On football game day at The University of Southern Mississippi, Tony Smith doesn’t play around.
He arrives on The University of Southern Mississippi’s campus well in advance of kickoff, usually the Friday evening before, after a four hour-plus trek from Lake Charles, La. His motor home is packed to the nines with food, barbecue equipment, a television, a stereo and a variety of other amenities necessary for the pilgrimage to Hattiesburg.
“We enjoy it tremendously, being able to come home to Southern Miss to tailgate and see all our buddies,” said Smith, a 1978 Southern Miss graduate whose wife Cindy is a former Dixie Darling. “We look forward to that as much as we do the games.
“We get the grill going, the stereo cranked up and play some good 70’s and 80’s tunes. And we have all kinds of visitors come by, about a 100 or more including fans of opposing teams, and we always show them our best Southern hospitality.”
Smith said he starts packing his motor home on Friday evening, and then reviews the Saturday menu with the group of approximately 10 other groups that will meet them on campus. “We pretty much plan the menu out in advance, decide who's bringing what. So everyone pitches in with the food and the cleanup,” he said.
“I’m in charge of bringing the boudoin (a Cajun delicacy) now. I’m not allowed to come if I don’t bring it.”
It’s Smith’s enthusiasm and that of thousands of other tailgaters who descend on the Southern Miss campus on football game weekends that helped the university earn Sporting News’ designations "Best Pre-game Atmosphere," "Best Home-Field Advantage" and "Best Fans" for Conference USA by Sporting News in 2007.
Tailgating is an important part of the game day experience at Southern Miss, said Greg Herring, assistant athletic director for marketing and promotions. “The fans are what make it special and turn the day into an experience,” he said. “They make a day of it, and not just for the football game.”
Southern Miss Eagle Club director Dick Vogel agrees. “To the fans, the game is only a small part of the experience,” he said. “Hundreds of motor homes begin arriving on campus the night before, along with many others who come late at night to set up their tailgating tent in advance, so they have a good spot for the next day.
“Whether it’s a day game or a night game, the grills are going starting at daybreak.”
This year, Pride Field, located next to the Payne Center off of West Fourth Street, will be the designated area for Junior Eagle Fun Land and a host of other game day activities, said Greg Herring, director of marketing for Southern Miss Athletics.
“Pride Field will be a centralized, interactive tailgating and game day interaction area for fans and their children, with food vendors, games and carnival-style activities for the kids and our corporate tent.” Herring said.
Lucy Bowens, interim director of parking management at Southern Miss, says fans are allowed to tailgate at any spot on campus except in spots that could obstruct traffic or parking. Fans who wish to set up tailgating tents in The District, the area located in front of the Alumni House, are asked to sign up on Friday in The District with Eagle Eye security, beginning at 1 p.m., on a first-come, first-serve basis.
In addition, garbage cans are set up in various areas of campus to help fans clean up after the game-day festivities have ended. “The vast majority of fans do a good job of cleaning after game-day festivities have ended,” she said. “We just want to have the campus looking nice by Sunday afternoon.”
The sound of the drum corps practicing at the beginning of the fall semester gets Carla Carlson, serials supervisor with University Libraries at Southern Miss, in the mood for football season and the joys of tailgating at her favorite spot on Loyalty Field.
“Tailgating gives me the opportunity to get out of the library, make some noise and really enjoy another aspect of our campus culture,” Carlson said. “It’s a chance to visit with old friends, family, Southern Miss classmates and people who never took a class here.
“My friends and I are always the last ones off the field, and we plan to continue that tradition.”
Tailgating is an important part of the Southern Miss game day experience. Thousands of fans descend on the Hattiesburg campus in advance of Golden Eagle home games to cook out and visit with friends. (Submitted photo)
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.