Fans live for football in the Southeastern Conference,
where these college towns offer
plenty to cheer about away from the field.
By Shelly A. Schneider
|In the South, college football fans do more than dress in school colors and paint their faces. In the South, college football is life.
Tailgating on the Friday evening before the game is not unheard of and the parties last well beyond the end of the fourth quarter. The Southeastern Conference is one of the most dominant conferences in college football, as evidenced by the 2003 Louisiana State University (LSU) Tigers, who were crowned co-national NCAA champions, along with the University of Southern California.
Visitors to the following three charming Southern communities will find a wonderful assortment of shops and restaurants, along with cultural activities and museums for adults and children.
The Cajun spirit is around every corner in Baton Rouge. While opponents may fear walking into Tiger Stadium at LSU, visitors will delight in walking throughout the downtown area.
Baton Rouge is Louisiana’s state capital, and many of the attractions are connected to politics. Former Gov. Huey P. Long was one of the state’s most colorful politicians. He served as governor from 1928 to 1932, when he was elected to the United States Senate.
The Old Governor’s Mansion is located in historic downtown Baton Rouge. The Georgian-style building was constructed for Long in 1930, and according to legend, was designed to resemble the White House.
Louisiana’s Old State Capitol is home to the Center for Political and Governmental History. Reminiscent of a medieval castle, the structure stands high on a bluff and overlooks the mighty Mississippi. As the state’s official repository of film and video archives, the Old State Capitol also houses state-of-the-art interactive exhibits.
Long, who spearheaded construction of the new state Capitol building, was assassinated in the marble corridors on Sept. 8, 1935. He is buried on the grounds. The 34-story Art Deco Louisiana State Capitol is the tallest state capitol in the United States. It was completed in March 1932.
The Mississippi River is also home to the USS Kidd, a historic warship and Veterans’ Memorial Museum. The Kidd is a World War II Fletcher class destroyer. Self-guided tours take visitors through 50 inner spaces of the ship.
Just down the street from the USS Kidd is the Louisiana Art & Science Museum, which houses the Irene W. Pennington Planetarium. Adults may browse through one of the largest American collections of works by Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, while children will delight in the wonders of hands-on art and science galleries.
Take a ride on the Capitol Park Trolley while taking in historic downtown Baton Rouge. This free service runs continuously from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
On any given home game day, a sea of purple and gold floods the Louisiana State University campus. In keeping with the French influence, fans hang banners that read “Geaux Tigers” (pronounced go Tigers). Fans arrive on the campus early in the day to claim their tailgating spot.
Not far from campus are restaurants for those who wish to experience all the flavor of Louisiana. Pastime is a great place for traditional Po’boys French bread sandwiches filled with shrimp or catfish. The Chimes, located just outside the university gates on Highland Road, features great appetizers like crab cakes, stuffed shrimp, fried alligator and boudin balls.
Picnic baskets to fine china at The Grove
The University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss, is the collegiate home of Eli Manning, the No.1 pick in the 2004 NFL draft. Located in Oxford, Miss., Ole Miss is also home to The Grove, a shady parklike setting in the middle of campus. Dewey and Theresa Knight, Oxford residents and long-time Rebel fans, explained the rich history behind The Grove.
“The Grove area on campus was laid out when university fathers planned the campus,” Dewey Knight said. “It was very much a tribute to the Greek academy and way of higher learning.”
The 11-acre Grove area gained prominence near the end of World War II. He said Ole Miss Head Coach John Vaught put the mediocre football team on the map, winning many championships.
“And that’s when people started attending football games,” Dewey Knight said. “There was nowhere for people to park, so they started parking cars in The Grove.”
Today, Rebel fans carry their things in and pitch tents to stake their territory. The Knights refer to their game-day tradition as picnicking, not tailgating.
“I’m known as the queen of the picnics,” Theresa Knight said. “We have such a variety of foods, including tenderloin, caramel cake, tomato biscuits and Bloody Marys. The picnics here range from simple baskets to full and formal with huge flower arrangements, china and candelabras.”
Ole Miss fans leave their picnic sites about 2 1/2 hours before the game to witness the Walk of the Champions. Former Rebels Head Coach Billy Brewer began the tradition in the 1980s.
“He wanted to give the players an opportunity to experience The Grove before they entered the game,” Dewey Knight said.
After a first-hand Grove experience, fans head to Oxford’s downtown district. The square is home to a variety of gourmet restaurants, home décor shops and upscale clothing boutiques.
The Knights recommend the Yocona River Inn, 12 miles east of Oxford in the town of Yocona. Taylor Grocery is another favorite. Located south of Oxford, the restaurant is an old restored grocery store.
“You can dine on the best catfish dinner, with everything,” Theresa Knight said. “A bluegrass band plays on a flatbed truck on Friday and Saturday nights.”
A trip to Oxford is not complete without a visit to Rowan Oak, the home of Nobel Prize winning author William Faulkner. And don’t miss the J.D. Williams Library located on the University of Mississippi campus. The library is home to the Old Miss Blues Archive, an extensive collection of blues recordings and related material.
“Nutts” about Arkansas
Fayetteville is home to the University of Arkansas Razorbacks and Head Football Coach Houston Nutt. It is not unusual to see Road Hogs three, four or even five days prior to a home game. These loyal Razorback fans travel to Fayetteville in recreational vehicles, no doubt decorated in red and white.
This year, five of the seven Arkansas home games will be played at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. The remaining two home games will be played in Little Rock.
Dubbed one of the top 50 sports towns in America by “Sports Illustrated,” Fayetteville clearly has more to offer than just great football. In fact, visitors go hog wild over the downtown square. Many of the commercial buildings and homes around the downtown square have been restored and mix lovingly with new buildings housing restaurants, shops and offices.
There’s nothing more pleasing for the eye and the palate than a Saturday morning stroll through the downtown farmer’s market, which is open through October. Take in the color, sample some goodies, and bring home some native crafts and locally grown vegetables, fruits and plants.
Fans head to the heart and soul of Fayetteville after the game. Dickson Street is an eclectic strip near campus, filled with colorful bistros, night clubs and galleries, like the Walton Arts Center. Jose’s is a popular restaurant, as is George’s, Chester’s, On the Rocks and Mickey Finn’s Irish Pub.
Aviation buffs might enjoy a trip to the Arkansas Air Museum, located inside the historic wooden hangar near Fayetteville’s Drake Field. The museum is home to private, military and commercial aircraft spanning 80 years of aviation history.
Can’t get enough of the Razorbacks? The University of Arkansas campus is the place to be. Located at the north end of Razorback Stadium is the Broyles Complex and the Jerry Jones-Jim Lindsey Hall of Champions. This state-of-the-art museum details the 100-year history of Razorback football. Elsewhere on campus, the Tommy Boyer Hall of Champions features displays and videos recounting the complete history of the university’s championship baseball, basketball and track programs.
College football weekends are a tradition in the South. Whichever team you’re rooting for, you’ll be the winner when you enjoy all the glory of the games in these charming cities.
Shelly Schneider is a contributor from St. Peters, Mo.
Above: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, home of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, is usually a sea of red during game days. Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism photo
Below: After games at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, fans head to Dickson Street, where you can find an eclectic collection of bars, restaurants and shops. Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion
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