As I posted previously, at one point I had the time, money, and inclination to tour the Southeastern Conference following the football fortunes of my favourite team, the Arkansas Razorbacks. We had some highs, we had some lows, but we had a lot of fun through the years.
The Southeastern Conference is just amazing. Every stereotype you’ve ever heard is true. Every comment about the greatness is also true. The northeastern sportswriters who put the SEC down are just plain jealous. It is the total college football package: Gigantic stadia, crazed fans, outrageous tailgating, gorgeous coeds, fabulous atmospheres at each and every location (the superlatives may seem an exaggeration; they are not. There’s just no way to accurately describe it, so the over-worn superlatives will have to do). The worst SEC location is better than 99% of the rest of the country. It really IS that good.
When I originally did this post (back in the day), I had made one complete round. I went back to most for a second shot, and my opinions have moderated somewhat, especially on the not-so-positive experiences the first time around.
Arkansas has always had flags; when I was a kid, it was Arkansas State flags and Confederate Battle Flags. Fortunately, the Battle Flag has long been retired, though you will see the Arkansas State flag periodically (and at the beginning of the 4th quarter ;-).
In Fayetteville (campus) and Little Rock (the Hogs’ “Home Away From Home”), the band forms a gigantic “A”, which marches down the field and comes to rest in front of the tunnel. The players then run through the “A”. They are led by the cheerleaders carrying enormous Arkansas State and Razorback flags. At away games, the cheerleaders still lead the team on the field with those flags.
Another overused football cliché is the “War” analogy; that football is a substitute for war. Well, with wars raging right now, that’s not a very nice thing, but it IS a “mock” battle, complete with flags, bands, ferocious animals, strong leaders, “Generals”, both on the field and on the sidelines, and a “blood cry”, a battle phrase (a la “Remember the Alamo!) that incites your side to give their all. In the SEC, every Saturday is a “War”; the State of Arkansas, for example, will go to “war” with the State of Alabama (at least the part of it that hollers, “Roll Tide”) on September 26.
I was always enthralled with this particular part of the spectacle; it seemed (at away games) that the flags were leading our young men into ferocious battle in enemy territory. I therefore resolved, on my second go-round, to take photos of the flags on every “enemy” field.
Being the “Visitors” is really a unique experience. We’re all used to our OWN home games, featuring OUR big ol band, OUR pregame show, OUR huge stadium featuring OUR raucous fans. When you’re the “visitor”, you’ve got anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 “friends”; at “orange” stadia, for example, we’re this little dot of red in a sea of orange, with our tiny “road” band instead of the Razorback Band. You are vastly outnumbered.
Now, the fact that we famously engage in fratricide in the SEC does not mean for a second that we’re not friends. We’re just busy beating each other up (think two brothers, age about 6 and 8, going at it). We’ll stand shoulder to shoulder when talking to outsiders about SEC football. To the nice people of the Big Ten, Pac 10, Big 12, ACC, and Big East: It’s an SEC thing. You wouldn’t understand.
Enough blather. Get your EZ-Up, your monogrammed chairs, your favourite tailgate delicacies, (don’t forget the ice chest!), load up, and let’s go! IT’S FOOTBALL TIME IN THE SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE!!!!
(Caveat: when I originally wrote this post, it was for Arkansas fans who might visit or like to visit the other SEC venues. I’m not going to post about Arkansas in this post, either, because that particular experience gets its very own post. Also, I have no objectivity whatsoever in the matter ;-).
I think I’ll forgo typing “Huge stadium” on each and every post. The smallest stadium in the SEC is Vanderbilt at 39,000, but the rest of them are bigger than most of the rest of the stadia in the NCAA.
Tennessee “IT’S FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE”
The quintessential SEC experience. If you can only attend one road game ever, Tennessee is it. Whatever you may say about it, Neyland Stadium is one of the most impressive stadiums in College Football; it's the real deal. 100,000 screaming fans.
The Tennessee fans are the most knowledgeable football fans in the Southeastern Conference (including ours). From children to old ladies, they know their football. It's impressive to hear a 30 year old woman, dressed head to toe in orange, toddler on hip (also in orange), spouting YOUR quarterback's passing stats and asking in-depth questions about your defensive schemes.
The campus is historic, handsome, and sited beautifully on the Tennessee river . The Vol Walk is unsurpassed, as is the Tennessee Navy. The Pride of the Southland is one of the top bands in the nation, not just the SEC. Their pregame show (featuring a very gracious salute to the visiting team) is one of the best in the SEC, and gets their fans pumped up. When Tennessee scores, you cannot hear the 400 piece Pride of the Southland due to excessive noise. They really know how to support their team, silent when their team is on offense, shaking the rafters when their team is on defense; it is deafening when they are really cranked.
Their traditions are outstanding. From the sea of orange in the stands to the orange and white fireworks to the orange checkerboard endzones, even to the dreaded playing (10,000 times per game—or per quarter—) of their “War Cry”, the infamous “Rocky Top”, there's no doubt at all: "It's Football Time in Tennessee ".
Auburn “WAR EAGLE!!!”
Auburn, located in a great small town on the Alabama/Georgia border about an hour east of Montgomery (the sobriquet, “The Loveliest Village on the Plains” was taken from a poem, but it really is nice) has one of the best traditions in the SEC. As the band spells out “AUBURN”, the crowd becomes quiet. At the very top of the stadium, a majestic eagle is released; he/she soars around the stadium, finally landing on the field. The crowd goes insane. The story is that a battered eagle landed on the field during an early Auburn football game (the team is the “Tigers”); the fighting spirit of the proud old eagle inspired the Auburn team to victory and the crowd has hollered “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr EAGle!” at every game since.
Handsome campus filled some of the friendliest people on the face of the earth. They want to kick your ass on the football field, but then they’ll buy you a drink after the game. “Rolling Toomer’s Corner” is a great tradition; Toomer’s Drug Store has stood on the same corner for decades; after an Auburn win, the entire populace “rolls” it with toilet paper. So, I guess you could say, if Tennessee Rocks, Auburn Rolls! (sorry, couldn’t resist). I love it down there would love the opportunity to go again.
Ole Miss “HOTTY TODDY!!!”
Mississippi’s state slogan used to be “The South’s Warmest Welcome”, and while each southern state can legitimately (in my opinion) claim that title, one area in which OM absolutely excels is tailgating. The original (antebellum) campus surrounds a grove of ancient oak trees; this grove continues through the campus toward town. On football Saturdays, people start arriving at The Grove at something like 3:00 am to claim their spot and start setting up their tailgate. Tents contain crystal chandeliers, living room furniture, food that would put some of the best restaurants to shame; hosts are wearing blazers, khakis, and starched white shirts; hostesses are in dresses, heels, and pearls; “dinnah” is served on china, with silver that was in the well at Vicksburg when Grant took the city. The Grove is second to none; there’s not another fanbase in the country that can touch it.
Of course, there is the infamous cheer. Nobody knows quite where it came from, and the wording seems to vary slightly, but here’s –more or less- a version:
Announcer (a celebrity now that they’ve got a display board):
“….Ole Miss fans, ARE YOU READY?”
“HELL, YES! DAMN RIGHT!
HOTTY, TODDY, GAWDAMIGHTY, WHO THE HELL ARE WE?
FLIM FLAM, BIM BAM, OLE MISS BY DAMN!!!”
Kathy and LBeau enjoying the Ole Miss ambiance
Little did we know when this started….
My little group celebrating that victory in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
LSU “GEAUX TIGERS!!!”
There’s nothing like Tiger Stadium on Saturday Night. I’ve heard this for years, but never experienced it; Arkansas and LSU have been the featured afternoon game on the Friday after Thanksgiving for the entire time Arkansas has been in the SEC. So, I’ve only seen Tiger Stadium in the daytime.
The stadium is huge (ok, I broke my own rule, but it really is). It is old. It is cramped. It is full of some of the rowdiest college football fans extant. They are full of the best pre-game food available: gumbo, boudin, jambalaya, crawfish etouffe, shrimp Creole, and, of course, in our honour, cochon de lait. In true Louisiana fashion, and because our game IS the Friday after Thanksgiving, they’ve been drinking since roughly Monday. (A quick aside: I once went to that game with my buddy Doug from Little Rock; Doug—a much bigger boy than me—is a native of “Alec” (Alexandria), and he invited me to stay at his family’s home Thanksgiving evening and then go to the game the next day. I didn’t want to impose, but he said, “Trust me, it’s no imposition…” so I acceded. We arrived at their modest home in Alexandria and were greeted at the back door by his Dad (“COME IN! WHAT YOU BOYS DRINKING TODAY?”) and his Mom (wringing her hands). I told his Mom I hoped I wasn’t imposing; she said, “No, hon, I’m just worried there won’t be enough food.” My GOD. There was food on every single flat surface in the house; she’d apparently been cooking for days and days. Each room was dedicated to its own food item; the dining table (all leaves in) was for meat: ham, chicken, turkey (fried, roasted, and terduckan), sausage, venison, standing rib roast (!), pork chops, and meatloaf—and that was the table. The sideboard held more. The breakfast room and den held the sweets….).
I tell this story to say that Louisianans see no reason whatsoever to stop a perfectly good feast for a football game, so they just pack it all up and transfer it to the stadium. People start arriving Tuesday and have Thanksgiving on their tailgate spots.
Baton Rouge consumes the state’s daily allotment of alcoholic beverages for the month in that one day.
Accordingly, some of those folks are really, really drunk. Now, this can be fun, but it can result in public urination, foul language, and other unsavoury instances.
If, however, you can brave the tough part, a trip to Tiger Stadium is amazing. Their biggest tradition (besides the legendary tailgates) is as follows: The Golden Band from Tiger Land (400 strong) marches onto the field, stops, raises their instruments, and blares the first four notes of “HOLD…THAT…TI-GER!!!!” toward the student section---which erupts. They switch sides of the stadium and blare the same notes again and THAT section erupts. You really can’t hear much of the band after that.
LSU fans have set off the seismographs (as in “earthquake”) in the geology department across campus with their cheering. Twice.
Georgia “HUNKER DOWN, YOU OLD HAIRY DAWGS!!!”
Unfortunately, I don’t have any of my Georgia pictures where I can get to them---my last trip to Sanford Stadium was before I got my first digital camera. Suffice it to say that it is big, it is loud, and it is proud.
Beautiful antebellum campus nestled in the foothills of the Piedmont. Spectacular architecture, beautiful landscaping. Sanford Stadium is beginning to show its age but still one of the best in the SEC. There’s a tomb in the endzone where all the UGA’s (the bulldog mascot) are buried. Sanford, like Razorback, is in a ravine on campus, so as you’re walking down the street, you look down into the lower bowl. The campus is full of some of the most beautiful coeds in the south.
On my first trip to Athens, I lived in Nashville and had a buddy at work who was also from Arkansas. We went to the first Arkansas-Georgia game in Sanford Stadium. As we drove up with our flags bravely flying, we said, “Uh-oh”; a group of frat guys were partying nearby and started toward us. “HEYYY, y’all came all the way from Arkansas?! (No, Nashville). Welcome to Georgia! Have y’all ever been here? No? Can we get you a beer? Let us show you around!” They then did so.
We made it to our seats, which we had gotten from an attorney friend in Atlanta. We hadn’t realized they were smack in the middle of the “Bulldog Club”. So here we were, in our little Razorback outfits, in the middle of all these rabid Dawgs. The lady sitting next to me was a classic; 70-ish, black skirt, scarlet cashmere jacket, pearls (and a diamond broach that probably refugeed from Atlanta during “the War”). Arkansas scored a TD and Bill and I jumped up and screamed—us, the 2,000 Arkansas fans across the stadium, and nobody else. We sat down quickly and I turned to the lady and said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to offend.” She looked me up and down and said, “Sugah, if I were in your stadium and the Dawgs scored, I’d be screaming my fool head off! You stand up and cheah for your team!!!”
I love Georgia.
Alabama Roll, Tide!!!
(smirks) Where do I start with Bama? Oh, I know, here:
Alabama would be a lot of fun if they’d just take themselves less seriously. Well, now, that’s not entirely true, either; they’re a lot of fun in part because they DO take themselves so seriously!
After all, they had The Bear.
Bear Bryant truly left his mark on Alabama, and they’ve never quite recovered. Gene Stallings won a national championship there, but he wasn’t The Bear.
Alabama claims more national championships than almost everybody, and they honestly won most of them, so you have to love their tradition. If that didn’t come with as much arrogance as the University of Texas packaged in, it would be wonderful. In fact, as I’ve so often said, “Alabama has all the arrogance of Texas--without the money.”
As it is, a trip to Tuscaloosa is a mixture of great (the sublime Dreamland, the original, not the copies) and the terrible (We’re gonna kick your ass because we are Bama, and after all, we did have The Bear!).
Beautiful antebellum campus, beautiful coeds, great tailgating (sounds like a broken record, eh?). We’ve had some great moments in Tuscaloosa—unlikely victories snatched from the jaws of defeat, freak thunder and lightning storms, all kinds of craziness. Seems when Arkansas and Alabama get together, sparks fly.
Their claim to fame is “Roll, Tide” and it is impressive---the entire stadium’s population, led by the Million Dollar Band, circles their right hands in the air, “Rooooolllllll, TIDE, ROLL!”
Their version of “Rock and Roll”, titled “Rammer Jammer” goes, “Hey, Hogs, Hey Hogs, Hey Hogs, we’re gonna beat the HELL outta you! Rammer Jammer Yella Hammer Give ‘em Hell, Alabama!” It has the desired effect of making you want to bird ‘em.
Actually, the one truly impressive thing they do is when their “Battle cry” turns into a “Blood cry”. We do this at Arkansas and it’s one of my favourite things in the whole world: when the momentum shifts and everybody in the stadium feels it, in Arkansas we’ll be cheering madly and that cheer resolves itself (unaided by the cheerleaders or the band and sometimes in spite of them) into the Hog Call; that sends chills down everybody’s spine because the crowd smells blood; in ancient Rome, the crowd is screaming “finish him!”.
When Bama goes ahead and the momentum shifts, the crowd (unaided by the cheerleaders and the band, and sometimes in spite of them) begins rhythmically screaming, “Rollll, TIDE! Rolllll, TIDE! Rollllll, TIDE!” Chilling.
But not in THESE pictures, by God! ;-)
Arkansas 34, Alabama 31. Sweet, sweet, sweet.
But hey: did you know they had The Bear?
This concludes part I (aren’t you glad?). Part II tomorrow or whenever I can get to it.
LINKS TO ALL 5 CHAPTERS OF THIS SERIES: