Saturdays in the South

First published in Current Magazine in 2007.

It is said that in the Midwest college football is a way of life but in the South it is a religion. The Third Coast states comprise the cultural epicenter of college football. In fact this handful of states has claimed 21 of the last 49 national championships from Auburn University in 1957 to the University of Florida in 2006. At least five SEC programs are considered contenders for this year’s title. Eight of the twelve Southeastern Conference programs are lead by head coaches that have won a national title as a player or coach.

Along the way this area has been witness to nine Heisman Trophy winners (Tim Tebow makes #10) and bona fide dynasties at the University of Alabama (1960 – 1980), Florida State University (1988 - 2000), and the University of Miami, FL (1983 – 2002) and what would qualify as dynasties in any other part of the country from the University of Georgia (1975 – 1990), the University of Tennessee (1994 – 2001), Auburn (1982 – 1990), and Florida (1990 – 2000). Presently, LSU, Auburn and Florida may in fact be in the midst of modern-day dynasties, only time will tell.

It is no wonder that with such unequaled tradition that fans of Southern schools take this particular amusement quite seriously. Tailgating and other game day traditions are all part of the pageantry of southern college football. Generation to generation families are passing down their Saturday rituals like they were cherished heirlooms. In a multi-part series we will take a look at the sacrament and spectacle of Saturday’s in the South.

But for those unable to make it to campus there are plenty of options to help channel that game day excitement. We are speaking of course about those bastions of masculinity adorned with flat panel TV’s and memorabilia engineered to enhance the pastime, nay the art of watching football known as sports bars. Whether you prefer your Tigers from the Bayou or crouching, awaiting hapless prey; regardless if your first stuffed animal was Big Al or Albert E. Gator you can always find like-minded individuals at one.

Our tour of places to catch a game begins in downtown Mobile at the one and only Heroes Sports Bar (Dauphin St.). Dave Rasp’s first mega-successful downtown venture is the blue-collar alter-ego of The Royal Scam (Royal St.). Heroes is like that old college buddy who never married and is always up for a round of brewskies. Featuring beer from around the world and the nefarious Big Ass burger the fun never ends. Just steer clear of Wayne Gardener’s favorite barstool.

Former Tide All-American Bob Baumhower has opened two area satellites of his Tuscaloosa institution Wing’s (Airport Blvd. and Hwy. 90 in Daphne). Ingenious d├ęcor and an imaginative menu are only a part of what makes Wing’s so popular. Elevendy-bazillion TV’s doesn’t hurt. As the name suggests hot wings are the stars of the team, but other role-players include the black and white chicken, Cuban pork roast, and the heart stopping fried ribs. Baumhower’s secret to success is giving the sports fan exactly what they want.

Many area seafood houses are also great segregate sports bars, but one in particular can hold its own with any of the real McCoy’s. The Wintzell’s in Fairhope (Scenic Hwy. 98) has a picture perfect bar for catching all of the games. Twenty-sum-odd TV’s mounted in a semicircle that provides a view of every possible game from wherever you sit. If your team loses meaning you have to buy your pal dinner tell him how awesome the Po’ boys are; if you win then order the big ribeye topped with a half dozen fried oysters.

Believe it or not, the Whiskey (Hwy. 90 near Azalea) has a nice little sports bar partially sequestered from the line dance floor, the cage fighting ring, the mechanical bull, and the game room. It is a little more luxurious than the other aspects of this grown-up amusement park; perhaps it is geared towards the sophisticated good ‘ole boy. The comfy couches will keep you calm as you watch your team on one of the giant flat screens.

Other notables include the Trophy Club on Halls Mill Rd. featuring terrific wings, burgers, and assorted sandwiches. The Loft at Lester’s (Canal Rd. Orange Beach) offers 20 screens for viewing and amazing food like pane’ed catfish Orleans and a 20 ounce fat boy ribeye. Even though Dreamland Barbecue (Old Shell Rd.) is not a sports bar, per se, it certainly acts like one with great food, hoards of TV’s, and unquestioned football synergy. And there are a number of national concepts to choose from like Hooters (three locations) and Beef O’Brady’s (two locations).

Next we begin our expedition of the South’s finest tailgating in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
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