Marty & McGee recall college football’s best tailgating

Each week during the 2020 season, Marty Smith and Ryan McGee will celebrate all of the stuff that makes college football great, the sights, sounds, places and pageantry that make it the greatest sport in these United States of America. You can hear and see the same kind of conversations during Marty & McGee, Wednesday evenings on SEC Network (7 p.m. ET) and Saturday mornings on SEC Network and ESPN Radio (7-10 a.m. ET). This week, the boys discuss the most awe-inspiring tailgate scenes they have witnessed during their years on the road covering college football.

Ryan McGee: We are both allowed to travel this great nation every fall visiting the greatest venues college football has to offer. Well, usually we are. What I miss most this fall, and what I am forever blown away by, is the tailgaters.

Marty Smith: We ain’t talking about someone just getting a bucket of chicken and six-pack and standing around in a parking lot. We’re talking about a real dedication to their craft.

McGee: Hundreds of hours of prep work. Thousands of dollars spent on vehicles and gear, even maritime vessels. It all makes me super jealous when I am trucking it through stadium parking lots with my backpack, headed to work.

Marty: Like The Grove at Ole Miss. I love it so much. The bourbon flows like water in the New River through the valleys of my youth. Everybody’s beautiful. Everybody’s dressed to the nines. The food is even dressed up. I was working one morning and a guy handed me a Bloody Mary that had cornbread in it, had shrimp in it, fried chicken nuggets in it, all in one Bloody Mary.

McGee: To me, that’s what separates tailgating in the Southeast from tailgating everywhere else. I grew up on Tobacco Road, and when I would go to games with my Dad (a longtime ACC field judge) at places like North Carolina, Duke and Virginia, it was polo shirts, cable-knit sweaters and khakis as far as the eye could see. Then, when I went to school at Tennessee, all of the games I went to around the SEC, everyone was dressed like they were going to a formal event, the damn Big Orange Prom, all while eating chicken legs in folding chairs.

Marty: They dress like they are going to church.

McGee: Because they kind of are.

Marty: They totally are. They’re going to have fellowship at the altar of the great pigskin places of worship.

McGee: You are in full poetry mode today.

Marty: I am indeed. I am in full passion mode. Because so are the great tailgaters. My favorite story is from down at LSU. We were about to go live on SportsCenter at 6 a.m. local the morning of a big game, and it’s like 5:45 in the morning and we’re in a big empty parking lot next to Death Valley. All of the sudden this guy appears from the mists of the bayou dressed in a purple and gold LSU Darth Vader outfit, megaphone in one hand, a glass bottle in the other and he asks me, “Hey, Marty, you want a shot of Jack Daniel’s?”

McGee: You’d always told me that story and I thought perhaps you were exaggerating the drama of the moment. But a year later, there I was in an empty parking lot next to Death Valley at 6 a.m. for SportsCenter and lo and behold, here he came, bottle in hand.

Marty: Did you partake?

McGee: As far you know, no I did not.

Marty: Same.

McGee: That’s the toughest part for me, not just jumping in there. My whole life I’ve walked through the amazing tailgating, but I’ve always been working. Dad officiated 404 college football games over four decades. The first year after he retired, he called me from a parking lot in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on a Saturday morning and said, “Damn, people have been out here doing this all this time?!”

Marty: My compromise is that I have done a lot of tailgates on TV. I have put on the championship belts and headdresses and helmets. So, I have been out there, but I haven’t been 100 percent totally immersed. We need to fix that.

McGee: Gas up my Big Red Ram and go do “Marty & McGee Gameday,” no holds barred. And I know where I want to go first. The most stunned I have ever been at the amazingness of a tailgating scene was at Iowa. You remember the scene in “Independence Day” with all the RVs?

Marty: Like a thousand of them, rolling across the desert?

McGee: Exactly. Well, that’s what it’s like in Iowa City. Hundreds of old-school shoebox Winnebagos in pristine condition. It’s like they keep them in barns all year and pull them out only for home games. Then there’s the guy who has the giant corn combine parked outside Kinnick Stadium, with the huge chute pointed like it’s going to start firing corn into the stadium like a cannon. There was even a guy at Iowa who had an old Army ambulance and had upfitted it into a party vehicle. He even had IV bags that were full of vodka.

Marty: I met one of those guys at Alabama, an old military surplus vehicle parked right next to Bryant-Denny Stadium at the Rama Jama. It had all of these storage compartments in it, so he’d retrofitted the inside with wooden benches and a huge TV and a grill inside. I was standing on top of it doing TV and he said, “You gotta come down here and sign my truck. Only one other person has signed it.” And that other person was Eric Church.

McGee: Your boy!

Marty: My boy. That was the vehicle that he exited when he was the College GameDay guest picker for Ole Miss and Alabama in 2015. So the only two dudes who have signed that big Bama truck are me and Chief.

McGee: I have seen everything from tractors to hearses to a horse-drawn carriage at a small college game. But military and medical vehicles seem to be the tailgating vehicles of choice, I suppose, because you can get used stuff at auctions. At Nebraska, there’s a guy who has the “Mobile Intensive Tailgating Unit” where he just replaced the word “Care” in what was already painted on the side. But when I met him at the College World Series, he hadn’t gotten the words fixed yet so it still said “Mobile Intensive Care Unit,” and the day I talked to him he had people coming up to him needing first aid for heatstroke, a cut leg, and a diabetic whose sugar had gotten too low. My man gave them a bandage, an aspirin and a Pepsi.

Marty: How about Dawg Fanbulance? The day we premiered the Marty & McGee TV show he brought it over to the studio and we shot the whole opening scene in it!

McGee: Yeah, and Burt Reynolds had died that very day, so we turned it into a scene from “The Cannonball Run.”

Marty: It dawns on me that we started off talking about tailgating, but we have ended up talking about nothing but tailgating vehicles.

McGee: That’s our NASCAR roots coming out, son. We’re gonna start us a convoy.

Marty: I know who can lead it. At North Dakota State, they truly had tailgating like I’ve never seen. Fargo before dawn and there were thousands of people already out. Food like you’ve never seen. A bison in a pen. They have a former fullback named Jedre Cyr whose family owns a trucking business. He would get done playing a game, take his pads off, shower and then walk right out to his North Dakota State-themed 18-wheeler and haul cattle to Canada. After the game! So that’s who is leading our Marty & McGee tailgating convoy. I’m riding shotgun with Jedre Cyr.

McGee: Fair enough, because me and the Iowa Hawkeyes combine guy will be right behind you, rolling up the highway, firing off ears of corn to America like a high-horsepower college football horn of plenty.

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