Game day. Saturday morning, afternoon or night. The college campus is abuzz. Something is in the air. Maybe victory, maybe defeat, but definitely the smell of good food. Tailgating. On most big college campuses nationwide, in parking lots under the shadow of the stadium, luxury RVs will park themselves next to each other, break out full-size grills, kegs of beer, and spill out platters of pulled pork, steaks, sausages, burgers and dogs. Everyone will smile. So far everyone's a winner. You can be too. Just get yourself to any of the leading tailgate parties around the country on any given Saturday, and experience the indigenous food from that region, the hospitality, the fun, the culture, the politics, the conversation, and experience what it means in America to love food and the home team.
While almost any Division I college campus holding a home game will suffice for a tailgate party, the most important lesson to learn is to arrive early, buy yourself a team shirt or hat, wear team colors, and follow your nose. It'll take you right to the best and biggest tailgate parties. If you want to throw your own tailgate party, you can stock up on hard supplies such as cups, plates and napkins for the college near you at www.collegegear.com/sf/stores/1423 or other goods like blankets and folding chairs at www.universalshopping.com/tailgatetown.html. The college bookstore will undoubtedly have tablecloths and streamers for decorations. You just have to bring the food.
Arguably the nation's prettiest tailgate party is at Ole Miss (tel. 662/915-7236; www.olemisssports.com), or the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi. Large spreads of potato salad, peach pies, and roasted pigs or slow-cooked baby-back ribs dominate the scene on the Grove, the landscaped grassy knoll under huge Oak trees in the middle of quaint Southern-style campus. Students dressed in jacket and tie and sundresses sip Makers Mark and Cokes while servants, sometimes in white gloves, serve heaps of food. Approximately a three hour ride south from the state capital in Jackson, Mississippi, Oxford is a great weekend trip with or without a Saturday football game. Great old eateries and bookstores such as Square Books (tel. 800/648-8001; www.squarebooks.com) dominate the small downtown. One highlight includes a visit to the Rowan Oak (tel. 662/234-3284; www.olemiss.edu/depts/u_museum/rowan_oak/interactive.html), the home of Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner. If you can't get tickets to the game, watching it in a local bar is almost as fun. Also, the campus library or walks are never as quiet as they are during a football game.
If you like water, the tailgate party at the University of Washington (tel. 206/543-2200; http://gohuskies.cstv.com/sports/m-footbl/wash-m-footbl-main.html) takes place on the shores of Lake Washington where hundreds of big and small boats anchor up next to the stadium with views of Mt. Rainier and the Seattle skyline. This tailgate party on the water dates back to the 1920s when the stadium was built. If you don't have a boat, just a walk on the lakefront puts you in the center of the action.
Further east, the tailgate party at United States Military Academy at West Point (tel. 845/938-2638; www.goarmysports.com) has pageantry, parade and panache as our nation's finest walk the campus grounds in full uniform and the school marching band belts out patriotic tunes. The parking lots are close to the football stadium and perfectly positioned for watching the pomp and circumstance of the days events. For a corporate event or a big family outing, Holberts Catering (tel. 845/457-5806; www.holbertscatering.com/westpoint.htm) can even do the cooking for you. The West Point website (www.usma.edu/visiting.asp) lists lodging possibilities if you choose to stay the night. Historical sites include the West Point Museum (www.usma.edu/museum) and the West Point Cemetery (www.usma.edu/cemetery), which served as a burial ground for soldiers from the Revolutionary War before it was even designated a military burial ground. The cemetery overlooks the Hudson River and the surrounding valley.
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