While some college games are already in the books, it’s really Labor Day weekend that sees football kick back into full swing. With the return of football comes tailgating, a tradition just about as old as the sport itself. There’s nothing like the smell of barbecue in the smoker mixing with the crisp autumn leaves. With honorable mention going to the Harvard-Yale game, these are our picks for top college and NFL tailgates.
The South has several contenders for No. 1 tailgate. Places such as LSU, with a cajun flare to the proceedings, and the annual World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail party in Jacksonville when Florida and Georgia square off come to mind. But The Grove, on the campus of Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss., takes the cake. As fans like to say, especially during bleaker years when the team struggled, “We may not win every game, but we ain’t never lost a party.” Fans swarm 10 acres surrounded by oak, elm and magnolia trees. The dress might be formal, with women in sundresses and men in bow ties, but the party is raucous, with bourbon and barbecue everywhere you look.
Kansas City is famous for its barbecue and is in many ways like a big college town. The parking lots outside Arrowhead open three and a half hours before kickoff of Chiefs games, and RVs and motorhomes our in, their owners cooking up ribs, burnt ends and chicken, showcasing their own signature sauces. Once a year, there’s a chili cookoff, with competitors perfecting their recipes for the big event. New rules instituted last season prevent tailgaters without tickets to the game from staying in the parking lot the entire time, which has dampered the party a bit, but it’s still the NFL’s best.
Red River Rivalry
Texas and Oklahoma face off inside the Cotton Bowl, a stadium built in 1930 on the grounds of the State Fair of Texas. Each October, the teams meet during the fair in Dallas, with the 55-foot statue of a cowboy named Big Tex presiding over the festivities. This being Texas, everything is bigger, and of course barbecue is in play, but you’ll also find a fried version of just about every treat under the sun, from pralines to Snickers bars. There’s even fried beer. Inside the stadium, seating is generally segregated, with Oklahoma fans in one half and Texas fans in the other. The tailgating scene is much the same, as there’s plenty of room on the fairgrounds and all those fried beers going around to get competitive juices flowing.
Green Bay, Wis., is the smallest city with a professional sports team in the U.S., with a population of just over 100,000. The Packers are also one of the original NFL teams and are community owner, unique among American professional sports teams. This all adds to a festive atmosphere for Packers home games, with an endless sea of beers and brats awaiting no matter the weather. There’s even an official tailgating village featuring a bar, kitchen, live music and a party deck, and of course it has an official bratwurst sponsor in Johnsonville.
While most of college football’s famous tailgate spots are south of the Mason-Dixon line, the University of Washington brings a unique slice of the Pacific Northwest to the equation. Within the gorgeous city of Seattle and on the shores of Lake Washington, Husky Stadium offers beautiful natural surroundings to go with the football. With all due respect to Tennessee’s Vol Navy on the Tennessee River, UW’s sailgaters on the lake might have the best water-based tailgating scene. There’s also nothing wrong with substituting a nice smoked salmon for ribs and sipping a Cabernet in place of a fried beer.