Not meaning to boast, but I’ve finally been able to piece together the unabridged history of tailgating. It was not easy. But then lofty pursuits never are.

I first started this historical pursuit after reading that the origins of tailgating started during the Civil War, around 1861, when the North and South brought out spectators to picnic during a battle. Tailgating during a war? Seemed sort of ridiculous to me.

But then I discovered it’s even more involved than that. I was able to trace the origins of tailgating to Dante’s Inferno in the 13th century. Most people haven’t read this epic poem closely enough, but just before Dante enters Hell his friends take a moment to relax and watch some of the underworld’s characters perform while Dante and friends nibble on sourdough and smelly cheese.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that tailgating actually started several centuries earlier. Eight hundred B.C., to be exact. Ever heard of Troy? Evidently the Trojans had an incredible spread of meats and veggies stashed in their Wooden Horse to enjoy while watching the Greeks joust inside the castle walls. Thus was born a tradition that would several centuries later be named after the gate on a paneled station wagon.

Let’s fast forward and bypass the unproven theories surrounding the origins of tailgating. We can all agree that now is the mecca of tailgating. Now is the right moment in our history.

Saturday down South

As the editor of a magazine about tailgating, I’ve been lucky enough to visit college tailgates across the country. While colors, traditions and accents change, what stays the same is the spirit of fellowship and generosity. Tailgating is all about using food and drink to build friendships — friendships that pass down from one generation to the next. Nowhere is this more obvious than on a Saturday down South. Tailgating is the perfect storm for Southerners. We love to cook, we love to eat. We love to drink. We love to tell stories, we love to hear stories. Entertaining is how we roll. Grilling is what we do. Football is our religion, tailgating is our hymnal. Sing on.

Hotty Toddy

Ole Miss fans gather at The Grove to feast on BBQ and drain a whiskey concoction known as the Hotty Toddy.

Photography courtesy of University of Mississippi/Nathan Latil

Wanna see thousands of beautiful people? Visit The Grove in Oxford, Mississippi. Once described as “The Holy Grail of Tailgating” by The Sporting News, The Grove is one of the most stylish tailgating scenes in college football. Tables set with fine china, silver-plated candelabras, and lace doilies are as common as the Ole Miss fans who come dressed to impress — sundresses, pearls, and seersucker suits are the norm.

Barbecue is the dominant food at Rebel’s tailgates and you’ll need it after drinking the traditional whiskey concoction known as the Hotty Toddy, which is conveniently a cheer as well:

Are you ready?
Hell yes, Damn Right!
Hotty Toddy, Gosh Almighty
Who the hell are we, Hey!
Flim Flam, Bim Bam
Ole Miss, By Damn!

“Tailgating at Ole Miss reflects the value of hospitality in our Southern culture. Even though we want to pound our opponents on the football field, we still want everyone to enjoy themselves in The Grove before and after the game,” says William H. McKenzie, a 2002 Ole Miss grad.

Who Dat?

It is no surprise that hot and spicy Cajun food, like the crawfish shown here, reins supreme on the LSU campus.

Photography by Deborah Burs

Every child down south is introduced to football at an early age.

Courtesy of Lee Hurley

No one throws a party like the Cajuns. It’s in their DNA. The food is hot, spicy, and original. The music is hot, spicy, and original. The conversation is hot, spicy, and original. It boils down to one word — style. Maybe two words — Cajun style. Game days in Baton Rouge start early and end late. “For some, tailgating’s bigger than the game itself. It’s almost a three-day event,” says Jeannie Darling, “200,000 people roll in for the game, starting on Thursday, and about half don’t bother going inside the stadium.” Expect to be offered jambalaya, red beans and rice, grilled oysters, fried alligator, and maybe some frog legs. Wash it all down with Lemon Drops and Fireball Whiskey. After the game, head to Walk-On’s in the shadow of Tiger Stadium and get a slice of Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding and sling back an icy cold Death Valley concocted of a dozen different liquors.

War Damn Eagle

Auburn fans mob coaches and players in the traditional pre-game Tiger Walk.

Courtesy of Auburn University, photography by Todd Van Emst

Fans celebrate every Auburn victory by toilet-papering Toomer's Corner.

Courtesy of Auburn University, photography by Todd Van Emst

Before this year with their remarkable last-second win over Alabama, Auburn football may have fallen on hard times in recent memory, but the Auburn faithful have remained, well, faithful. “I have been tailgating at Auburn since birth. When my husband and I married, our friends paid homage to our tailgating mania by hosting a Tailgate Wedding Shower in a motorhome before the 1990 AU-Georgia game,” says Beth Wilder.

Tailgating is a time-honored tradition on the Plains, where everyone is treated like family. Heck, they even treat the opposing fans like family. Wander through the hundreds of blue and orange tents on the lawn outside Jordan-Hare stadium, and you’ll be greeted with a warm “War Eagle” and a cold, cold beer. And like any big family reunion, no one leaves a Tiger Tailgate hungry. Offerings run from gourmet to good-old boy. No Auburn tailgate experience is complete without participating in two storied traditions: the pregame Tiger Walk, when the players and coaches carve their way through a sea of screaming supporters, and rolling (toilet-papering) Toomer’s Corner after a victory.


Luxury cabooses, known as the Cockabooses, sit outside the South Carolina Gamecock's stadium for the lucky few who can afford to tailgate in them.

Win lose or draw, no one can out crow the Cockabooses, a coveted row of 22 stationary, converted luxury cabooses that sit outside the South Carolina Gamecock’s Williams-Brice Stadium. You’ll need a quarter of a million or so if you want one. Then you’ll have to wait. They only hit the market every decade or so.

“The atmosphere on game day is intense, even when we were 0-11,” says Jerrett Oates. “We may lose the game, but we never lose a tailgate.” The food is as quirky and desirable as the rest of Gamecock tailgating — low-country boils, frogmore stew, homemade pimento cheese, shrimp and grits, boiled peanuts. And endless barbecue on pits big enough to smoke flocks of chickens. When you hear “2001 A Space Odyssey,” start walking toward the stadium. After the game, order a milkshake at Zesto, where former coach Lou Holtz got his pre-game lucky shake.

All In

Photography courtesy Trevor Abbott

Everything is bigger in Texas, including game-day celebrations by Longhorns fans.

Courtesy, photographer Britt Rachner

Fans at Texas A&M strut their stuff around campus.

Courtesy of Texas A&M University

Southern tailgating is about hospitality. Using the blender, the grill and the cooler to make new friends and keep the old. Saturday in Dixie is cornhole on the quad; a three-year-old girl with tiger paws on her cheek; best friends hugging in College Station; old men singing “The sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home”; a purple and orange school bus with a huge Tobasco bottle on top; plaid-dressed coeds singing “Rammer Jammer give ‘em Hell Alabamer!”; orange and white boats in the Tennessee River; The Tiger Walk; cowbells and jello shots; pimento cheese served out of a “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO Razorbacks” bowl; the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party; hot “Gator” chili served with red Fritos; ‘How Bout Them Dogs Hotdogs; Larry’s glazed Commodore ribs; Mike’s Mizzou Moonpie ice cream; Terry’s Texas Chipotle bacon bombs.

It’s all that and more. Come see for yourself.