“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”- popular Christmas song
If you’ve followed along for any period of time now, you know that I find many traditions to be tired. Played out. Not relevant anymore. When someone says to me because it has always been done that way, it takes everything in my being not to scream.
However, exceptions exist everywhere, and college football season and all of its magical pageantry, beautiful autumn scenery, and yes, even its long-standing traditions, get my heart racing.
Along my travels, I’ve been on a Super Duper Top Secret Mission that, honestly, I didn’t even mean to be on: visit all of the SEC college campuses and stadiums and take in each one’s unique experience and culture. To date, I’ve done 12 of the 14 schools. Some were as a teenager. Some were very recent. Some were brief. Some lasted a few days. All of them offered something.
The two towns I have yet to visit are College Station, TX and Fayetteville, AR. I’ve been near both of them along my travels, but for whatever reason I did not take the plunge.
My trips to Athens, GA, Gainesville, FL, and Columbia, SC were essentially non-events as I recall. I remember the hedges in Athens, the blonde hair in Gainesville, and that Columbia is the hottest place on Planet Earth.
The remaining nine, however, all have a place in the scrapbook, memories emblazoned in my brain for a lifetime.
I took a brief tour recently in Tuscaloosa, AL, but with school not yet in session, I had to rely on the history oozing out of the campus to paint the picture for me.
It was a fun time to be in Starkville, MS two months ago, with Mississippi State’s baseball team winning the College World Series. The town was buzzing, though half of its residents were in Omaha with the team. I highly recommend the gulf shrimp tacos from Two Brothers Smoked Meats and the grilled cheese and baked beans from The Little Dooey. If you golf, 25 minutes away are Mossy Oak and Old Waverly, a sublime pairing basically right across the street from each other.
I bebopped around Knoxville, TN a couple of years ago, a town completely covered in orange. As the sun set, I found a spot perched high above the Tennessee River and Neyland Stadium and snapped a couple of pics, imagining the throngs tailgating in their boats on game day.
I drank my first frosty barrel-aged bourbon beer (delicious) in Lexington, KY a few years ago, sharing some laughs with my friend Gazza, who was randomly in town, at a local hotel bar adjacent to Rupp Arena.
I sat through a vicious storm in Columbia, MO, my first real experience with a Midwestern pop-up tornado. Real talk, I pulled over at a gas station, uncertain of what to do and scared to freaking death.
I ate some incredible red beans and rice in Baton Rouge while visiting the campus. I had no idea a live, full-grown tiger prowled outside of the stadium, so that was interesting. But the most intriguing thing to me about Baton Rouge is how you can look inside Tiger Stadium from the bridge high above the Mississippi River as you leave or enter town. Every time I cross it, I peer in, fascinated.
I loved the hot chicken at Hattie B’s in Nashville, TN, which is hilarious because I was there to run a July 4th 10k. I made a side trip to the super cool store Imogene + Willie, a place that provides excellent clothing, but even better life quotes.
My day in Auburn was every man’s fantasy. Golf at 7am. Birdiefest with your buddies. Shower. Change. Tailgate. Eat. Drink. SEC football clash. War Eagle.
And last but certainly not least, The Grove in Oxford, the swankiest, most dressed up tailgate experience in America. I’ve done it twice, I believe, preceded both times by steaks at nearby Como Steakhouse the night before. I’m not sure anyone actually cares about the game, but the fashion, the pomp, the circumstance…
Since we are sharing secrets today, I’ll tell you one more: even though I live in SEC country now, I’m indifferent towards any specific team down here. I’ve had fun everywhere. I’m a Penn State football fan, and I love watching the Big Ten. The northern cities and the fall leaves make me feel in love.
Want to know something even crazier? When I get home from the golf course on Saturday (or Thursday) night, I love watching the Mountain West and the PAC 10. I could give two shits about the actual games, but when the camera pans out on the Colorado State at Utah game, I look out at nature and remember my abk journey, my being right there.
And I smile and think to myself, ‘Tis the season.
Have a great week.-Benj
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