Scenes from a Saturday

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Editor's note: During Week 12, 10 ESPN.com reporters changed conferences to experience college football in unfamiliar territory. They shared their observations and insights from their trips.  

A charmed life on the Plains

By: Adam Rittenberg

AUBURN, Ala. -- Page Remillard and his friends gather in their standard Saturday spot, atop the hill flanking Auburn's athletic complex, near the start of the Tiger Walk (the original pregame parade, Auburn fans are quick to point out; anything else is a reproduction). 

Eight couples constitute the Lake Martin Tailgate Club, one of hundreds of organized tailgates at Auburn home games. The names derive from familial connections, variations of the school's "War Eagle" battle cry or, in this case, a vacation spot about an hour away. They dine on shrimp, corn, red potatoes and sausage -- prepared by Neal Reynolds, a former Auburn kicker, and his wife, Jan -- and discuss the upcoming game against Georgia.

These are happy times, as thousands have lined Donahue Drive to welcome the 9-1 Tigers into Jordan-Hare Stadium. But the Lake Martin crew was there a year ago, too, when Auburn went 0-8 in the SEC.

"The whole culture here is real," Remillard says, "not just when we're winning."

At Auburn, football weekends don't begin at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, but days before, as RVs flood the hay fields south of Jordan-Hare Stadium and hundreds cram into Bob's Victory Grille for "Tiger Talk," coach Gus Malzahn's weekly radio show. One of the most expansive and structured tailgating scenes in college football starts quietly, as fans sit alone in the rain Friday morning, waiting to mark their areas with orange tape.

Everyone knows how successful Saturdays end at Auburn, with the rolling of Toomer's Corner, where beloved oak trees once stood until an Alabama fan poisoned them in 2010. Fewer understand the scope of football weekends for a fan base that takes unique pride in its personal connection to the school.

"The family atmosphere," athletic director Jay Jacobs said while driving through the hay fields. "Not that others don't have it, but we embrace it."

Many Auburn fans either attended the school or have ties to those who did. Approximately 40 percent of Auburn students are legacies, according to Bill Stone, president of Auburn's alumni association.

Most members of the War Damn Tailgate graduated from AU, including Trey Eiland (1996) and his brother, Parker (2002). Their parents started the tailgate 14 years ago. Gathering just north of Jordan-Hare, the group swelled to 70 before reducing to around 20.

"Last year, we just came to tailgate," says Trey Eiland, who, like many in the party, commutes from Atlanta for games. "We're nervous now. Nervous means you care."

Auburn-Georgia is the oldest rivalry in the Deep South, but the pregame mood is civil. Many tailgates include flags from both teams.

"I might think bad thoughts, but I won't do anything," Eiland says, nodding toward a Georgia tailgate yards away, "As long as you come to campus with a good attitude, you're going to get it back."

Good attitudes abound in these hay fields, where some tailgates resemble small villages, others parade floats or even museums. Many groups will have Thanksgiving dinner here, two days before the Alabama game.

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