come to our games," said Bud Ford, Tennessee's associate athletic director for media relations. 

These 200 or so boats have parked outside Neyland Stadium on the Tennessee River before games since 1962. 

Tennessee, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Washington are the only three schools with football stadiums built next to major bodies of water.

Rituals: The University of Tennessee band helps fans, students and players get excited before the game.

"When our team enters the field, they run through the band's giant 'T' opening," Ford said.

The team's live mascot is a coonhound named Smokey.

 

VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY

Hometown: Nashville

Team: The Commodores

Colors: Black and gold

Tailgating: Vanderbilt's tailgating tradition is less extensive than other SEC schools. Party central is an area on the southwest side of the stadium called Vandyville.

Jeff Lockridge, Vanderbilt beat reporter for The Tennessean, said the school's food and attire are low-key and casual.

Rituals: Head coach James Franklin started a new tradition this year where the football team walks through Vandyville before the game. 


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