Editor's note: Our dearly beloved Sean Pruett is not only our fearless leader when it comes to our Shoppe, he is also an avid (rabid?) UGA football fan. He has extremely strong opinons about how one should tailgate on fall Saturdays. While his opinions aren't necessarily shared by all on the Southern Kitchen team, we can promise that if you tailgate the Sean Pruett way, you're sure to have a great time. And with that, I'll leave it to Sean.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to spend a crisp fall Saturday in a Southern college town like Athens or Tuscaloosa, Oxford or Fayetteville, even Baton Rouge or Knoxville, and your heart doesn’t ache to return, I'm not sure you and I would get along real well.
And I’m not talking about a September day where it's still 90 degrees outside during a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. No, I’m talking about a mid-October date, when the air is just crisp enough to give you a chill, but still warm enough to enjoy with a light jacket. The type of day when beer turns to bourbon and the leaves match the liquor in your glass. When friends turn to family, and strangers cease to exist as you commune under a logo-emblazoned pop-up tent.
If you’ve ever experienced that and don’t miss it every time you think about it, well, you might not understand what I'm about to say. You might find more enjoyment in this piece on traveling to Savannah. Go ahead, I won’t hold it against you. (That’s a lie. I may hold it against you, but being that I’m at least partly from the South, I won’t hold it against you to your face.) (That’s also a lie. I can forgive many things, but not enjoying a perfect fall football Saturday is not one them.)
[Pausing to let people I’ve offended either leave, or come to grips with my somewhat strong feelings on this subject.]
OK, if you’re still with me, its clear we see eye-to-eye on the importance of tailgating and what it's all about. While any tailgate is better than no tailgate, there are a few elements that are critical to the experience. I’ll try to hit them all here, but if you’ve got a tailgate tradition that I haven’t covered, please share it with us on our Facebook page. Much like the players on the field, we should always be looking for ways to improve our game. Ours just takes place the five or six hours before kickoff and, sometimes, after the last whistle as well.
Let’s start with food. Honestly [ed: surprisingly!], I have no strong opinion on this one other than the fact that you need food at a tailgate. The more the better. Fried chicken is a personal favorite, but if you want to go through the hassle of firing up a grill and cleaning up afterwards, God bless you and pass the ribs. If it's cold enough, I won’t pass up a nice bowl of chili from a Crock Pot. And don’t forget dessert. My dad makes a mean pan of brownies. We try not to tell him our friend Catherine’s are better, but I think he knows it. Regardless, they all still get eaten. At the end of the day, food should only be a concern in the sense that there's good variety. No one wants to go to the tailgate that has 17 sides and no mains or desserts. Thankfully, group text messages and email chains can solve this problem.
Moving on to drink. Again, no strong opinions here other than those relating to quantity. If you happen to be 22 years old and still enjoy drinking so much you miss the game, I’ll give you a pass. For everyone else, drink what you like and keep it in moderation. I enjoy craft beer for later games and brown liquor for earlier games. Maybe a bloody Mary for a very early game. If you show up with a case of Natty Light, I’m going to make fun of you, but not for long. That one’s forgivable.
Finally, lets talk activities. Yard games have no place at a proper college football tailgate. If you are tailgating the NFL, I couldn't care less if you play games, but if you are at a college football game, leave your corn hole boards at home. Don’t bother setting up the ladder golf. Save the beersbee match for another day. Tailgates should be about catching up with friends old and new, pontificating on how your team is going to play, and rehashing past glory days. Unless you are 12 years old, in which case I’ll permit you to throw a football around, but that’s the limit of game play at a tailgate. Watching other games on a TV run off someone’s generator is also an acceptable activity, but only in so much as it is ancillary to the tailgate and not the core activity.
Look. I have some strong opinions on tailgates, but its only because fall Saturdays mean so much to me. It's a time to spend with family and friends. It's a time to set the worries of the world aside, to disregard our normal day-to-day differences and focus on what we have in common. The world if full of ways to split us apart, but for a few hours on a few select Saturdays each autumn, we get to look past those things and just enjoy our fellow humans. Kickoff is under 30 days away — go text your crew and start planning that first tailgate. And go Dawgs!
Photo (hero): UGA Tailgating / Facebook
Photo (tailgate): Frances Roen / Facebook
Photo (beer): Maura Friedman