I know what you're thinking. They tailgate for Softball? Well, perhaps they do, but in going through all my notes, I realized there were a couple SI On Campus stories I wrote that were never published. Consider this my "things I lost in the fire" era. So we are going way back to the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party for this one. I don't even remember what I wrote, but here it is...
Setting A neutral-site game has a lot to offer in terms of heated pregame passion shown by both sides. But the area surrounding Alltel stadium in Jacksonville is hardly anyone’s version of paradise. The tailgating areas mostly consist of cement parking lots packed with cars and little room for major grilling or tenting. That said, one has to be impressed with the immense scale of the scene. You could walk for ten blocks in any direction and still not leave the tailgating areas. Grade: C+
Knowledge of Fans As the day wore on, it seemed the level of football knowledge decreased. I’m sure it was just buried beneath all the bourbon, beer, and other consumables. A lot of people were local Jacksonville and not as into the college game as one would expect in an on-campus setting. Every Georgia fan I spoke with was convinced they had no chance to win the game. Then again, had any of us heard of Knowshon Moreno before Saturday? Grade: C
Eats Most tailgates served pre-prepared grub or made sandwiches. Grills were rather scarce for an SEC football matchup. Part of that could have been due to the fact that this is neither team’s normal home turf. However, some more committed groups managed to put together beef tenderloin, low country boil, BBQ ribs, hot nachos, and of course heaping piles of barbecue. But how seriously does one have to take grub at a cocktail party? Grade: B-Drinks They don’t call it the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party for nothing. While there was plenty of beer to be had, bourbon was the most popular ingredient of the day. Mixed with ginger ale or coke, big bottles found themselves emptied by the end of the day. One group busted out the champagne as soon as they arrived, but many Georgia folks popped corks after the game ended. You’d be hard-pressed to find a thirsty soul in Jacksonville Saturday. Grade: AYard Games Tight quarters meant little room for throwing and tossing. Still, people managed to get in a little cornhole, beer pong, and washers. Grade: B-
Cheers and Songs It seems these neutral site affairs bring out the best in pregame enthusiasm. Florida fans started with “Orange! Blue!” The Georgia backers then countered with “What’s that coming down the track? A huge machine that’s big and black!” Gators shouted “It’s great, to be, a Florida Gator! It’s great, to be, a Florida Gator!” Dawgs woofed with a tenacity that would make Arsenio Hall blush. As kickoff approached, chats grew louder and more frequent. Walking into the game, many young men and women had already blown out their vocal cords. Grade: A
Eye Candy One could easily argue that this game is the reason the category was invented. Beautiful Georgia girls dressed in red and back sundresses and traveled in groups all day. If that wasn’t your thing, Florida cuties donned jerseys and short shorts. The day’s competition wasn’t limited to the on-field action. Ladies from both fan bases brought their A game. Even the unattractive girls looked good. I didn’t want to leave. Grade: ASuperfans Hardly anyone was painted or wearing outlandish getups. One guy’s outfit featured a plush coat in Gator blue and was topped with a homemade pimp hat. But beyond that, everyone sported team colors. Red slacks were frequent, as were Percy Harvin jerseys. Grade: C
X-factor Many games feature large huddles of RVs assigned to special sections near the stadium. But there’s nothing quite like RV City in Jacksonville. Because neighbors for the week are from opposing camps, they make special effort to wave their team’s flags and decorate their home. The result is a bizarre sort of anytown USA feel, with pride on display. Everyone managed to get along. Grade: B
Best Tailgate The standout effort belongs to Gator Hawg’s Lawg Annual BBQ. Fans of both teams flocked to their spot in RV city throughout the day, and with good reason. Over the course of the weekend, they went through four bushels of oysters, 600 pounds of barbecued pork, and enough ribs and baked beans to choke a tyrannosaurus. But perhaps the best feature of their setup is that they had two porto-lets all to themselves. The only complaint would be that their TVs were a bit dated. Plasmas would have been nice, but the classic screens fit with the vintage RV motif. Grade: B-
Perhaps because of the recent one-sidedness of the rivalry, everyone was pretty cheerful and there to have a good time. Digs on the opposition were frequent, but altercations were few and far between. I was surprised at how many Florida and Georgia fans arrived as part of the same crew. The stadium itself is awfully sterile, as is the environment nearby. I know it’s tradition to have the game in Jacksonville, but I don’t see any major reason not to go to a more typically home-and-home matchup. But it was a great experience and I’ll be recommending to friends and acquaintances to take their own visit to the WLOCP at least once.
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