9 of the Greatest College Stadiums for Tailgating
Make no mistake, the greatest stadiums for tailgating have nothing to do with the stadiums themselves, but everything to do with the people, atmosphere, and importance of the game. They could turn the Parthenon in Greece into a college football venue, but if Colorado St. is playing UNC-Asheville, it loses to Saturdays in Madison every time.
Tailgating is such a fun activity in and of itself that picking the nine best places to do it seems a bit unfair. But life’s not fair, so here are nine of the best spots to enjoy a tailgate party before a game.
1. EverBank Field – Jacksonville, FL
I’m as surprised as you are that a place named “EverBank Field” leads this list. These venues are supposed to be named after old dead guys who are unknown even to the most rabid alumni. Well, when you’re home to an event called the “World’s Largest Cocktail Party,” you get a pass. For those not in the know, the “World’s Largest Cocktail Party” is the nickname bestowed upon the annual rivalry game between UF and UGA.
When you marry Floridians’ love of football, drinking, strippers, and grilling bizarre animals, there are few places on earth that merit inclusion more than (ugh) EverBank Field Since EverBank Field hosts this one monumental game per year and little else in the way of college football, can we really call it a “college football stadium”?
Make it to this game one year and try to convince yourself it’s not.
2. Cotton Bowl – Dallas, TX
Again, a stadium that no longer regularly hosts college football games. Once home to the SMU Mustangs generations ago, the site will sadly be unused for both the Texas-OU game and the Cotton Bowl game thanks to the construction of a mutant death star known as “Cowboys Stadium” just down Interstate 30.
While most tailgates are confined to the parking lots surrounding the stadium, in mid-October, this venue features a special amenity – the State Fair of Texas. Why cook sort-of-unhealthy food on a grill when you can fly your colors, drink yourself stupid, and eat REALLY unhealthy food in the State Fair adjacent to the Cotton Bowl?
Beyond that, the fair and game create such a shitshow for Dallas-area police that following the game, the parking lot turns into a modern-day Deadwood with only one law: survive. That may not be much of a turn-on to some enthusiasts, but in my book, the closer the stadium experience comes to anarchy, the higher it ranks.
3. Tiger Stadium – Baton Rouge, LA
If it was its own municipality, Tiger Stadium would rank as the Louisiana’s sixth-largest city. The promise of getting that many football-crazed Louisianans together in the middle of swampland to cheer on the only interesting thing in Baton Rouge (LSU) is too good to pass up. Although it’s a cliché these days, the football experience at Tiger Stadium actually lasts all day long. Several days actually. Tailgating here has been known to be a 48-hour affair, which is just…just…awesome.
What makes this day-long tailgating experience better than the rest? Well, that argument could begin and end with the food. Most regions off generic grill fare such as hot dogs, chicken, perhaps wings and burgers. Some offer regional specialties such as barbecue, chili, sausages. But no other state in the US offers tailgate food that tastes so damn…gourmet as Louisiana. Gumbos, etouffees, and jambalayas: all that spice and density is offset by whatever sugary sweet lethal concoction you let the girl in the Daisy Dukes hand you. Don’t fight it. Embrace it.
4. Husky Stadium – Seattle, WA
Around the stadium, the scene before a Husky’s home game isn’t particularly compelling. There aren’t many people, and the ones that are don’t look particularly happy to be there. And they shouldn’t be.
The real party at UW isn’t taking place in the parking lots. It’s taking place on hundreds of boats docked on adjacent Lake Washington. “Boatgating”, as they call it, happens at only two big CFB schools, Washington and Tennessee. Watching the boats pull up to dock early in the day has been compared to some as a “religious experience”, not unlike watching the players run out of the tunnel onto the field.
And because, at the end of the day, you’re still in Seattle, the tailgates often skew older and include such delicacies as grilled wild Salmon and countless microbrews. While it may not be the tailgate experience of the Dirty South, it’s different, decadent, fun and is quintessentially an experience of the Northwest.
5. Camp Randall Stadium – Madison, WI
Nowhere else in America are people as genetically engineered to tailgate as they are in Wisconsin. They are friendly, impervious to the cold, football-crazy, and eat the most beautiful disasters ever put on a plate or bowl. (Beer cheese soup, anyone?)
Don’t expect anything earth-shattering to take place at these tailgates. Badger fans aren’t trying to break the mold. Beers and brats. Anything else is a luxury. A stroll through the parking lot will expose you to beer, grilled sausages, and people drinking beer and grilling sausages. Fun diversions for the students include
• Flip cup
• Eating sausages
• Moaning and falling asleep (my guess)
Like I said, it may not be original, but these guys do it as a lifestyle. It may not be your cup of tea, but goddamn you if you don’t respect it.
6. Los Angeles, Memorial Coliseum – Los Angeles, CA
While Los Angeles is known to be a Godless town that pays no mind to tradition or history, a USC tailgate is anything but. Students dutifully march across the campus in the early morning, towing coolers and lighting joints (it’s California), tapping the statue of Tommy Trojan and kicking the base of the flagpoles before crossing the street to the stadium. Once there, some of the more diverse tailgating fare you’ve ever experienced sprouts up. Whole roasted pigs, tacos, steaks, burgers, even robata (Japanese grilled skewers) pop up in parking lots and fields.
The food itself is traditional, just not traditional to Americans. And because you are still in LA, DJs spin, Patron shots become de rigeuer and a $50 parking spot is pricier to party in than some hotel rooms. Expect the ante to go WAY up this year, as the team plays for nothing but pride and the Trojans’ competitive spirit takes the form of drinking games and wet t-shirt contests.
7. Darrell K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium – Austin, TX
Barbecue, beer, and football. Never has a trifecta seemed so apt for a city as this one does for Austin. Despite being known as the most progressive city in Texas, tradition runs strong among students and alumni at UT, with the parking lots and nearby bars and restaurants turning into seas of burnt orange.
The Austin lifestyle dictates that you wake up on Saturday, killing the hangover with a chopped-beef sandwich and Shiner Bock, so while tailgates are hardly special occasions for the Longhorn faithful, you can trust they’ll be done well. The heart of Austin is close enough to the stadium that you can walk mindlessly down the street, taken in by the sounds of classic rock on 6th St, getting your head where it needs to be with thousands of other like-minded fans. And when the game’s over? You stumble a few blocks, go back to 6th St for more food and beer, then enjoy the decidedly non-collegiate atmosphere that keeps Austin weird.
8. Neyland Stadium – Knoxville, TN
With more than 100,000 fans, open water, and a predilection for sour mash whiskey, it’s shocking that this hasn’t been the site of annual tragedies. But God smiles on the Volunteers, so against all odds, partiers here have remained safe despite the fact that thousands of the revelers are actually on boats on the Tennessee River, docking at a place called, appropriately enough, Volunteer Landing.
And land they do. The nicest feature of the nearby water, besides the handsome geography, is the propensity of the women to wear swimwear when they’re near it. I’m pretty sure that if you don’t have hot girls in school-specific tank-tops, straw cowboy hats, and cowboy boots, you get sent to Conference USA. If that’s the only criteria, take a deep breath, Tennessee, you’ve earned membership for centuries to come.
9. Williams-Brice Stadium – Columbia, SC
When it comes to tailgating, highbrow should normally be forbidden. There’s no need for one-ups-man-ship in the egalitarian world football. We are all viewed equally by our football teams, and any effort to transcend this and turn the game into a pursuit of status will result in my foot up your ass. Normally.
But South Carolina has something going for it besides its Southern charm and pulled-pork sandwiches. Railgating. 26 private luxurious train cars transformed into luxurious tailgating skyboxes complete with tuxedo-clad bartenders and comfortable leather seats. There are six names on the waiting list to pay $200k for one of these bad boys. Upon entering these rail cars, you don’t feel pretension and you don’t feel outclassed, you just step in and say to yourself, “This is what I would do if I was rich.”
There are 80,000 fans right outside the door conducting some world-class tailgating, but it’s nice to know that even the crème de la crème are tailgating right beside them in equally awesome fashion.