Nick's Big SEC Adventure
Hog fan Nick Jones
My tour of the Southeastern Conference is now complete.
I have attended a Razorback football game in every stadium in the Southeastern Conference, and I have attended the Southeastern Conference Championship Game featuring Arkansas.
I have never been to the Sugar Bowl, so that's still out there. Ditto Citrus, Peach, and lesser bowls, but the Sugar is the one of "record".
Favorite: Tennessee. The Best SEC experience out there. If you can only attend one road game ever, Tennessee is it. Whatever you may say about it, Neyland Stadium is one of the most impressive stadiums in College Football; it's the real deal.
The Tennessee fans are the most knowledgeable football fans in the Southeastern Conference (including ours). From children to old ladies, they know their football. It's impressive to hear a 30 year old woman, dressed head to toe in orange, toddler on hip (also in orange), spouting YOUR quarterback's passing stats and asking in-depth questions about your defensive schemes.
The campus is historic, handsome, and sited beautifully on the Tennessee river. The Vol Walk is unsurpassed, as is the Tennessee Navy. The Pride of the Southland is one of the top bands in the nation, not just the SEC. Their pregame show (featuring a very gracious salute to the visiting team) is one of the best in the SEC, and gets their fans pumped up. When Tennessee scores, you cannot hear the 400 piece Pride of the Southland due to excessive noise. They really know how to support their team, silent when their team is on offense, shaking the rafters when their team is on defense; it is deafening when they are really cranked.
Their traditions are outstanding. From the sea of orange in the stands to the orange and white fireworks to the orange checkerboard endzones, there's no doubt at all, "It's Football Time in Tennessee".
Runners-up: Georgia, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, in that order. All great campuses. All outstanding representatives of the Southeastern Conference in all its glory. Each has something unique to itself (Georgia=tradition, Auburn=friendliest fans in the SEC next to us, LSU=best food and overall great experience, Ole Miss=The Grove, unbeatable tailgate). Each has an outstandingly beautiul or impressive stadium, loyal fans wearing school colors, beautiful women, and impressive campus. Who couldn't love the hedges, Uga's tomb, the current Uga, the War Eagle soaring majestically in, Toomer's Corner, boudin, crawfish etouffe, the Fighting Tiger Band playing "HOLLLDDD THAT TI-GER!" (and resulting roar), and the sight of 10,000 tents surrounded by antebellum buildings and 100 year old oak trees, with crystal chandeliers, silver that was in the well at Vicksburg, and ladies in high heels and pearls for a football game?
Any of these road trips are WELL worth your time, energy, and money. I am so thankful I have been able to see and do all this.
Next tier, in order: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky. While each has something cool to offer (Alabama=tradition, handsome campus; Florida=cool stadium, hot women; Kentucky=nice stadium), these are a bit lacking in "atmosphere". Alabama is a quiet stadium (their arrogant fans expect to win, so why get fired up when their team makes a TD?), nice campus full of a lot of arrogant pricks and a few nice folks; Dreamland makes up for a lot there. Florida=hot women, great stadium, nice campus featuring live oak trees and spanish moss and palm trees, good architecture; little else to recommend it. Kentucky = reasonably nice stadium, decent if not great fans, very little gameday atmosphere.
Bottom of the barrel (also in order): South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State. Other than the cockabooses (big deal), South Carolina's unimpressive stadium has the worst ingress and egress in the SEC (walking down a railroad track with broken glass and weeds to get into the stadium is not my idea of a good time). Snotty fans with no reason to be. Campus is spread out and urban, stadium is not on campus. Columbia is like Little Rock, without the charm. Vanderbilt HAS no gameday atmosphere; it's like playing Rice. At least you're in Nashville, fwiw. Mississippi State is ugly and its mother dresses it funny. Crappy stadium on ugly campus in pitiful town in the middle of nowhere full of crass redneck fans with ugly attitudes. I mean, there is nothing at all to recommend MSU.
Overall, I have to say that the Southeastern Conference is outstanding. It is college football at its finest; I would proudly put up any SEC school (even MSU) against almost anything the rest of the country has to offer. I would put our top tier up against anybody in the country, even-on, and I have no doubt whatsoever which would turn out the winner. Tennessee or Michigan? PLEASE! Auburn or Ohio State? Give me a freaking break here! Arkansas or Texas? Absolutely no contest at all (and I'm totally serious).
What's that you say? Where does Arkansas fit in?
For those of you who have never been to an away game, let me tell you: Arkansas fits very nicely, imho, between Tennessee and Georgia, Auburn, LSU and Ole Miss. In other words, we're second or third in the SEC overall, in terms of tradition, facilities, campus, women, friendly knowledgeable fans, and overall gameday experience. Our Band is as good as or better than the Million Dollar Band, the Tiger Band (both the Plains and Bayou Bengal variety), the Redcoat Band, and the Rebel Band. The Pride of the Southland gets the nod on sheer size alone. Ole Miss has us on tailgating (including The Grove over The Golf Course); Tennessee has us on size; UGA and Auburn are, in my opinion, our equals in almost all respects, LSU has us on stadium size and tailgating. We have, with actually no competition, the nicest facilities in the Southeastern Conference, and the best OVERALL facilities in the Southeastern Conference (thank you, J. Frank Broyles).
In "Overall Gameday Experience", we are, imho, among the best in the top conference in College Football. That ain't too shabby, folks.
It has been my great privilege to represent the University of Arkansas at these other venues, and I hope to be able to continue to do it for many years to come.
If you've never done it, you owe it to yourself to go. It's fun to be in a small band of red-clad faithful, screaming your head off in the corner seats (worst in the house) at some huge hostile stadium, and have your players (on the opposite side of the world), hear you and turn around and point at you.
There's nothing like the thrill of being in some hostile environment, vastly outnumbered, and seeing your cheerleaders running across that field with a big HOG on one side and the State Flag of Arkansas on the other. It makes you stand up taller and stick out your chest with the "A" on it. It makes you Call the Hogs with all your might, to coin a phrase.
You see your team down there---the TRAVELING unit, which is so much smaller, in that cauldron of noise in Knoxville or Athens or Auburn or Baton Rouge, and you truly would jump out of the stands to help them if you could. You want them to win so badly you can taste it, not for yourself, but for THEM. You find yourself willing the ball to fly down the field into the waiting arms of your receiver.
Favorite memories: the back of Fred Talley's shirt flapping in the breeze as he runs away from our fans, toward the opposite end zone, with the ENTIRE Auburn football team hopelessly chasing him; Todd Wright's field goal soaring toward me and KNOWING it's going in, and hearing that ROAR from the Razorback section and 96,000 people being silent; Matt Jones scrambling around in his own endzone, and hurling the ball at a flying Richard Smith---I'm telling you, the world stood still for a few seconds, it was all slo-mo, and I can still feel my heart stopping; Me and RazorMatt and a few thousand of our little friends Calling the Hogs ALL THE WAY DOWN THE RAMP at Oxford, our knees buckling from the stress of the 7 overtimes (a much better game than the Kentucky game last year).....
What a long, strange trip it's been.
Football is just a game; eternity is forever; NEVERTHELESS, GO HOGS!!!!!!!
See y'all at the Georgia game!!!!!
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