Welcome to the SEC Aggies
This is a special column just for the Aggie fans. First, welcome to the SEC, I believe you will enjoy it hear. The purpose of this column is to try and give you all a special first hand account on what each SEC town offers. You'll see lists out there about best stadiums or best SEC towns, but most of those guys haven't been everywhere. I have and I'll do my best to let you know what to expect.
Trust me when I say, gamedays in Lawrence, Lubbock, Waco, Columbia(MO), and Aimes don't come close to what you are about to see. Have fun, enjoy and if you are ever in a town I'm at come and say hey.
When A&M enters the SEC it is uncertain as to how long the Southwest Classic will continue in Dallas. I was there in 2009 and met many Aggie fans, enjoyed the band, and all the fantastic Yells. If A&M fans ever do venture to Fayetteville or Little Rock for other sports here are some of my takes on what you can experience. For the older generations that visited Northwest Arkansas 20+ years ago, much has changed.
Fayetteville- This area has grown rapidly due to Wal Mart and Tyson over the last couple decades. The drive up I-540 is very scenic and the town itself is a great college town. Dickson Street is where you will want to spend all your adult nightlife, while Razorback Road offers some good tailgating. The facilities in Fayetteville are some of the best in the SEC. Bud Walton Arena, Baum Stadium, the track facility, and the new additions to Razorback Stadium make this visit fun for any fan. The East side of Razorback Stadium is very nice and you'll enjoy the food court in the South Endzone. Check out the North Endzone for a nice museum.
Of the places I've eaten in Fayetteville I'd say The Catfish Hole, AQ's Chicken House, and anywhere on Dickson Street is where you would want to go. There's a small town about 10 miles from Fayetteville called Elkins. I ate at a good BBQ place called Cajun Cookers about a year go.
Little Rock- War Memorial Stadium isn't that nice, but the atmosphere there is great. Make sure you tailgate on the golf course next to the stadium. The city itself is like any capital city, lots of places to eat and lots of hotels.
Traditions- I'm sure you are all aware of the Hog Call. I think its one of the most unique cheers in American Sports when seen in person.
Most of you know all about Arkansas and if you are from the Dallas area you probably have some Hog Neighbors. I have friends and family in Arkansas, so this is a place I'm very familiar with.
The Gamecocks were the 12th team added to the SEC and the
furthest from your campus. I live 30 miles from Columbia, so I could probably write a book on what to know about this city. Columbia is the state capital and offers plenty of history to it. A trip to Charleston is a must do as it is only an hour and a half away.
South Carolina's stadium is actually about 2 miles off campus. It's an old campus and there just isn't any room to fit a stadium in it as it is in the middle of the city. Williams Brice Stadium is next to the State Fair Grounds, similar to the Cotton Bowl. The area around the stadium isn't scenic, but they are trying to improve this.
My family settled the Olympia Mills area of the stadium over 100 years ago. About a half mile from the stadium is the oldest bar in Columbia called Jaco's Corner, owned by my family. Jaco's is a true hole in the wall. Greasy burgers, cold beer, and blue collar individuals are what to expect in it.
The Loose Cockaboose is within easy walking distance from the stadium. Lots of TVs and live bands on gameday. Good pizza too when they serve it.
Outside of the stadium next to the South Endzone is Cockaboose Railroad. This railroad is made up of old train cabooses that are now used for tailgating. This is a neat spot and a must see for all fans. You can't miss it as the gate visiting fans enter is right next to it.
Parking around the stadium is easy since its off campus. The fairgrounds, Jaco's Corner, or any business lot can be used. Expect to pay $20-$30.
For nightlife head to 5 Points if you are a college kid and if you are an adult go to The Vista. The Hamton Inn in the Vista is the most popular place for fans coming in for gameday. Harbison Blvd. is a good area to stay if you are from out of town also. It's about 15 minutes from Columbia, but has a big mall and plenty of places to eat.
Like Texas, South Carolina is known for its BBQ. The difference is we BBQ pork. There are 4 different types of sauce in SC. Mustard, light catsup, heavy catsup, and vinegar. In the Columbia area you are likely to get Mustard sauce. There are plenty of BBQ places in Columbia, but I think the best places are in smaller towns outside the city. In Chapin you have Cannon's BBQ, also try Hites and Shealy's in Batesburg. It's different from what you're used to in Texas, but if you are in SC you have to at least try it.
Williams Brice's atmosphere has improved since joining the SEC in 92. The stadium seats over 80,250, but with the ramps in each corner they can fit about 85,000. The "2001" entrance is one of college football's best and a must see. When fans start to "Sandstorm" the place goes crazy.
South Carolina loves its baseball and along with Arkansas has the nicest baseball facility in the SEC(probably the country). The baseball stadium is about 3 miles off campus, but is something you need to see.
I could go on forever about South Carolina, but I'll cut it short. I will put in a plug though. I do play by play for a local high school, Chapin about 20 minutes from Columbia. If you are in town let me know and come up in the booth to say hey. Like Texans, we love our high school football in Chapin. Check out www.chapinfootball.net
, one of our seniors will be playing for USC next year Mason Zandi.
Great college town. The campus is very pretty and you have to check see Denny Chimes while you are there.
Plenty of bars within walking distance to the stadium. The Houndstooth is a great place to watch a game. I believe it has been named the #1 college sportsbar by a few publications. The BBQ Nachos there are addictive and you'll put on 5 pounds just looking at them.
Next to the Stadium is statues of Bear Bryant, Frank Thomas, Gene Stallings, Wallace Wade, and Nick Saban. This is a neat area next to the stadium and you can't miss it.
The Bear Bryant Museum is about a 10 minute walk from the stadium. Good place to go if you love college football history. Plus, Bear was an Aggie at one time.
I haven't been to Bryant Denny since the newest expansion, but when I was there in 08 I was very impressed. Even if you are losing to The Tide you have to stay until the end to witness the "Rammer Jammer" cheer. You will feel like crap after hearing it, but at least you got to experience a great SEC tradition.
If you are one of those people who like to listen to the game on the radio, tune into listen to Eli Gold(the voice of NASCAR and the Tide). I've always thought Gold does a great job of calling a game.
Book a hotel well in advance in Tuscaloosa because there aren't all that many. If you can't get a hotel in town then Birmingham is about 45 minutes away.
Bama fans are all good people. Just tell them you hate Auburn and they will buy you a beer.
I've only been to Auburn once so I'll do my best on this one. The town itself is small, but another great college town. I ate at a Mellow Mushroom when I was there, so unfortunately I didn't get a good local place to eat at. Head to Toomer's Corner and buy you some toilet paper, seriously you have to do this.
Jordan Hare is a pom pom stadium. I think Auburn fans are born with pom poms in their hands. The flight of the Eagle during the pregame is awesome and a must see. This place gets very loud and the fans never let up. If they beat you don't leave town early, go to Toomer's Corner and watch them throw toilet paper all over their large, old trees.
Auburn fans were all very nice. Just tell them you hate Alabama and they will buy you a beer.
Nashville is a fun city, especially if you love country music. Just don't expect much from a game at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Vandy fans are loyal, but there aren't many of them. I've actually been eating 1 mile from the stadium and asked my waiter about the game and he said he didn't know there was one today. You'd never hear that in any other SEC town.
The stadium is a horseshoe shape with an empty endzone with some picnic tables. The only exciting thing about the atmosphere in the stadium is their Foghorn, which is actually very cool. After each Vandy TD they sound a loud Foghorn over the PA. Only members of the Navy ROTC can sound the horn.
Only about 30-35,000 will be at a game at Vanderbilt Stadium. Tickets can be found cheap on sites like stubhub and at times you can almost pick anywhere you want to sit.
Best college town in the SEC in my opinion. Great place for live music and any college student would love this town.
The bridge next to the stadium is a neat feature to the campus. You can get a great view of the stadium from there. Georgia also has an area of the stadium where all the UGAs(the mascot) are buried, this is something you have to see.
Tailgating next to the railroad tracks always seemed to be a popular place for fans to go, but for the most part you are going to be tailgating in some campus parking lot or possibly a local business around town.
I love the tradition in Georgia's Stadium. Baba O' Riley plays in the pregame over the PA, which I've always found cool. When Georgia makes a big play all the fans start barking in approval. The band will lead a "Gooooo Georgia Bulldogs" cheer that will never get out of your head. Glory Glory Georgia Bulldogs is one of the most recognized fight songs in the SEC.
Try to avoid the 3rd deck. You don't even feel like you are at the game when you are that high
This is a great trip. Book a chalet about 20 miles east of Knoxville in Sevierville, TN. There are lots of cabins that overlook the Smokey Mountains. Get a group of Aggies together and make a week of it. Email me for some suggestions of places I've stayed at in the past. Eastern Tennessee is very scenic and if you are in for some family fun head to Gatlinburg.
Knoxville is a larger than most SEC towns, but the campus isn't in the middle of the city like South Carolina's. The stadium is next to a river, so many fans will show up and tailgate by boat. Calhoun's on the river is a good place to eat ribs and offers a great view of the river.
Neyland Stadium is huge and an impressive sight when you see it. Take the long ramp in and out of the stadium. The one time I didn't take this giant ramp I ended up spending 45 minutes shoulder to shoulder trying to get out of the place. The seats are small and you should be expected to stand most of the game in the visiting sections(something Aggies do anyways right?) The echo of "Rocky Top" being sung by 105,000 is impressive.
This is an underrated trip in the SEC. Lexington is a good size city and I've always found to be very clean and well kept. If A&M is playing Kentucky while Keenland(the horse races) is in season then you have to go. I'm not a horse racing fanatic, but this is a huge deal for people in Kentucky. Go there, place a few bets, check out the women, have some drinks, and you'll have fun.
Commonwealth Stadium had an expansion about 10 years ago, and most of the stadium looks new. I've always found it to be one of the nicest in the SEC, along with Razorback Stadium. The atmosphere isn't great, but 70,000 show up and they love their Cats. All the blue is a bit refreshing considering all the red colored teams in the SEC. Kentucky has a similar cheer to the New York Jets. C-A-T-S Cats Cats Cats.
Obviously a trip to a UK basketball game would be a must see event, but in my 6 trips to Lexington I've yet to attend a basketball game there.
The drive up I-75 is very scenic. About an hour south of Lexington is the original KFC, not really impressive, but it's one of those things you can tell people in Texas you visited.
2 Keys Tavern is a good sports bar in town to watch other CFB games. There are huge lots all around Commonwealth to tailgate at as the stadium is in a very open area.
Best campus in the SEC. The buildings, trees, and atmosphere makes you feel like you are in the Old South. The Town Square area around campus is where you will want to go to eat and drink. I really like the Square and it's one of the more interesting downtown areas in the South.
You have to check out the Grove. This is a 10 acre tailgate spot that is shaded with huge trees. Everyone is dressed in their Sunday best and you will see some great tailgating. The Rebel Band plays in the Grove about 2 hours prior to kickoff and fans gather around to do the cheers.
The atmosphere outside the stadium is better than inside, but the Hotty Toddy cheer is unique. This is another place that has some good BBQ nachos, but not as good as the Houndstooth in Tuscaloosa.
I love the setting of Ole Miss' baseball stadium. Great place to see a college baseball game, as more than 10,000 will come out for some games. Also a good place to park before the football game. The basketball arena might be the worst in the league though.
Starkeville gets a bad rep. I guess if you hate small towns then you won't like it, but the town isn't near as bad as some think it is. Lil Dooey's BBQ has very good BBQ pork and is somewhere I always eat.
I typically park next to the baseball stadium(which is huge) when I tailgate in Starkeville. Plenty of open space around the stadium. The Junction area of campus is where the best tailgating takes place.
Inside the stadium expect to hear 55,000 cowbells. Most hate them, but I love this tradition. It's unique to MSU and they take pride in these bells. People pass down cowbells from generation to generation. People make their own cowbells or you can buy them on campus(I have one).
Another great trip, but you have to play the LSU fans game. Many people are offended by their "Tiger Bait" chants, but if a Tiger calls you Tiger Bait then walk up to them and say hey. Most will offer you some great cajun food and invite you to their tailgate.
I'm sure most of you have heard, but a night game in Death Valley is insane. I call it "Mardi Gras" in a stadium. Fans dress in purple wigs, have large feather boas, purple and gold beeds, and there is a group that dresses as super heros. Most SEC stadiums see their fans dress up in polos and khakis, but not at LSU. Tiger fans dress more like NFL fans.
The atmosphere is amazing from the start. LSU has a great pregame with their band and the "Golden Girls". Once the game kicks off the band leads the fans into many cheers. "Chinese Bandits" after a big defensive play is one of my favorites as the fans all bow to the defense. The student section is probably the wildest in the SEC.
New Orleans isn't too far away and usually Bourbon Street is filled with fans the night before a game.
The City of Baton Rouge isn't all that impressive, but I've always loved LSU's campus
Gainesville is a college town and that's about it. Not much around it other than speed trap towns(don't speed through Waldo or Starke). University Blvd is where you will find all the bars and places to eat. Leonardo's is a good place for pizza by the slice. There's several good bars across the stadium. I believe a place called "The Swamp" is where we usually end up that is across the street from the stadium.
Jacksonville is a little over an hour away and the Jacksonville Beach area is a good place to go the night before the game if you have to stay out of town.
The Swamp is right next to LSU's Death Valley as having the best atmospheres in the SEC. Noise doesn't escape the stadium due to its unique shape, so I'd say this is the loudest place in the SEC. The Gator chomps are a fun sight to see. At the end of the 3rd quarter fans start to sway back and forth while singing "We are the Boys of Old Florida". The song sounds similar to Nebraska's fight song, but is older.
Florida also has one of the best entrances in the SEC. A video of a Gator killing an animal in a swamp is played and then you hear "The Swamp, where only Gators come out alive" The PA man then yells heeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrre comes the Gators".
The SEC is rabid for its football. I know Aggies love their football, but your experiences in road trips in the Big XII aren't going to compare with what you are going to counter. For generations there weren't any pro sports teams in the South, so we treat our college teams as pro teams.
My advise when entering a SEC town is to approach the people out of college and ask them about their traditions and things to see around campus. When you do this you will put yourself into some great conversations and meet some good friends. If you are a trash talker, then you will get some trash talked to you. You will hear some horror stories about each town, but my experience is that if you act classy you will be treated with class.
Again, welcome to the SEC Aggies. You are the absolute best school the SEC could have added to the conference. I met many of you in Dallas back in 2009 and I look forward to meeting and talking to you guys in the future. If any of you have additional questions contact me anytime.