Commentary

Road Warrior: best college tailgating

Updated: August 19, 2009, 1:58 AM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com


• Tailgate photo galleries: The fans | The stands

First off: Yes, you're right. If your college didn't make the list, it isn't because there are dozens upon dozens of other great tailgating experiences on campuses around the country. It's strictly because of two things:

Road Warrior is a moron.

And Road Warrior hates your school.

But before you fill RW's mailbox, pause for a minute and ask yourself one question: Is there such a thing as a bad tailgating experience?

On a crisp autumn morning, when the sun is shining on the ivy-covered halls, the band is marching through the quad playing the fight song, the cheerleaders' skirts are swaying and your biggest decision is whether to reach for the beer, the brat or both, doesn't every tailgating party seem so exceptional it should be an NCAA violation?

As Joe Cahn, the self-appointed Commissioner of Tailgating says, "The best place to tailgate is wherever you are that weekend.'' (See Cahn's Taligating.com site.)

That said, Road Warrior had to pick 10 top tailgating sites and only 10, so a lot of very deserving campuses get left off the list (sorry Texas, sorry Clemson).

Sadly, RW hasn't been to every campus (invitations gladly accepted), so these rankings are based both on personal experience and input from more than a dozen other college football aficionados around the nation.

Given the way they tailgate down south, RW probably could have listed just about the entire SEC and been done with it. But what's the fun of that? Better to spread the honors (and that hate mail) around.

(Southern and Western campuses do get an ever so slight edge because the weather is better. Yes, tailgating is great everywhere, but it's more pleasant when fans' flesh is blue from face paint, not sub-freezing temperatures.)

So with no further ado, here are the top 10:

10. Auburn
How crazy does it get here? A friend recently covered a game on Labor Day weekend. Kickoff was 6:30 and he pulled off the highway from Atlanta at 3:30. He saw the roadside crowded with people tailgating and figured he must be near the stadium. He finally arrived at Jordan-Hare … nine miles later. When he asked the parking attendant at the media lot what time the fans started showing up, the man replied, "Seven in the morning … Thursday morning. And they aren't leaving after the game, either.''

9. Colorado
Trying to decide between Ohio State and Colorado, Road Warrior consulted a friend who attended both. He gives Colorado the nod because of the mountain setting, the better weather and the … ummm, overall "Colorado'' experience. For instance, he swears the PA announcer once made this announcement during a game: "A reminder: It ish unlawful to ( hiccup) conshume aloca … er, acolho … umm, alcoholic beverages (hiccup) at Folshom Field."

8. Army
The setting on the Hudson is superb and the atmosphere is special. "They understand it's a game,'' Cahn says of fans at the service academies. "The people realize the young men on the field will fight bigger battles.'' Besides, if you want to tell soldiers with rifles that they don't belong in the top 10, go right ahead.

7. Wisconsin
An exception to the weather rule is Wisconsin, where the fans don't notice the cold because their cheese wedges restrict the flow of oxygen to the brain and, of course, all that beer. If you're going to tailgate, better to pick Wisconsin, a state famous for beer, brats and cheese, than say, South Dakota, a state famous for … well, not being North Dakota. Just be sure to leave enough room for the legendary Fifth Quarter.

6. UCLA
What could be better than tailgating outside the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1? Tailgating there every home game. (By the way, based on the overall UCLA experience – beautiful students, sun, L.A., beautiful students, athletic legacy, oh, and did RW mention beautiful students? – is there any reason why the Bruins do not get every single recruit they want?)

5. Penn State
It's not enough that State College turns into Pennsylvania's third-largest city on game day (and, remember, we're talking a state large enough to have 22 electoral votes). This 100,000-plus JoePa-Looza is so spirited that the school recently had to ban the drinking of alcohol outside the stadium DURING the game. That's right. So many fans come just for the tailgate that officials had to enact a law to deal with them. They don't call it Happy Valley for nothing.

4. Washington
The main tailgate venues are nothing special, but stern-gating is awesome. Sailing up to Husky Stadium while nibbling Dungeness crab or wild salmon and sipping a bottle of Red Hook or a glass of Chateau St. Michelle is college football's finest experience that doesn't include the USC song girls.

3. Tennessee
With boats able to tie up on the nearby Tennessee River, this offers the Washington nautical experience mixed with SEC passion. Plus, there's better barbecue.

2. Ole Miss
What RW loves best about the Mississippi campus is that the speed limit is 18, in recognition of the jersey number worn by Archie Manning. Tailgating in The Grove is an experience so sublime even native son William Faulkner would be at a loss to describe it. Hell, The Grove is so wonderful, Commissioner of Tailgating Cahn even plans to honeymoon there (seriously).

1. LSU
Nobody cooks like the Cajuns. Walking among the tailgaters here is like strolling through one of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants. RW once joined a group serving jambalaya, duck and oyster gumbo, stuffed quail, deer sauce picante, wild duck, cochon de lait, Cajun sausage, crawfish etouffee, rabbit, alligator stew and marinated pork tenderloin. And that was for a non-conference game. More important, LSU plays most games at night, which means you have an entire day to soak it in. The only downside is you may not be able to get yourself into the stadium by the time kickoff rolls around.

So there you have it, a fair, balanced and completely impartial list of the best tailgating campuses in America. By the way, Ohio State fans have no doubt noticed their school did not make the list, despite the 100,000-plus passionate faithful surrounding the Horseshoe each game in one of college football's best and most spirited gatherings. That's because Road Warrior's alma mater recently lost to the Buckeyes and hasn't gotten over it, yet.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His Web site is at jimcaple.net, with more installments of "24 College Avenue." His new book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans," is on sale now.
Send in your comments and travel questions to Jim, a k a The Road Warrior
.

For more on tailgating, check out "GameDay Gourmet: More Than 80 All-American Tailgate Recipes" from ESPN Books, complete with pregame tips from Mike Golic, Bill Curry, Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso.

Editor's note: This is a reprise of a column that was originally published in October 2007.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE