Christopher Smith

Kickoff Countdown: Tailgating Anecdotes

Created on Aug. 23, 2013 2:51 AM EST

Kickoff Countdown: Six Days

Editor's Note: This is the second in a seven-day series designed to sustain college football fans until North Carolina and South Carolina kick off the season Aug. 29 at 6 p.m. ET. Yesterday we looked at the best, underrated and worst states for producing FBS talent. We'll also give you a printable schedule guide to the season's best matchups (Saturday), rank the FBS quarterbacks from 1 to 125 (Sunday), share with you our conference-by-conference bold predictions (Monday), pay tribute to the BCS (Tuesday) and provide a comprehensive food guide for every school (Wednesday).

I've never been formally charged, but my career and college choices led to a tragic casualty: tailgating.

Football from the press box is to South end zone seats what a visit to the physician is to a concert at Red Rocks.

One of the consequences of writing about sports professionally is that the game becomes clinical. The signs are everywhere. No cheering in the press box. There's an ethos that seeps into one's viewing experience and makes it difficult to ever be re-introduced into the face-painting, high-fiving, referee-screaming throng in the stands.

I started writing for a newspaper my sophomore year of college. I've watched dozens and dozens of college and NFL games from press boxes. If I got to sit in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 9 and watch Alabama roll LSU, I'd be delighted. Fans around me, though, would assume I was a Tigers fan or ate a bad batch of hot hogs.

My fandom has been reduced to two teams, the Crimson Tide and San Francisco Giants, and despite my incredible luck of late, that's mostly crammed into a closet somewhere.

I also went to college at Samford, which claims some fine college coaches for an FCS school — Terry and Bobby Bowden, Chan Gailey and Pat Sullivan among them. But the campus resembles a scaled-down version of Ole Miss minus a love of sports, with well-to-do Southern belles in sun dresses more apt to spend Saturday at The Galleria getting ready for the Step Sing production than firing up a grill in the parking lot, giddy about getting a shot at Appalachian State.

My parents attended the University of Alabama, and both sets of grandparents are staunch Crimson Tide fans. I have two fleeting memories of tailgating:

1) When I was a toddler, my first memory of the grand scale of passion for college football in Alabama revealed itself when one of the adults pointed out to me that the dozens of RVs in the parking lot for Alabama-Louisiana Monroe had been planted there since Wednesday.

2) I experienced a brief meal out of the tailgate of the SUV driven by my neighbor's parents in Baton Rouge, where I attended an SEC night game in the upper deck. The aromas and eye-catching spreads saturating the parking lot were enough to burn still images into my memory even though I was a middle school student.

Most press box food is OK. On rare occasions, it's delicious (thanks Jerry Jones). But I can't imagine the massive cauldron of hot dogs scarfed during halftime while calculating Philip Rivers' up-to-date passer rating and answering fan tweets is the same as enjoying a fish taco with buddies in lawn chairs.

So I guess you can say I have tailgating envy.

In the College GameDay era, though, big-time college football is an all-day — nay, an all-weekend affair. What better way to whet your appetite for college football then to regale you with some tailgating stories? Luckily, a few members of our staff have experienced college football as true fans.

We'll start with one I can relate to on the campus of LSU.

We're Tigers, Too

By Budd McLaughlin

LSU arguably has the best tailgating in the SEC, if not the nation.

The Tigers faithful are known for their specialty dishes and their support of the Bayou Bengals.

In 2009, my son Bo and I went to Baton Rouge for the Auburn-LSU game and took in the atmosphere. As we walked through the purple-and-gold sea of canopies, grills and beverages, we could hear the LSU fans chant: "Tiger bait! Tiger bait! Tiger bait!"

You see, Bo and I were wearing our Auburn colors (I graduated from Auburn) and stood out in the crowd. But Bo didn't flinch to the heckling. In fact, he challenged the LSU fans more than once: "We're Tigers, too!"

Some actually appreciated his replies and we received a couple invites to taste their Cajun cuisine. Tasty!

What Time Is It?

By Joe Coughlin

The University of Illinois is 70 percent Greek, give or take. So while this tradition isn't advertised, it surely is one of the most treasured.

Football block is an "organized" tailgating event that pits fraternities with sororities for a social yet sloppy pregame affair.

My senior year, my roommates and buddies took football block to a whole new level. They decided that each Saturday they were going to start one hour earlier. The smells of chorizo, eggs and stale beer woke me up at 7 a.m., then 6, then 5, then 4 and eventually 3 a.m. on a morning that was more of an after-party and lacked sorority members.

I, however, was covering home Illini games for the Associated Press so I couldn't partake in most of the activities, but enjoyed the chorizo.

Leaving Big Ten Borders To Taste The SEC

By Joe Coughlin

I've drank out of many things, but a large, rubber-coated sphere? Not until I visited SEC country on a Saturday morning for the first time.

The long-awaited SEC road trip finally came to fruition in 2006 when a three-pack of us slunk into a mini-van for a trip to Auburn, Ala. Still in our tailgating prime, the weekend mostly was a blur of random people, encounters, conversations and some football.

The SEC does things a bit differently, but our Big Ten roots didn't steer us wrong — until we found the beer ball.

A unicorn in the Midwest, the beer ball was found gold to use when we spotted it in the Auburn liquor store. And since we couldn't scalp tickets, our trio spent the 180 minutes slurping down the 5.2 gallons of American-flavored Budweiser — or we tried.

After a certain point, the beer ball stalled, unable to grant us the final gallon or so of the king of beers.

We were satisfied either way with the novelty of the whole venture and spent the evening talking all about it until we caught this gem from an Auburn veteran: "Oh yeah! Half the time ya getta cut 'er open with a knife."

We say it to this day.

You're Not From Around Here, Are You?

By Steve Barnes

My first honest-to-goodness exposure to tailgating was when I was a student at Ole Miss. The first game we had in Oxford (back then the Rebels played some home games in Jackson), I went to my 8 a.m. Friday class. As I walked in, my professor asked why I had come. The tailgating had started in the Grove. Good lesson.

During my sports-writing career, I learned a fact most people don't know: Press box food is not always that great. I learned to take a couple of media guides to the tailgating area and start a conversation with some fans. Then I would offer a media guide and they suddenly had some extra barbecue or steak for me.

The best tailgating I've ever witnessed was at Nebraska. As I recall, it was a noon kickoff. I remember thinking there would be no tailgating. I was wrong. I arrived at about 9 a.m., made my way to the parking lot behind Memorial Stadium and the classiest and most knowledgeable fans treated me to breakfast burritos and great conversation.

I always shied away from pictures, but I am proud of the one that was taken with a pair of Cornhuskers fans outside the Lil Red Husker Bus.

But don't underestimate the tailgating prowess of the fans at Virginia, Nicholls (La.) State, Georgia, Georgia Southern and Troy.

On the flip side, the absolute worst I've been around was Kansas State. It was the opening game of the season. The Wildcats were ranked fourth in the nation and had quarterback Ell Roberson and Darren Sproles.

The afternoon of the game, I stopped by a Manhattan, Kan., grocery store to get some gum for the flight home. A KSU fan saw my Alabama drivers license in my wallet and had to comment.

"We're going to show you Southern hicks how it's done," the fan said. "It's a seven o'clock kickoff and we'll start tailgating about three."

"Really," I replied. "Where I'm from, we start tailgating on Wednesday."

The Breakfast Club

By Joe Coughlin

You hear about tailgating at Purdue and you hear about the Breakfast Club.

Seeing as I was an Illinois student and a Purdue hater, I gave it the ol' "yeah, I'm sure it's great" attitude as I naively drank myself into a stupor the evening before game day, visiting West Lafayette with a handful of buddies.

In the morning, I awoke to what can only be described as a small-mammal brawl throughout the house. As I unglued my face from the floor, I was able to see about 10 women prepping themselves for what appeared to be a dawn Halloween-themed 5K.

This was the starting line of Breakfast Club, an early-morning, absurd costume-donning booze fest.

If it were today, I never would have survived, but at 22, were were game and made it to the bar to see the full-sized version of what we witnessed in that living room. It was mayhem and exactly what you dream to be a part of on a Big Ten campus.

The Sunday School Answer

By Joe Coughlin

Herschel Walker!

He's the answer to every Georgia Bulldogs football trivia question. At least that's what I thought on a trip to Athens, Ga., on our SEC road trip 2.0.

After a rousing carousel of bar visits, I decided to separate from our quartet and explore the campus of the University of Georgia.

I found my way to a souvenir trailer just outside the stadium. As I stumbled up, I heard the man behind the counter mumble something about trivia for a free hat. Armed with one answer and one only, before the man even finished his first question — which I cannot remember to this day — I shouted "Herschel Walker" from the third row.

Nailed it.

Do you have tailgating stories of your own? Share them in the comments below.

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