Tailgating Tales

First of all, let me say this… I LOVE tailgating! Who doesn’t? And I truly love tailgating prior to home games in Auburn. It’s a great way to get “ready” for the game. It’s a time to eat, drink, and socialize. It’s a time to discuss your team’s game and also to watch other teams play, before and after, your game. In a nutshell, it’s a whole lot of fun!

With that in mind, let’s get right to it. I’m going to take a look back at three of my most memorable tailgating experiences that I’ve enjoyed on the road. I will do this chronologically.

Cal vs. Stanford – 1986

Aha! Fooled you didn’t I? If you know me at all, you were probably thinking, “Now which Auburn game is Bird going to mention first?”DSC02503

Well, we didn’t really begin getting into tailgating until the Pat Dye era on the Plains. And by the time this was in full swing our family had moved to the Bay Area of California where I was a seminary student and campus minister at The University of California at Berkeley.

The ‘Big Game’, as it is known, was played in Berkeley that year. Our whole family attended the game. That included my wife, Melodye, our son, Luke, and our daughter, Leah. Luke was eight and Leah was three. I won’t tell you how old I was. You can do the math.

As we strolled across the famed Berkeley campus, the thing that struck me was the elegance of the tailgates. There were beautiful flowers in lovely vases, linen tablecloths, china and flatware. Now this wasn’t the case at all the sites but there was an unusual amount of that sort of setup to my mind.

And, of course, we were just about a 35-45 minute drive from Napa Valley and there were some fine wines and champagnes being poured. Us? We ate Blondie’s pizza and drank draft beer. It’s a long way from Wilcox County, Alabama to Northern California folks. But we were eager to learn!

And, by the way, the once beaten Stanford Cardinal (I REALLY want to put an “s” at the end of their name) was upset by the ONE WIN Cal Bears.

Dartmouth vs. Fordham – 1994

I was in my second year as a AAA Inspector and had accepted an out-of-territory assignment to New England. I was to do some work in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. It was early the first day of October and I had been there for about a week.

After spending the night at The Inn on Golden Pond, yes THAT Golden Pond, on Wednesday 9/28, I found myself at a small motel somewhere in that area on Thursday night. Auburn was playing Kentucky that evening and I called a couple of places to make sure I located a spot that had ESPN.

Auburn whacked the Wildcats, 41-14, and I enjoyed a few Samuel Adams Honey Porters during the contest. I wasn’t in my best shape on Friday morning but it was time to knock out a handful of calls and settle in, somewhere in Western New Hampshire or Eastern Vermont, for the weekend.

I finished work just south of Hanover, NH which is the home of Dartmouth College. Dartmouth, as you may well know, is a member of the Ivy League.

Well, Dartmouth was playing Fordham the next day AND there was a balloon festival nearby in Vermont. The hotels in the area were full. Great planning, Bird!

I did manage to wrangle a room at a Howard Johnson, across the river from Hanover, in White River Junction, VT. Whew!

So, Saturday morning rolls around and I opt out of the balloon festival, which began at daylight, and chose to spend the bulk of my day at the football game between the Big Green of Dartmouth and the Rams of Fordham.

IMG_2254Do they tailgate in the Ivy League, I wondered? Yes they do! I arrived at the campus well before kickoff and began to circle a parking lot when I spotted a group of Dartmouth fans literally gathered around the rear of a very nice SUV. I rolled down the passenger window of my blue Saturn sedan and shouted greetings to the nattily-garbed crew.

They encouraged me to park and join them at their tailgate. I did.

Well folks, you have never met more hospitable group of fans in Athens, Oxford or Knoxville. They shared hors d’oeuvres, some of which their guest from Lower Alabama had never enjoyed previously, and wine with me. We also talked a little football and I was allowed to share with them a little about Auburn University, her family and our beloved Tigers.

What a beautiful day for football it was! Early October in New England is peak fall foiliage season and the reds, golds, oranges and purples were absolutely brilliant! I was actually able to stroll around the field! Try that in the SEC! I even gathered the Big Green cheerleaders together and they happily posed for a picture!IMG_2255

I don’t even remember who won the football game. But I do remember it as one of those days that you look back on and smile as you recall the special time you had, as well as the people and place that made it possible.

Go Big Green!

Auburn vs. Ole Miss – 2012

We rolled into Memphis late Friday afternoon before this game, which was scheduled to kickoff before noon on Saturday. To say Auburn was struggling in 2012 would be an understatement. But we were going to spend two nights in the land of Elvis, Sun and Stax records, and have a big time in The Grove.

After settling into our hotel we decided to walk down to The Peabody hotel, have a beverage and watch the famous ducks do their thing. The lobby was packed with tourists and football fans from both Auburn and Ole Miss. There were also a few other Tigers from Memphis enjoying the spectacle.

When the show was over there were two Rebel fans that grabbed us as we walked past them. They welcomed us warmly, gave us their contact information, and invited us to tailgate with them on Saturday.

Mercy! We had to get up early, after an evening of revelry on Beale St., to make the tailgate in plenty of time before this SEC early game. We left Tennessee and made our way toward the land of Faulkner and Vaught not too darn long after dawn. We even encountered two ‘working girls’ stumbling along right in the middle of Lamar Avenue. Mercy deux!

We found a parking slot within a stone’s throw of campus and headed for the famous Grove. As we made our way through the maze of tents, a kindly Southern Gentleman stepped from the cover of his group’s spot, shook my hand and said, “Y’all look thirsty.” I responded that indeed we were.

He pointed us in the direction of two lawn chairs and introduced us to the bartender of this aggregation. This gentleman inquired as to our drink of choice and I replied that I would let him surprise us.

While we watched this fellow ably concoct some cocktails, we marveled at the setup. There were sets of tents arranged three or four across and three or four deep, cases of liquor and beer stacked three or four high, and a buffet that would rival that of any good restaurant.

It wasn’t long before the couple we met at The Peabody, the night before, arrived, and we had no idea that this was also their tailgate and their friends. We were just taking up some kind Rebels on their offer of hospitality.

IMG_0571Very shortly, yet another Ole Miss gentleman came up to us and asked if we had tickets. We told him yes, but he asked again if we were sure and thrust two tickets toward me. I politely declined his generous offer and thanked him profusely.

It then occurred to me to get some pictures of this amazing gathering. Melodye asked me to corral the bartender and she would snap a photo of us.
We put our arms around each other, smiled, and just before my bride snapped the picture, our newly found friend shouted, “War Eagle!” I grinned broadly and responded with a resounding, “Hotty Toddy!”

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