The tailgating scene in Tuscaloosa has come a long way, particularly in the last 20 years or so. The Tide stopped playing half of their home games in Birmingham’s Legion Field around 1994, when the team went from playing up to four games a year in the Old Gray Lady down to three, then two, then one. The team hasn’t returned to the relic on Graymont Avenue since the 2003 opener.
For many years fans flocked to the West Side of Birmingham for most of the big games on the Tide’s schedule. Tailgating was literally that, open the trunk of your car or the tailgate of your truck and bring your spread out. Usually you were parked in a back yard of one of the neighboring houses where you paid from $10 to $20 dollars to park.
When Auburn decided they were going to play their home game in the Alabama series at home, and with Legion Field falling progressively deeper into disrepair, the writing was on the wall. The Tide last played Auburn in the Magic City in 1998 and Tennessee in 1997. The last game Alabama played in the decrepit stadium was against South Florida on August 30th, 2003.
As a student at the Capstone from 1978-1982 we would charter a bus through our fraternity to ride to Birmingham for the games. For the games that were played in Tuscaloosa we would walk across an empty Quad before and after the games. If you have been to a home game in the last 20 years it would be hard to believe that emptiness.
After my school years we would tailgate from our trunk of an old limousine that I hard purchased. That led to eventually getting one tent and setting up across from the Quad close to Bidgood Hall. One tent grew to two, then three, then four, then five, and eventually to seven as we moved to the front lawn of Bidgood and made it our own.
Tailgating started becoming a thing over the next 4-5 years but really blew up when Coach Nick Saban came to Tuscaloosa in 2007. Suddenly the whole Quad was covered in tents and thousands of people joining in the revelry. At this point I consider Tuscaloosa one of the better tailgating atmospheres in college football.
Personally, as people discovered our tailgate it became pretty well known around campus and grew exponentially. As I was still working at the time we had employees, business associates, friends from high school, friends from college, and friends of friends of friends joining in.
We had a big tie in with baseball that led to ours being affectionately known the “baseball tent,” complete with Alabama Minor League and Major League players stopping by and bringing guys they played with on various leagues around the country. Football, basketball, and other athletes also joined in. The visitors over the years read like a who’s who of the sports world. For big games we would host an estimated 750-1,000 people. There was a bar tent with three bartenders and a television tent with four TV’s.
Of course, no tailgate is complete without food, and there was plenty of that. Three tents worth, to be exact. You name it, we probably had it, from sub sandwiches, wings, and meatballs to pizza and shrimp cocktail. For LSU games some cajun friends would cook up a pot of gumbo and some etoufee. We also served corn dogs, though not just for LSU.
The best part of all was the people we got to meet. Former heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder was a regular along with Olympic gold medal sprinter Kirani James. Many current and former Major League players stopped by including Fred McGriff, David Price, Sonny Gray, DJ LeMahieu, Dansby Swanson, Mackey Sassar, Desmond Jennings, David Dahl, Tommy Hunter, David Robertson, Wade LeBlanc, Alex Avila, Matt Downs, Spencer Turnbull, Jimmy Nelson, Adam Morgan, Taylor Dugas and Josh Rutledge.
From the basketball world players like Trevor Releford, Ben Eblin, Retin Obasohan, Lawson Schaffer, and Levi Randolph visited. Football stars such as Kyle Williams, Caleb Castille, Simeion Castille, and Damion Square as well of many families of others became friends among many other Alabama athletes including softball star Montana Fouts.
Pictures? Oh, do we have pictures. Here are just a few.
Alabama media-members Aaron Suttles, Chandler Rome, Marc Torrence, Marq Burnett, DC Reeves, Ben Jones, and many more were guests, along with ESPN’s Marty Smith and SI writer Ross Dellenger.
Even famous billboard lawyer Alexander Shunnarah joined the fun.
The Myers tailgate is probably best known for the fact that Tide baseball player Josh Rutledge met his one and only, Laura McKeeman, at the Alabama-LSU game in 2011. Laura has mentioned it on the Paul Finebaum Show multiple times. Laura has said called it “Roger and Sherry’s” tailgate, “a random tailgate”, and “the baseball tailgate” at different times. The Rutledges are a special family that we are fortunate to have in our lives to this day.
We retired our tailgate before last season after a long run. I do miss the socializing involved and even enjoyed most of the work that we had to do. This season with so many night games it has been nice to not have to do the late night breakdown that often kept us out until 2 am.
In closing tailgating in Tuscaloosa is alive and vibrant. If you can have your own, or can join in the fun, surely do it! Memories will be made.