What is Southeastern Conference football? • Best conference … Yes! • Best venues … Yes! • Best marching bands … Yes! • Best tailgating … Yes! • Best fans … Yes!
From the northern point of Lexington, KY to the southern portion of Baton Rouge, LA, Southeastern Conference football is almost a religion in itself.
In 1992, the SEC expanded to the Ozark Mountain region of Fayetteville, AR and to the eastern boundary of Columbia, SC to make this league unmatched in terms of the quality, quantity, or just about any other measure you can think of when it comes to college football.
10 of the current 12 schools are charter members of the SEC, beginning that membership in 1933 – 74 seasons ago. Three other original members – Sewanee (‘41), Georgia Tech (‘64), and Tulane in (‘66) – defected the league for various reasons and only the Razorbacks and Gamecocks have been invited to join this elite conference.
Pride and passion …
One thing you notice in traveling to each SEC site is the pageantry, history, and proud allegiance of being a member of the nation's top football conference. From street signs displayed in Athens, GA or Oxford, MS signaling championship seasons or heroes of yesteryear to buildings or grounds in Tuscaloosa, AL and Knoxville, TN honoring famed coaches and players, SEC schools intertwine the best of collegiate athletics and academia.
After following the Gamecocks to such places like Blacksburg, VA and Atlanta, GA – and just about every other ACC or Independent venue (Chapel Hill-NC, Clemson-SC, Durham-NC, Greenville-NC, Raleigh-NC, Winston-Salem-NC, etc.) on the east coast in between that area during the Gamecocks' "Independent" days, I can attest that the Southeastern Conference is unparalleled in terms of ‘road trips'.
Factor in the on-the-field product, as witnessed by the league's 23 recognized National Championships amongst the existing members, and the football alone is a testament to the national boasts of the SEC as the premier college football conference.
On the road …
But, when you actually view a SEC game at such places as Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium or Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, you experience the best of what has to be the envy of every other conference in the country. Where else in the United States do facilities become some of the largest ‘cities' in that particular state? The structures themselves are as impressive engineering feats as anything else in our society and a point of pride and emphasis for campuses in the SEC.
Tailgating at these spots often begins the day before the game itself – try getting a place near The Grove in Oxford on Friday or a sidewalk space in Auburn 24 hours in advance, good luck!
But, the way that SEC fans can pull for their team, yet welcome a fellow conference guest is just a treat in itself. Sure, the Navy-and-Orange clad fans of Auburn will yell, "War Eagle", during their pre-game, but at the same time they revel in the chants of "Game-Cocks" by the South Carolina faithful carpooled and huddled together.
The same thing goes on in Gainesville while parking at some UF student's rented home, but who undoubtedly collects his ‘beer money' from the $20 he's charged you to park in his front yard.
How about the Alabama fans who will tailgate with you and incorporate you into their group when your van's battery has died after leaving the lights on all game and waiting for a AAA representative to get you going again – and after a rare opponent win at Bryant-Denny Stadium like South Carolina's in 2004?
The same thing can be said for the folks at Ole Miss, where you park on a hill beside the beautiful baseball complex and discuss the matters of the day with people from Jackson, Tupelo, and Philadelphia – Mississippi that is, not Pennsylvania!
It is an unbelievable experience and really harkens on the ‘Southern hospitality' mantra that this region is renowned.
Another point to consider is the fact that in 2005, 11 of 12 SEC teams ranked in the Top 50 nationally in average attendance – only Vanderbilt was excluded from this list and that doesn't gauge the 90.59% capacity of 40,000-seat Dudley Field at Vanderbilt Stadium. Of the 21 teams that averaged more than 70,000 fans per game last year, seven reside in the SEC led by Tennessee's number of 107,593 – and that was during a very un-Vols like 5-6 campaign. In fact, five of the Top 10 and seven of the Top 16 teams are SEC members. When you talk SEC football, the fanatical followings are one of the first items that comes to mind!
Go ‘insert team', Go SEC! …
Most SEC fans are unlike any others. When a Georgia fan watches the opening weekend of college football in 2006 and sees Tennessee hosting California, you can bet that most Bulldogs will be pulling for UT, their ‘hated' conference brethren. But, it is that "love" displayed from each institution that truly realizes the big picture – we all want ‘our team' to win when it comes to head-to-head contests, but we will also rally around our ‘brothers-in-arms' when it comes to them facing an opponent from another territory.
Don't believe me? Look around in December and January during Bowl season and check out your local watering holes to see how many Florida fans pull for South Carolina in the Independence Bowl or to view a Mississippi State supporter cheering on LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Go SEC!!!
Enjoy the experience …
What does this all mean?
Soak it up! This is a unique experience and totally different landscape than what any other conference has achieved!
SEC football spans more than 24 hours in a day. In fact, it encompasses us fans seven days a week and 365 days annually. It never goes away!
Now, in August, we savor the daily nuggets plied from each practice. Next month it will be either the euphoria of a great start for some teams or the anguish of "what might have been" after starting out of the gates slowly. In October it will be conference races, followed by a November of final stands (or falls).
Come December, after the crowning of a 15th SEC Champion involving an East Division-West Division showdown, we will start the scenario of bowl match-ups, coaching searches, and recruiting – only to do it all over again soon enough.
But, until then, I encourage all SEC fans to get out and hit the road in support of your favorite team. Trust me, you won't be disappointed!
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