Game day at UGA Tailgate Central

Tailgating on North Campus. (Photos by Bill King)

Tailgating on North Campus. (Photos by Bill King)

With my son as guide, on Saturday I ventured to ground zero of tailgating at UGA — otherwise known as the university’s original quadrangles on North Campus.

I thought I knew UGA tailgating, since I was familiar with the red and black tent set-ups in front of campus buildings like Myers Hall along Lumpkin Street, where you see a mostly family crowd and there’s still room for tossing a football or playing those beanbag games.

North Campus tailgating is on an entirely different level to that. My son warned me as we were about to enter the northernmost quad that it would be difficult to get around. “You have to be patient,” he said.

And how. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that many Georgia fans packed into a contained area that wasn’t Sanford Stadium. It took us quite a while to even find the tailgate party we were looking for, overseen by Al Skelton, my nephew by marriage who I had not seen in a number of years.

Since I’ve been parking off Lumpkin Street south of campus for the past dozen years or so, it had been a long time since I’d been on the quads on a game day. It was quite a contrast from the years when my wife and I used to stroll through the shade-covered greenspace on our way to the stadium for a game.

Back then, you occasionally saw someone picnicking on the grass, or more likely a student not interested in football studying under one of the stately oaks. But nobody bothered to tailgate there, probably because that would mean hauling the tent, grill, tables, food and so on from wherever you parked. Why do that when you could set up right next to your car, which quite often was pulled up on a sidewalk on one of the campus streets?

TAILGATE SCENE CHANGES

But as UGA banned most sidewalk parking and built new buildings on some of the prime real estate where folks used to gather before a game, tailgaters began looking for new places to set up, and North Campus beckoned. The set-up is, indeed, a hassle (especially since UGA doesn’t allow tailgaters to start before 7 a.m. on Saturday) and the breakdown is even more difficult, complicated by the postgame traffic jam downtown. But if you want to tailgate on campus, you don’t have a lot of choices these days.

Al Skelton and Betsy Woodruff.

Al Skelton and Betsy Woodruff.

Actually, the North Campus tailgating scene has exploded in recent years. Al told me that when he started setting up near the Chapel on the quad closest to the Arch about five years ago, there were half as many people tailgating on North Campus, and you could show up around noon and still find space. It was mostly alums back then, too.

Then UGA students got the tailgate bug in a big way. Back in my day, students didn’t tailgate. Fraternity and sorority members dined (and drank) at their chapter house before heading to the stadium and other students, well, didn’t tailgate. That was something our parents’ generation did.

That gradually started changing, and by the time my son started at UGA in 2003, student tailgating was fairly common. But about three years ago, Al said, the students descended en masse on North Campus in a tailgating frenzy. Al thinks it was inspired by seeing ESPN pregame shots of tailgating in places like the Grove at Ole Miss. “They saw that on TV and thought, ‘We should be doing that,’” Al said.

Last year was particularly wild, he said, because of Georgia opening the season ranked No. 1. If you didn’t show up by 8 or 8:30 a.m., you didn’t get a spot, he said. This year, it’s not quite a bad, though pretty much all the tailgating space was gone well before lunchtime.

Al’s tent was surrounded by scores of similar tents, most with grills going, tables spread with food and drink, ice chests everywhere and quite a few satellite dishes and big-screen TVs. But there was still room to move around, barely.

The quad in front of the UGA Library, a few hundred feet closer to the stadium, was another matter altogether. There, folks were crammed in with hardly any breathing space. The pathways, onto which some tailgates had spilled over, were literally shoulder to shoulder. The only opens space was the roped-off alcohol-free “family friendly” area, which was empty except for a handful of kids tossing a Frisbee and playing touch football.

TRIBUTE TO THE LITTLE ROUND MAN

Al’s tailgate spread certainly wasn’t the most elaborate I’ve seen — think candelabra-decorated tables at Chastain Park and you’ll know the extremes some fans go to. But Al doesn’t just settle for burgers or sandwiches, either. For lunch he’d served sesame pepper hot wings. In the afternoon he was dishing up hot peanuts freshly scooped from his on-site boiler and his version of a Pimm’s cup. Later, they planned on having cold fried chicken.

Wally Butts: the Mercer-UGA connection.

Wally Butts: the Mercer-UGA connection.

And one unique feature to his tailgate is the framed picture of legendary UGA football coach Wally Butts that sits on one of the tables. That’s Al’s way of connecting Mercer University in Macon, where he got his undergrad degree and met friends he still tailgates with, and UGA, where he got his MBA. Butts also was a Mercer graduate.

One time a couple of years ago a man who bore some resemblance to the picture came up and asked about it. Al told him that it was Wally Butts. “I know,” the man said, “he was my grandfather.”

IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT THE GAME

When I was a kid, tailgating was mainly a way to enjoy a meal outside the stadium before going into the game. Nowadays, for a lot of tailgaters, the game isn’t even part of the routine.

Al said Saturday he didn’t plan on going into the game against South Carolina. “It’s just too much trouble to break all this stuff down and pack it up in time,” he said. Some folks simply lower their tents and leave them until after the game, but if you can do that you’re likely to find stuff missing when you return. “Especially any beer and liquor,” Al said.

Lightly used "family friendly" area.

Lightly used "family friendly" area.

Instead, my nephew and his party, including his fiancée, Betsy Woodruff, planned to watch the first half of the game on one of the big-screen TVs nearby and then pack up at halftime and watch the remainder of the game in a downtown bar.

Waiting until after the game to pack up is a problem, Al said. At one game last year the downtown traffic was so bad that the closest he could get his truck to North Campus was several blocks away and he had to haul all his stuff all in stages while Betsy watched over the rest of it on the sidewalk. “He wasn’t very happy,” Betsy noted.

Why go to all that trouble if you can’t even make it to the game? Part of the appeal is the easy camaraderie between tailgaters who don’t even know each other. Some students from Milledgeville dropped by at one point Saturday afternoon, saying, “Hey Al, come play beer pong with us!” I ended up chatting with them for a few minutes and asked how they knew my nephew. “Oh, we don’t,” one said. “We just met him this morning.”

And then there’s the chance to get together in a convivial atmosphere and catch up with old college pals, friends and even extended family.

Who knows, your cousin might even drop by and bring the uncle you haven’t seen for several years!

21 comments Add your comment

My son attended UGA...

September 14th, 2009
7:37 am

..from 2004 – 2008. He and his friends found the North Quad to be party central all 4 years. In 2006 and 2007 we ventured up from our parking spot on Greene Street to party with him – they were right smack dab in the middle of the quad EVERY game, so you can imagine our difficulty in finding them the first time – after that we knew where they were, and they were in the exact same spot for two years.

After he graduated in ‘08 we went to only 2 games last year so we did not venture into the north quad. My other son is now a SR at Clemson so we have been going there for 4 years, too. They party just as hard and as long but we have not ventured into their “student” section. They had an area much like the UGA quad back when my son was a freshman there in 2006, but the next year they totally banned that area from being a tailgate section. I look for UGA to do that fairly soon re: the north quad since the tree huggers will eventually have their way regarding the environmental impact on that area.

coach joe

September 14th, 2009
7:52 am

hell of a game saturday eat crow al u usc fans talking all that smack and thinking you where gonna win lmao at the end go dawgs sic em

bad brad

September 14th, 2009
8:10 am

Walked through North Campus last year for the first time on game day and was amazed. I enjoyed reading your article. To coach joe: my seat are in upper north 2 rows down from visitors section and i had to listen to the trash talk for most of the first half and again in the 4th qtr but i have to admit, i thought we were going to lose at the end.

MiltonDawg

September 14th, 2009
8:10 am

So does Houston fill in now for us losing Rod Battle for the year?? Stop with the turnovers guys, stay consistent, and when can we put some pressure by our D???!!!

hey coach joe...

September 14th, 2009
8:10 am

…and everyone else is LTAO at UGA since they suck so bad. If not for some boneheaded plays by the SC special teams UGA would be 0-2, with AR, ASU, LSWho and UT licking their chops to get at that porous Wille M non-D. What a joke of a team UGA is this year!

Cuz

September 14th, 2009
8:17 am

Good story Bill. I have attended only one tailgate on the Quad. My fraternity broke tradition and set up a party there. One of my fraternity brothers from the eighties and I took over MCing the party. We had stereos blasting party music and microphones and plenty of food, adult beverages and beautiful coeds. It was wild, it was fun and I missed the game also to pack it all up. It did not matter, it was the USCe game of 2007.

UGA fan in a double wide

September 14th, 2009
8:26 am

Bill, they actually let you procreate? Inbred like that mascot for sure.

Glen Mason

September 14th, 2009
8:29 am

Boy….. Im sure glad I had a change of heart years ago. You UGA fans expect way too much for a second tier SEC program!

Cuz

September 14th, 2009
8:29 am

I would watch out double wide. Bill’s wife was a Tri Delt and she does not take insults lightly.

Cuz

September 14th, 2009
8:30 am

Glen, I am sure glad you had a change of heart also. What high school are you coaching these days?

dawgfanatic24-7

September 14th, 2009
8:32 am

A victory is great but this one will be short lived. We almost lost this game due to bad play calling. Our OC needs to stress running the ball more during the 4th qtr. That Brandon Smith is quick. He made a freshman mistake but redeemed himself. I’d like to see this kid more often on offense.

Me

September 14th, 2009
9:01 am

Gimme anutha Bud Light and a some o’ them fried poke skins, Goober…….Reckon they’s still a ball game today?

Saint Simons

September 14th, 2009
9:08 am

Big Jerry Springer weekend !!!!!!!! hahahahahahahahahahahahahahah uga not in top 25 !!!!!!! hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

uga_b

September 14th, 2009
10:17 am

We’ve been tailgating in approximately the same spot as Al since 2003. This year we tailgated behind the car in the tiny free lot behind tasty world due to the parking fine increase for downtown. It was not the same and once again it seems like the tailgating experience has been lessened by some new policy or cost. We will return to N. Campus for the ASU game, but that was the busiest I had seen the N. quad since 2005. And it has gone younger to a more fraternity crowd. So us younger alumni plan on movin off to the side near the Honors dorm. We really missed the energy from campus. And the girls.

uga_b

September 14th, 2009
10:17 am

Oops. I meant Honors building not dorm.

uga_b

September 14th, 2009
10:17 am

Oops. I meant Honors building not dorm.

How2fish

September 14th, 2009
11:03 am

Good story Bill !! and UGA fan in a double wide your a pinheaded Bug for certain and for sure! Bill Mason your half as glad of the change of heart as the Bulldog Nation is!

DblDawg9299

September 14th, 2009
11:10 am

Tri Delt……everyone else has.

Raleigh Urbain

September 14th, 2009
11:39 am

Bill, thanks for including a picture of our tailgate (the one at the top) in your article. Feel free to stop by and enjoy a cold beverage anytime!!

Sheneneeee Faneneeeeeeee

September 14th, 2009
1:24 pm

UGA has a new reason to be scared on Halloween. Trust me Joe, staring down that defense is going to be a nightmare.

[...] want to do more than spread a tablecloth on the ground go for their tailgating? I asked my nephew Al Skelton, whose tailgate party I wrote about last season. Al used to set up his tent near the UGA Chapel (and took his tailgating so seriously that he rarely [...]