Could Auburn Tailgating look like this in the near future?
Autumn is my favorite time of the year. I believe it's the most beautiful as well. I have been blessed to experience some of the most wondrous autumn scenes in America; from viewing the beautiful colors on a cool crisp day in New England, to feeling the cold wind blowing off Lake Michigan in Chicago, to watching the turning of the leaves in the West Virginia Mountains. America is truly a beautiful country. As inspiring as those places are, there is nothing like fall Saturdays in Dixie, particularly if you spend them 'neath the sun kissed skies of Auburn.
Every autumn for three generations our family has made the trek to east Alabama to watch the Tigers play and to bask in the glow that is uniquely Auburn. The football game is immensely important, but for me and thousands of others just being there is part of the experience. Yes tailgating on the Plains ... there is nothing else like it
Tailgating is one of the great things about college football. And tailgating at Auburn is one of the best in all of America. In a recent Associated Press poll, Auburn was ranked ninth as the best college in the nation for the tailgating experience. I think the poll must be skewered for no place on earth could possibly compare to the Loveliest Village.
Some of our most treasured memories as a family are intertwined with Auburn autumns. Reunions with old friends, meeting new friends, watching our children enjoy the day, and now ... watching their children enjoy the day. It all makes me feel blessed. It also makes me think, "This is just a little like I expect heaven to be." Well, maybe not exactly but, "If heaven ain't a lot like Auburn, then I don't want to go."
As much as it saddens me to admit it though, it appears tailgating at Auburn in the traditional sense is in danger of becoming a thing of the past. Is nothing sacred anymore? The tradition of family, friends, and even opposing fans celebrating this unique autumn experience is being threatened. Folks need to wake up before it passes off the scene.
We have been tailgating on the same corner for over 35 years and it's getting more difficult every year to continue the family tradition. The University has closed off so many streets to parking and tailgating to the point that the law of supply and demand has caused our traditional location to be endangered as displaced Auburn fans scurry for a spot to continue enjoying their own traditional rite of fall.
This Saturday I witnessed another move by the administration that had the effect of impeding tailgating and the game day experience for fans. Heretofore parking has been allowed on Samford. When I arrived on campus this past Friday, there were four foot orange cones (with no parking signs attached) lining both sides of Samford from the President's mansion all the way to the athletic fields. Now this is just the latest move in what seems to be a University decision to rid the campus of cars and cutback on tailgaters. If this trend continues, Auburn tailgating as we have known it for over a hundred years will disappear in five to ten years.
One might could understand moving the RV's away from the stadium, installing the sidewalk chains and ropes a few years ago to keep cars off the grass, the closing of roads due to new buildings (even to the point of closing off the Hayley Center and bookstore to access by vehicle), and maybe even the closing of Roosevelt from Mel to the Stadium for a pedestrian walking style plaza to the games.
However, this latest action defies logic. If you are running a business for profit (and college football has to generate a profit) then it would seem that you would want to make things easier for your customers - not more difficult. Although The University has worked hard to continually improve the game day experience, the increasing reduction of game day parking on campus has had the effect of choking off tailgate spots, and making tailgating more difficult for thousands of "Auburn family" members.
Tailgating on the beautiful Auburn campus is unique. It's not like trying to tailgate in downtown Knoxville and Columbia; or in the over crowded fair like experience of the Grove at Ole Miss. It is a simpler, relaxed family atmosphere.
It has always been part of what makes games on the Plains so special. But with the addition of rental tents in front of both the stadium and the new basketball arena, it appears that the Ole Miss 'Grove' type experience is what Auburn is moving toward. If the school ultimately makes it where you almost have to rent one of their new tailgating spots to have the opportunity ... then our three generation family tradition will come to an end. If that happens, it will be a sad day for the Elder family.
I take no joy in sounding this alarm. To paraphrase the late Southern heroine Ada Bacot, "Oh beautiful Auburn, thou are dearer to me than all else earthly. I love Auburn and as long as I live let me tread on Auburn soil and when I die, let my remains be covered by her warm and genial sod."
In the mean time Auburn tailgater, cherish the moments you have left. And if you have not enjoyed an autumn day tailgating on the Plains ... do it now, before you miss out on one of life's greatest treasures.