Tailgating: A Sport All its Own

eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
August / September 2012

In the last few decades, the act of tailgating before a sporting event has become as popular, if not more popular, than attending the actual game.  Mississippi takes its tailgating pretty seriously.  Forget store-bought hot dogs grilled over charcoal in a stadium parking lot.  Tailgating in Mississippi is colorful tents, festive tablescapes, and elegant chandeliers under the shade of majestic trees.  Mississippi’s three largest universities – Mississippi State University in Starkville, The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, and The University of Mississippi in Oxford – each have their own unique tailgating traditions.  If you’ve never had the opportunity to attend one of these social gatherings, you are not only in for a surprise, but a real treat in Southern hospitality and food.

 Mississippi State University
Mascot: Bulldog
Colors: Maroon and white
Tailgating spot: The Junction

Mississippi State University’s prime tailgating spot – The Junction – got its name from the Mobile and Ohio rail lines that ran through Starkville back when State was known as Mississippi A&M.  Later, the railroads gave way to congested streets, until 2005 when the university decided to turn the area into a campus gathering spot.  Tent cities begin popping up the evening before a home game and by game day, The Junction is a sea of maroon and white.  Visitors are greeted the bronze statue of Bully – the school’s mascot – and the smell of charcoal fills the air.  Prior to each game, the Maroon Band and Drum Line leads the football team through The Junction in a pre-game procession known as the Dawg Walk.

State graduate Bill Smith of Jackson has been tailgating for 30 years.  What began as six couples has now morphed into 45-50 couples and Smith estimates that around 250 people stop by their tent during the pregame festivities.  In the beginning, the spread was small, but over the years it has become more elaborate to include chandeliers, candelabras, and bartenders.

“Tailgating gives you the opportunity to see all the people you were friends with while you were in school,” Smith says.  “People from all different parts of the state come together to eat and meet with friends.  It is a great gathering spot.”

University of Southern Mississippi
Mascot: Golden eagle
Colors: Black and gold
Tailgating spot: The District

If you are looking for tailgating fun south of Interstate 20, look no further than the University of Southern Mississippi .  Touted by the University as “the biggest football party in South Mississippi,” tailgating festivities kick off the night before every home game with a pep rally at the fountain located in front of Southern’s most recognizable building, the Aubrey K. Lucas Administration Building.  Known as

Friday Night at the Fountain, the pep rally showcases the Pride of Mississippi Marching Band, the Dixie Darlings, the Southern Miss cheerleaders, the school’s mascot Seymour, and the Southern Misses, in addition to coaches and players.

Since the University was founded in 1910, the area in front of the university’s alumni house, referred to as The District, has served as a central gathering place for both alumni and students.  Here Southern Miss fans, donning their signature black and gold attire, can feast on yummy football fare while taking in views of the famous University rose garden.  Prior to the game, a cannon shot signals the start of the Eagle Walk, in which the marching band, the football team, and coaches, make their way from The District to the stadium, known as The Rock.

“Our tailgating has grown considerably over the years,” says Southern Miss graduate and Executive Director of the Southern Miss Alumni Association, Jerry DeFatta.  “Of course, it helps that we have had 18 straight winning seasons.  There is nothing like the smell of smoke from a barbecue and the sound of the band warming up in the background to get people excited to support their team.”

University of Mississippi
Mascot: Black bear
Colors: Navy blue and red
Tailgating spot: The Grove

The University of Mississippi has earned the reputation far and wide of being one of the most unique places to tailgate.  Ole Miss fans pack tent-to-tent in the grassy, shaded ten acres that make up The Grove.  The close proximity turns this tailgating experience into one big party.

“People who have only heard about The Grove but never experienced it are usually expecting a pasture,” says Ole Miss alumnus Jody Varner.  “They are always surprised when they see it firsthand.  It’s much more elegant than that.”

Game day attire is not your usual t-shirts and sneakers.  It’s tradition to tailgate in your Sunday best and Ole Miss is probably the only place where it is perfectly acceptable to tailgate in heels.  It’s not uncommon to see men in khakis, polos, or possibly a few seersucker suits with bow-ties.  As you walk through the rows and rows of tents, you’ll find elaborate set ups with chandeliers, floral centerpieces, and flat screen TV’s.  Some tailgaters even hire their own live bands to play during the festivities.   Food usually consists of sandwiches and finger foods, since grilling is not allowed in The Grove.  However, some fans get around that by setting their grills up curbside.  Periodically, someone will shout, “Are you ready?” and you know the crowd is about to start chanting the “Hotty Toddy” cheer.  A few hours before the game, the fans line up eight-to-ten deep along the Walk of Champions to welcome the Ole Miss football team and coaches.

“Newcomers are usually surprised by how friendly everyone is,” adds Varner.  “Ole Miss is probably one of the few places where opposing teams are treated with as much hospitality as the fans.”

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