At many SEC schools, rabid fans take tailgating over the top. In fact, it might appear at some locales as if the tailgating is even more important than the football. A favorite motto at Ole Miss is, "We might not always win the game, but we'll win the party," after all. At Florida, it's a little different.
"It's not crazy like at some of the other SEC schools, and not quite as popular as it used to be, but the tailgating scene at Florida has plenty of family-friendly and/or alcohol-aided fun for anyone who wants it, " said Andy Hutchins, managing editor at SB Nation Florida blog Alligator Army. "You can get to a tailgate -- they're mostly all over campus, usually radiating out from The Swamp and concentrated under the shady trees -- at 9 a.m. for a noon or 3:30 p.m. game and be just fine, though the oppressive wet heat in Gainesville usually helps discourage more than a couple hours of heavy pregaming.
"For my money, the best places to tailgate are probably the lawn north of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, close to where the Gators do their Gator Walk, and the Plaza of the Americas, a shady section near the biggest library on campus."
Maybe it's because Florida fans are a lot more focused on the on-field product, or maybe it's the heat and humidity, but the whole scene seems to be a little more laid back compared to the rest of the conference. LSU fans are known for their Cajun and Creole cuisine -- and for drinking bourbon from sun up well into the night -- Texas A&M fans, as we learned last week, take their smoked brisket and local beers seriously, and most other SEC destinations feature a wide array of liquor and beer, homemade pulled pork and ribs, sausages of all sorts on the grill, and various other tailgating fare. In Gainesville, fans keep it a little more simple.
"You want stuff from Publix? You're going to find a lot of stuff from Publix," said Hutchins. "North Central Florida doesn't have a lot of local cuisine, so you will find that most tailgates make do with basic grill-based items and some fried chicken or much-beloved 'Pub subs' from the ubiquitous Florida-based grocery. And cheap beer will be freely available, though it's rare that folks get fully loaded before games played in the heat of the day."
Gainesville is one of the bigger SEC cities. It is home to a little more than 125,000 people, including almost 50,000 University of Florida students, but those students' favorite hangouts don't seem to be too popular with grads and families. Still, there appear to be plenty of options for everyone.
"Gainesville has a few good holes in the wall -- [Italian Gator Pizza] serves pizza by the slice out a window; Flaco's has very good Cuban -- right across University Avenue from campus in the Midtown section of town," Hutchins said. "But that area's lousy with undergrads all the time, so families often flock downtown, where a lot of pricier American fare exists; to Satchel's, an offbeat and off-the-map pizzeria; and to the many chain restaurants on Archer Road, the main strip of Gainesville."
And what are folks in town really excited about?
"The best of those chains is the newly opened 4 Rivers Smokehouse, a long-awaited challenger to the local barbecue joints. Try the burnt ends and brisket."
Brisket at a chain, huh? Well, whatever works.
To some, Gainesville might not feature the requirements to be a top-tier tailgating destination, but Florida fans enjoy themselves. They might not be ready to go over the top with the spread, but they're happy to play host and have smart football conversations with anyone wearing orange and blue or the opposing color scheme. And really, that doesn't sound bad at all.
"Florida's fans take a lot of crap online for being jorts-wearing, Tebow-loving hicks, but it's been my experience that the vast majority of Gators who get out and tailgate are kind, knowledgeable and funny fans who know how to make fun of their own team better than anyone else can," said Hutchins. "There will be lots of Tebow jerseys at any given Gainesville tailgate, but they'll be on the kids running around, not the adults, who are usually just enjoying a pretty day in one of the better college towns in the South. It's not exactly unique, but it does make Gainesville feel like a big and welcoming community on fall Saturdays."