My new friend Scott, a veteran of Georgia football tailgates, had one piece of advice for me heading into my first tailgate in Athens two weeks ago: "Avoid the brown liquids." It was a hot football Saturday, with a 4:30 pm ET start, and it would be important to pace one's self. The key was color. The key was clarity.

Clear, thus acceptable, liquids: Water. Light beer. Vodka. Gin.

Brown, thus unacceptable, liquids: Coffee. Soda. Whiskey. Bourbon. Scotch. Chocolate milk, presumably.

It took me roughly 34 seconds to break with Scott's advice.

I survived my first SEC tailgate a fortnight ago, a rousing all-day affair that culminated in a 41-30 Bulldogs victory over South Carolina, and from what I remember, it was really fun. Tomorrow, I'll be back out there again for the game against North Texas, this time with an earlier start, an easier game and a better understanding of what I'm in for.

Hence, my long-delayed, hard-earned observations and lessons learned from my first day at an all-day SEC football tailgate.

  1. If you're awake, the tailgate has already started. I usually run on Saturday mornings, so at 6:30 on gameday, I took a long lap around campus. When I passed Stegeman Coliseum, where the Georgia basketball team plays, at roughly 6:45, almost every tailgate was already set up. One group of guys were already swigging from their flask. Watching someone drink scotch at 6:45 in the morning when you're on a morning run does a number on your stomach.

  2. The early setup is necessary, because tailgating is a rigged game. At Georgia, the prime tailgating spots closer to Sanford Stadium are booked up by donors and lifetime season ticket holders, people who have had tickets passed down to them through their family for generations. (In this way, Athens is a lot like Green Bay.) The closest place to Sanford to tailgate without a special (and expensive) pass is roughly at Stegeman, which is about 0.7 miles from the stadium. So if you're gonna get that spot, you better get there early.

  3. Sanford Stadium is the middle of everything, metaphorically and physically. At the University of Illinois, the sports facilities are just off campus, not too far to walk but something you pass going between classes. Not here. It's as if they built the football stadium and said, "Oh, right, we need a college here too!" so then constructed the college around it. This strikes me as an accurate representation of colleges, and football, in the south.

  4. The tailgate is not as insane as I feared. All told, none of the scary videos from the previous column came to life. Maybe it was because it was the first home game of the year, maybe it was because Georgia had lost its opener, maybe it was because people are just a little bit more genteel and a little less self-destructive than I'd dumbly assumed, but there wasn't nearly as much drunken lunacy as I'd predicted. (Or feared.) (Or hoped for.) Sure, the undergrads were doing shots and handstanding beer bongs and what-not, but that's nothing you wouldn't see before, say, a Bowling Green game. In fact, I'd say they were more well-behaved than I even wanted them to be. Some of them were even wearing ties.

  5. You sort of can't refuse brown liquor. When I was first offered, around 10 a.m., I tried to quote my friend Scott's advice. My fellow tailgaters looked at me as if I had just insulted Uga. I pretended I was joking and got down to it. Next thing I knew, five hours had passed.

  6. Oh, Uga's really popular. If Mark Richt and Uga were walking down Southview Drive together, Richt would be pushed into traffic if he were standing between you and Uga. There is no dog on earth with a better life than Uga.

  7. The city of Athens understands the importance of Gameday. Like every city that isn't New Orleans or Las Vegas, you can't just walk around Athens with open containers of alcohol. Except! "This prohibition shall not apply to any exceptions or exemptions as may be provided for in chapter five of title six regulating special events within Athens-Clarke County." They're talking about Gameday. Three-hundred-and-fifty-nine days of the year, you can't drink a beer on the street. But on Georgia gamedays? I'm pretty sure you're arrested if you don't.

  8. Sanford Stadium is lovely. I wouldn't say it's the loudest football stadium I've ever been to -- the crowd was screaming constantly during that excellent game, but Sanford just doesn't hold the sound well -- but it sure is pretty. Up high (where I'll usually be sitting) you can see the sunset and trees and all sorts of nature things. Most of the time when you're at a football game, you feel closed off from the rest of the world. You feel isolated, almost trapped in this concrete machine with a bunch of drunk angry people. Sanford is one of those stadiums that never stops reminding you you're outside.

  9. College football players are a LOT more connected to the community than in the NFL. After the game, I walked down Campus Road toward my house and was interrupted by sirens. I turned around, and police were escorting buses containing Georgia players, still in pads, down the street. All the fans stopped and cheered and clapped for the players, whom they could see through the windows. The players seemed far too tired to acknowledge much applause. I can understand. The last thing I'd want to do after banging my head into other huge men's heads for three hours is deal with a bunch of drunk people screaming at me. And imagine if they'd lost.

  10. Mostly: Everyone's just scared of LSU. To a man, there is no tailgating bunch, road or away, treated with as much fear and dread as the Louisiana State fans. They cause most of the fights, they show up at 7 a.m. the day before games and they pretty much take over the city. "The minute I see them on the schedule, I know it's going to be a crazyass weekend," one tailgater said. "We're good at this, but we're not that good."

It's North Texas this weekend, and then, a week after, it's LSU. I have a week to prepare. Pass the brown stuff.

Email me at, follow me @williamfleitch or just shout out your window real loud, I'll hear you. Point is, let's talk.