Ranking the Tailgates
Posted By:Brett Haynes - Greenville, SC Tags: college football
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Through the years, I have been fortunate to have visited many of the college football towns throughout the South. While I haven't visited them all, I have been to most. And while many factors go into what some would call a great tailgating place, I just went with my overall vibe of the gameday feel of that place. It is impossible to check out every single situation at a given school, as I'm sure some places are better than others surrounding these stadiums. But here are the overall impressions I've gotten from the places I have been...
1. Clemson - Call this a homer selection, I really don't care. This pick is serious. At Clemson, you won't find yourself tailgating in a parking lot of a hotel or restaurant. You won't get lost heading into town, and you won't get the feeling you might be at some pro event. This is a college town to the bone, and the areas surrounding Death Valley were blessed from above for tailgating. Large grass fields and stands of pine and oak trees create ideal spots virtually everywhere. Yes, this is my home base, but I've yet to see any place top it...
2. Florida - In 2007 I went to Gainesville to hand out promo stuff for Fans25 and to take in "the Swamp." What I found is that Gainesville is a beautiful town filled with live oaks covered in Spanish moss, and hot coeds everywhere! I was overwhelmed with how nice the people were and how perfectly the campus and stadium fit together. All in all, Gainesville is perhaps my favorite stop, and I can't wait to go back one day! I highly recommend a road trip to Gainesville...
3. Auburn - I have been to Auburn twice - 2007 and 2010. Both times I had a great time and don't really have a bad thing to say about this place. I am sure folks from Auburn think they have the best tailgating around, and I can't argue with that. I guess the only thing different about Auburn and Clemson is that at Clemson there are more areas right up next to the stadium, and maybe a few more trees. But I really like going to the Plains! Some of the best chicken wings I've ever had came from a group that invited us into their tailgate!
4. Alabama - Again, as part of the 2007 promo tour, my sister and I made a stop in Tuscaloosa. By ranking the Tide fourth, I am not saying they aren't damn, damn good at tailgating. I have to rank them somewhere. Here, the thing that stands out is the super cool road of huge fraternity houses that runs in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium. I also love the plaza that leads from this road to the stadium. Literally, close to 100,000 people cram into this area pre-game creating a very festive scene!
5. NC State - This may be a shocking pick, but this isn't based on win-loss or stadium size. At just 65,000 fans, this isn't going to break any kind of records. But the areas surrounding Carter-Finley Stadium are great for tailgating. There are acres and acres of pine tree covered lots, providing shade and creating a nice backdrop for getting crunk. And the Pack fans - despite their team's lack of success historically - are some of the most dedicated out there. I haven't been here since 2001, but I had a great time back then...
6. Virginia Tech - One of the most picturesque places to see a game is in Blacksburg. The rolling hills of Virginia lead you into town, where you are able to park in large open lots near the stadium. The campus is gorgeous, as all of the buildings have an Ivy league feel of an old, grey locally mined stone. I love the open feel of Blacksburg, and in the fall when the leaves change, this place is very hard to beat!
7. Georgia - UGA fans, don't get all in a tizzy, but I haven't been blown away by the tailgating in Athens in several trips. I am not saying Dawg fans aren't as crazy as anybody, or that Athens isn't a very cool town, but I don't see this as the ultimate tailgating spot. Maybe I haven't been to the right places or something, but I have been here at least four times, and can't say I had a super fantastic time on any of the visits.
8. Tennessee - It is tough for me to rank Tennessee because in my visit it rained cats and dogs for six of the seven hours I was "tailgating." Still, as I drove into Knoxville and around Neyland Stadium, it was challenging to find a place to park, and I ended up parked in a drug-store parking lot with no view of the stadium (or anything pleasing to look at, for that matter). The Tennessee River runs right by the stadium, and we all have heard of the Vol Navy. Overall, I wasn't overly impressed, but like I said, it poured all day...
9. South Carolina - If it weren't for the fact that USC fans were so rabid and crazy, they may be further down than this. A good feathered friend of mine told me that the Gamecocks have put serious money into the areas around Williams-Brice, including the plantings of hundreds of trees. I applaud that! The actual people and tailgating aren't bad at all as Cock fans are some of the most die-hard and outgoing there are. But the stadium is nowhere near the USC campus, and the surrounding area is industrial.
10. Georgia Tech - If tailgating with the sound of thousands of cars and tractor-trailers steaming down I-85 is your idea of a good time, then Tech is the place for you! I have been here many times, and there is literally nowhere else to park except for the parking garage of this hamburger joint called "The Varsity." This joint hangs over the interstate, and the wind and noice of the passing vehicles reminds you constantly that you are as far from a college town as you can get. Still, the towering skyscrapers of Atlanta make for an interesting feel.
10. Florida State - It has been quite some time since I have been to FSU - like 17 years. But from what I've heard, the tailgating here still sucks. Back in 1993, we "tailgated" at this spot near the Civic Center, and then had to take shuttles to Doak-Campbell Stadium. Again, it's been a while, and maybe things have changed or I didn't do it right, but FSU and tailgating just don't seem to go together in my brain!
11. UNC - Chapel Hill is one of the most picturesque places in America. It is steeped in tradition and academic pride. But one thing it isn't steeped in is good 'ole rowdy down-home tailgating. I haven't been here in a while, but from what dcomitch told me about his recent visit, it sounds like nothing has changed. Beautiful? Yes. Rocking for college football? Hardly.
12. Virginia - Again, I haven't been here in quite some time, but when I was here in 2000, it just didn't strike me as a football town. This place is similar to UNC in that it is a beautiful place based on academia. There are countless great examples of architecture, fountains, gardens, etc. But the place just isn't what you picture when it comes to rowdy, crazy tailgating...
On my list of places I really want to go (within reasonable driving range) are Ole Miss, LSU, and West Virginia...
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