Best College Football Tailgate Traditions

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistSeptember 17, 2020

Best College Football Tailgate Traditions

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    College football is back, albeit with a distinctly different look than in years past.

    Health and safety protocols are not only in place on the field for the players and coaches, but also outside the stadium, where traditional tailgating is no longer an option.

    For now, we'll have to settle for memories of tailgates past. This fond look around the college football landscape will highlight some of the best tailgating traditions in the country.

Florida vs. Georgia: The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The SEC knows tailgating, and the Florida vs. Georgia rivalry is one of the best in the nation. The two schools have faced off every year since 1926, with the lone exception being 1943, and it's one of the longest-standing neutral-site matchups in the sport.

    The two teams square off every year in Jacksonville, Florida, and the surrounding tailgate was once known as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party."

    That name, coined by Bill Kastelz of the Florida Times-Union in the 1950s, has since been dropped after a series of alcohol-fueled incidents. Who could have seen that coming?

    These days, it is known to some as the "War for the Oar" in reference to the winning team taking home the Okefenokee Oar. But to most, it's simply "the Florida-Georgia game" now.

    Regardless of what you call it, the surrounding tailgate has changed in name only.

    "It's the Cocktail Party. It has always been the Cocktail Party. It always will be the Cocktail Party. Embrace it already," wrote John Crist of Sundays Down South.

South Carolina: Cockaboose Railroad

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    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    The "Cockaboose Railroad" might be the most unconventional means of tailgating in all of college football.

    A collection of 22 luxury cabooses make up the faux rail line, which sits stationary on a track 50 yards from the main entrance to Williams-Brice Stadium. It represents the height of tailgating luxury.

    Columbia businessman Ed Robinson and his business partner purchased the 22 cabooses from Illinois Central Railroad in 1990, according to Cory Nightingale of Saturdays Down South.

    The train cars are all privately owned and are not affiliated with the university. They have proved to be terrific investments for the lucky few who purchased them for $40,000 back in 1990.

    The close vicinity to the stadium and the distinctive red color of the fleet has ingrained them in the South Carolina tailgating experience, even if only a lucky few can enjoy them.

Washington: Husky Harbor

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Plenty of places have tailgating, but the University of Washington earns a spot on this list for its nautical approach to game day.

    With Husky Stadium located on the water, the surrounding Husky Harbor has developed into one of the most unique tailgating spots in the country. Fans use the harbor as a means of getting to and from the games, with some excellent tailgating in between.

    What makes it better than the University of Tennessee's similar boat-driven tailgate scene?

    "Huskies fans view their harbor as unparalleled, based on surrounding views (Cascade Mountains to the east, Olympic Mountains to the west), water color (blue as opposed to brown) and proximity (closer to the stadium)," Greg Bishop of the New York Times wrote.

    Thousands of fans reach the stadium by boat on game days, making it one of the most unique venues in sports and a tailgate tradition worthy of inclusion.

Tennessee: Vol Navy

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Washington and Tennessee may disagree about who does "sailgating" better, but both schools deserve a spot on this list.

    The inception of Vol Navy comes with a fun backstory that ties directly into the football team, according to the Vol Navy Boaters' Association website:

    "Today's Vol Navy had its humble beginnings in the early 1960's, thanks to veteran Tennessee broadcaster George Mooney who provided play-by-play for the Vols from 1952-1967. Frustrated with the traffic jams that regularly occurred before and after the games, George decided to use his runabout to get to and from the game from his West Knoxville home. Because there were no docks, George had to tie his vessel to a tree and climb through rocks and weeds to get to the stadium."

    Necessity is the mother of invention, and that means of avoiding traffic has launched one of the most impressive tailgating scenes in college football.

    Hundreds of boats now assemble on the Tennessee River outside of Neyland Stadium for each home game, and the celebration stretches to bodies of water throughout the state.

Texas A&M: Midnight Yell

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    What is Midnight Yell?

    The Texas A&M website provides a detailed history of the longstanding tradition that takes place the night before every home game and is regularly attended by 25,000 plus fans:

    "Midnight Yell begins when the yell leaders lead the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band and current and former students into the stadium. Once there, the yell leaders lead the crowd in yells dating back to the earliest days of Texas A&M. The crowd will sing 'The Aggie War Hymn 'and listen to fables from the yell leaders, telling how the Aggies are going to beat their opponent on the field the next day."

    Tailgating is a weekend-long occasion at multiple schools across the country, but having an actual event tied to the night before each home game is the perfect way to kick off a Saturday of tailgating.

    Aggies fans also practice the tradition at designated locations for road games in the away team's city. That includes, among other things, a yell on the steps of the Texas Capitol building when they travel to face the Texas Longhorns.

Penn State: Nittanyville

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    In anticipation of a matchup with No. 6 Ohio State on Oct. 8, 2005, a collection of 20 tents worth of Penn State fans set up camp outside Beaver Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 2.

    By the time Saturday rolled around, more than 100 tents worth of Nittany Lions fans had assembled a makeshift town. With that, the idea of Nittanyville was born.

    Now an official student club with all of the rules and regulations that come with university affiliation, Nittanyville begins each Wednesday night before a home game.

    Camping in groups of 10, students must have at least one person occupying their tent at all times throughout the week leading up to the game.

    On Saturday, campers then have a head start on acquiring the first-come, first-served student section seating, providing some further incentive for the days-long campout.

Ole Miss: The Grove and The Walk of Champions

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    It's been five years since Ole Miss has posted a winning record. The Rebels will look to reverse course in the years to come with Lane Kiffin now steering the ship.

    Despite those recent struggles, their tailgating scene remains second to none.

    "The Grove" is perhaps the most famous tailgating location in all of college football, with tens of thousands of fans converging on the 10-acre plot of land at the center of campus.

    With cars, trucks and campers banned since a rainstorm in 1991 caused some serious issues, the tailgate is now a sprawling sea of tents and people.

    William L. Hamilton of the New York Times summed up The Grove perfectly in a 2006 column:

    "Ole Miss's stadium accommodates 60,580 people, and devotees of the Grove argue that the Grove accommodates more. It is every kind of party you can describe, at once: cocktail party, dinner party, tailgate picnic party, fraternity and sorority rush, family reunion, political handgrab, gala and networking party-hearty — what might have inspired Willie Morris, one of Mississippi's favorite sons, to declare Mississippi not a state, but a club."

    Beginning in 1983, head coach Billy Brewer also began the "Walk of Champions." The football team traverses through the sea of fans in The Grove and to the stadium roughly two hours before each home game, adding another layer of excitement to the ongoing party.

    A trip to The Grove should have a prominent place on any college football fan's bucket list.