Writer: Derek Herscovici | Designer: Scott Tennant | Research: Deeva Agravat
Local photos: Gabriel Burgos | Photos provided by: University of South Florida, Florida State University, University of Florida, Madison Social and Mojo’s Hogtown BBQ
Built long and flat like a gridiron, the state of Florida has fielded some of the greatest collegiate football in history. Though the game is the same, each college’s traditions and tailgating are vastly different from the next, a complex and diverse ecosystem that can take seasons to fully understand.
In order to keep things exciting and entertaining (for fans not already overly-concerned with football), South Tampa Magazine has compiled top game day options in Tampa, Gainesville and Tallahassee, so you can decide how you want your college Saturdays to play out (excluding what happens on the field).
USF football is hotter than an August afternoon right now, and fans are hyped. Raymond James Stadium may be known as the home of the Buccaneers, but it’s washed out in emerald green and gold on fall Saturdays.
First Home Game:
Stony Brook University
Most Notable Game:
University of Central Florida, Nov. 24
Eat authentic Cuban food just minutes away from the stadium in historic West Tampa at the Arco-Iris Café (4001 N. Habana Ave). The café has a broad menu and a full selection of beer and wine available. Stay for lunch or grab a Cuban sandwich and head to the tailgate down the road.
Gates for the grass parking lots surrounding the stadium open four hours before kickoff, with the rowdiest, most spirited fans typically congregating in Lots 3 and 4, which is closed to visiting fans; RV parking is designated to Lot 8. Alcohol is permitted inside tailgates and, unlike other college games, sold inside the stadium.
Inside Raymond James Stadium
Fans are encouraged to arrive early and witness the entrance of the USF marching band, the Herd of Thunder, hailing game day with a concert just outside the Raymond James gates before leading fans inside the stadium.
Brick House Tavern + Tap (1102 N. Dale Mabry Hwy) is only blocks away from the stadium and has a loaded menu of Southern and soul food-styled American standards, a stacked bar of craft and import beers and enough giant TVs to turn your ticket into a coaster.
Take a short drive to the South Howard urban college oasis MacDinton’s (405 S. Howard Ave) for a crowd or, for something quieter, head to World of Beer on Fowler for great deals on local brews (2815 E. Fowler Ave.). If you’re looking to cap off a night near campus, The Study Ale House (1925 E. Fletcher Ave) is open between 9 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. and offers cheap drinks, specials and karaoke.
First Home Game:
University of Northern Colorado, Sept. 9
Most Notable Game:
University of Georgia, Oct. 28
If you’re rolling down University Avenue on a fall Saturday morning, there’s a good chance you’ll see thousands of orange and blue fans reveling in the pre-dawn festivities, using every available space on Florida’s campus as their own personal party grounds. Beginning at 5 a.m. (or earlier), the Swamp’s most devoted will start setting their folding tables, barbecues and corn hole boards up early. The most concentrated tailgate area is immediately around Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and the Stephen O’Connell Center, also known as the “O-Dome,” which has been called the Mecca of Gator tailgating.
No SEC tailgate is complete without some kind of barbecue on game day. Named for Gainesville’s original antebellum settlement, Mojo Hogtown Bar-B-Q (12 S.E. 2nd Ave) has a whole mess of meats and all the fixings, plus a full bar. A beloved local dive, the Salty Dog Saloon (1712 W. University Ave) has beers from around the world (and wings!) alongside plenty of drink specials and brick-oven pizzas.
Inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
If this is your first time in The Swamp, prepare yourself: Florida’s sunken field at the center of the largest football stadium in the state will be loud, hot and rocking with fans. The Pride of the Sunshine marching band precedes a video intro before late PA announcer Jim Finch’s timeless “Heeeeeeeeere come the Gators” sends the football team onto the field and the fans into a frenzy.
Perfect at the finish of a late game is the High Dive (210 S.W. 2nd Ave), a live event space and beer garden that has hosted a long list of famous acts going all the way back to the early ‘90s. It’s open from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., but doors open early on game day. Come for the corn nuggets, but stay for the late night beer selection at The Top (30 N. Main St). With food and drink specials running well into the early morning, make this your last stop between party time and hitting the sack.
Twenty-three years might not seem like a long time to make history, but given all that’s happened since 1994 — three national titles, six conference titles and two Heisman winners — The Swamp Restaurant (1642 W. University Ave) is steeped in Gator tradition. With a blend of Southern comfort food and lighter options like salads, bowls and starters, the two-story restaurant can also be booked for events and large parties.
Florida State fans may still be riding the high of their 2014 BCS Championship victory, but their sights are set strictly on the future. The self-declared “best team in Florida” defeated rivals University of Florida, University of Miami and USF last year and expect nothing but victory again this season.
First Home Game:
University of Louisiana-Monroe, Sept. 9
Most Notable Game: Alabama, Sept. 2
According to the Seminoles athletics’ website, tailgating officially begins at Doak Campbell Stadium approximately five hours before kickoff, but this rule is more of a guideline for the Booster Tailgate sections in the parking lots that encircle the stadium. For everyone else, just about any open space will do, and many thousands of devoted Seminole fans will already be tailgating by dawn. Because booster parking takes up most of the lots around the stadium, those without preleased spots will need to look elsewhere.
Looking to fuel up for football but not over a folding table? Madison Social (705 S. Woodward Ave) offers a full brunch menu from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, including chicken and waffles, eggs, burgers and a wide variety of morning-appropriate alcoholic drinks. Lunch and dinner are served until closing, and with plenty of TVs, you won’t miss any of the action.
Inside Doak Campbell Stadium
Gates to the stadium officially open two hours before kickoff, leaving plenty of time to take photos with the “Unconquered” statue of Chief Osceola at the south entrance. Just before kickoff, the Marching Chiefs band prepares the stadium for a live depiction of Chief Osceola riding his horse Renegade onto the field to lead the “War Chant.”
The Palace Saloon (1303 Jackson Bluff Road) is the quintessential post-game college bar — cheap, low-key and within walking distance of Doak Campbell Stadium. In operation since 1971, the Palace and its regulars have seen it all but still turn up for every game. Potbelly’s (459 W. College Ave) may be Tallahassee’s most famous, or infamous, bar and nightclub, depending on whom you ask. One thing for certain, though, is that when the game ends, the place will feel like the epicenter of Tallahassee nightlife. Featuring live music and drinks at student-affordable prices, “Pot’s” is a Seminole favorite.
No tickets? No problem! The Legendary Spear-It Food & Spirits (609 W. Tennessee St.) is one of the few places where you can get calamari, steak, pasta and wine directly across the street from campus, though it’s got plenty of fried glory to satisfy young and distinguished fans alike. Considered the liveliest sports bar in Tallahassee, Cancun’s Sports Bar & Grill (2609 W. Tennessee St.) has TVs in every corner and is sure to be crowded on game day. While there, try the Margarona, a Corona faced down in a Cancun’s margarita: a perfect finish whether you win or lose.