Plenty of college football fan bases take tailgating seriously and do a great job with the pre- and postgame revelry. But none of them can compare to LSU, which, thanks to its passionate fans and unique Cajun and Creole culture, has a scene unlike any other.
Throughout the South, and at certain schools in other parts of the country, fans show up on campus bright and early to claim their spots and spend fall Saturdays eating and drinking. That's certainly no different at LSU, where some fans hold down the same spots for years. Billy Gomila, editor at And the Valley Shook, SB Nation's LSU blog, was kind enough to give us the layout.
"Growing up in Louisiana, food and family are synonymous when it comes to get-togethers, so that's no different in the tailgating scene," said Gomila. "Everybody has a crew and a setup somewhere. My family's outfit has been in the same spot for about 13 years now. Some groups come up with names and have their own specialized equipment. Some even get together in the summer to organize their plans for each week. Of course there's music, the game on a TV somewhere and plenty of beverage to be found.
"The campus has been carved up by paid parking in a lot of places, especially in the RV lots. Folks in those areas will start to show up Thursday evening for a big game, and they're usually full by Friday night. The Parade Ground, near the student union, is a huge grassy area where a lot of folks will set up. That's also where the GameDay stage will typically be if ESPN is in town. The south and west sides of campus also have a number of large grass and hayfield lots."
Elsewhere, one might find a variety of football food. In Texas, there's the local barbecue tradition of smoked beef brisket. Throughout the rest of SEC country, pork barbecue is common. In the Upper Midwest, bratwurst and other sausages are readily available. And in all these places, the typical grilled burgers and hot dogs can be found. But in Louisiana, it's completely different. The local cuisine dominates, and there's no other place in America that shares Louisiana's local cuisine.
"You're liable to see the gamut of Louisiana cuisine: jambalaya, gumbo, sauce piquante, whatever seafood is available, including alligator when Florida is in town, and of course, your basic barbecue and grilling," Gomila said. "If it can be deep-fried and eaten, you'll probably find it on campus on game day, be it seafood, chicken, turkey -- I've even seen a deep-fried pork loin.
"Jambalaya, or its cousin pastalaya, are favorites because they're an easy way to feed a lot of people -- rice (or pasta) cooked in a big pot with onions, peppers, sausage and either chicken, pork or even seafood if you're feeling fancy.
"Cold beer and brown liquor are probably the most abundant. If I want to drink local, I usually go with Abita, Nola or Parish Brewing's options. There's also Tin Roof, which is a new brewery in Baton Rouge. Bourbon or whiskey is the preferred liquor of choice, and everybody has their favorites. And of course, lots of Bloody Marys for those tailgates that start extra early."
When visiting Baton Rouge, the good eats and drinks don't stop at the tailgates. There are a number of local restaurants where a good meal can be had, and if you're looking for a college-bar experience, that's available, too.
"Baton Rouge may not be New Orleans when it comes to the restaurant scene, but it has a ton of excellent places," said Gomila. "Near campus, The Chimes is an LSU institution. It's a great seafood and burger joint with an outstanding tap room with more than 30 or 40 beer options on tap, including all the local options I just mentioned. Other near campus hot spots include T.J. Ribs for barbecue, Parrain's or Mike Anderson's for seafood/oysters, or Leroy's for fried chicken and comfort food.
"And all of these places have excellent bars, or you can always head on over to Tigerland and for the typical college bars where the students do their drinking. They're about a mile or so from Tiger Stadium."
And when we opened the question to our Twitter followers, one joint seemed to stand out:
If there's one thing LSU fans are passionate about more than eating and drinking, it's playing football games at night. Part of that is the corollary between a late kickoff and extra time to tailgate beforehand, but the legend of Tiger Stadium under the lights has taken on a life of its own. That's widely accepted to be the best stadium atmosphere in the sport, and for an opponent to win a night game in Baton Rouge, it usually takes a incredible effort. With the results on the field, who can blame fans' affinity for darkness? Since 1960, the Tigers are 227-61-4, a .784 win percentage, in home night games, according to the school's website. During that span in day games at Tiger Stadium, LSU is just 26-26-3.
Unfortunately for fans on the Bayou, the Saturday game against A&M is set for a 2:30 p.m. local kickoff.
"I will say that afternoon games become slightly more palatable in November, when heat is not concerned," Gomila said. "But there's simply no substitute for a night game in Death Valley, and it's a shame that Texas A&M fans won't get to see it. Outside the stadium, there's definitely more, and more active, tailgating during the games than there used to be. More outfits have large HD TVs, and season tickets are more difficult to come by in the current era of Tiger football. Though you can always find a scalper or two, depending on your budget."
A lot of college football fans like to brag about the uniqueness of their pageantry and traditions, especially comes to game-day atmosphere. LSU is one of the few places truly unmatched in what it brings to the table.