Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, tailgaters were allowed to claim their spots much earlier than usual. Those that arrived in time for the 6 a.m. land grab on Friday reserved for themselves the most comfortable and convenient sites. Some of these were on campus in high-traffic areas which provided for easier heckling of Alabama fans. For those that preferred a more secluded locale, an outdoor amphitheater featuring a gradual slope beneath tall pine trees provided a more natural ambiance. Later arrivals crammed themselves into open spots of grass or sidewalk and made nice with their neighbors.
Auburn fans take great pride in their program and consider themselves to be well educated when it comes to the world of college football. They are quick to express their reverence for the Iron Bowl in one breath and their disdain for Alabama in the next. Those that weren't present for the 1989 Iron Bowl -- the first at Auburn -- spoke wistfully of how they wish they could have been.
Some tailgaters put full effort into their grilling, cooking up tenderloin, barbecue, or in one case, fried oysters. But far too many people simply picked up platters from Chick-fil-A and carted store-bought side dishes. Certainly, some tailgate areas wouldn't have been easily accessible with large grills, but everyone could have at least hauled out a Weber. The home-cooked food was good, there just wasn't enough of it.
While bloody marys appeared readily available, few people seemed to bother with them. Saturday was all about the cheapest of beers and all varieties of bourbon. Many bars stocked an array of brands, but avoided non-bourbon liquor. A few mixed theirs with cola, but most opted for rocks or simply neat.
Ladder golf is often set up at tailgates around the country. But in general, people don't often play much once they fit all the piping together. That was not the case at Auburn. Sets were utilized far more frequently than in other locations. Also making appearances were washers and cornhole, which one lady called "the bean bag game."
It may have been late November, but at a southern tailgate the lasses still manage to present themselves well. Sweaters and scarves were the norm. Of course they wore all the right makeup and accessories. It would have been nice to see a little more skin, but it's late in the season.
If camouflage jackets and caps counted, Auburn might get an A. It must be duck season because they were everywhere. Everyone else donned their Auburn gear, but few went very far beyond that. Some women had the requisite tiger ears and tails, and a handful of guys painted their chests. The most original group was a trio of unkempt students who wore tiger-print cloths and held up a sign saying, "Beating Bama -- so easy a caveman can do it." On the whole, costumes were few and far between.
At the stage area of the aforementioned amphitheater, the same group sets up camp every week. They claimed it wasn't their best showing because they only had four televisions instead of their usual five -- each hooked up a different receiver box with its own set of regional channels. But between all the TVs, one of the best spots on campus, and makeshift wall used to block out the wind, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better setup. Extra points for offering friends a "can sandwich" for the road with the explanation, "That's what Coach Jordan called 'em, that's what I'm gonna call them."
Auburn's Tiger Walk may not be the first pregame walk in college football, but it is certainly the one that brought the concept to the masses. Fans start crowding Donahue Drive hours before the players make their entrance. By the time they head from the athletic offices to the stadium, the street is completely full, the marching band is playing, and everyone is singing the fight song at full volume. The throng works itself into a ruckus, and once it's over, they are primed for kickoff. How they pass the remaining two hours without losing their wind is anybody's guess.
Considering this was the Iron Bowl, lauded as one of the most hate-filled rivalries in sport, I expected more jawing and trash-talking before the game. Perhaps because Auburn had won five straight, and because Alabama lost to Louisiana-Monroe the week before, the banter was relatively jocular and playful. Voices rarely were raised in anger, and there were no fights or even arguments to speak of. The taunts bordered on hilarious at times. One group of Tigers brought a megaphone and kept track of how many "birds" they collected. Auburn of course prevailed again, which led the masses to Toomer's Corner all available branches and street signs were immediately draped in paper. It was a mad crush of humanity, but under all those white decorations, it could somehow pass for jubilantly tranquil.