At the massive Stoll family tailgate, Lester Stoll stands beside a Daihatsu Hijet mini truck, decked out in Auburn orange and blue, "War Eagle" on its front and a margarita tap on the side. Stoll, who lives across from campus, bought the truck from the university. "They say this took [former Auburn star] Bo Jackson off the field in '85 when he was hurt," Stoll says.
The Stoll group includes the keepers of the famous Tiger Walk banner, which players touch at the start of their procession. In its 24th season, the banner travels to most Auburn road games. It made it to Glendale, Ariz., for the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 10, 2011, when the Tigers beat Oregon for the national championship.
"This is what it's all about," says Dick Glenn of Enterprise, Ala., who shepherds the banner with Ron and Cindy Terry, of Lawrenceville, Ga. "The interaction between the Auburn family."
The Auburn family celebrates late that afternoon, as their Tigers build and then squander a 20-point lead, only to win on a miraculous 73-yard touchdown catch by Ricardo Louis after a deflection on fourth and 18. After the game, fans march toward Toomer's Corner, bypassing a young man in a Cam Newton jersey selling toilet paper and chanting, "Continue the tradition."
In minutes, the light posts above the intersection of College Street and Magnolia Avenue are draped with paper.
Life is good on the Plains on this night. Auburn is 10-1 and has exceeded all expectations. The Iron Bowl is next, and the best is yet to come.
CLEMSON, S.C. -- For a place that regularly packs in more than 80,000 fans for its home games, Clemson can feel awfully small.
We're not just talking about the city, with a population of 14,000, or even the campus, which isn't the sprawling behemoth that houses many other major programs.
It's the people who make Clemson feel small, in the best way possible. Tigers fans form a close-knit community that reunites on game days. Everybody knows everybody here, it seems. And if not, few strangers are left by the end of a football weekend.
"Some teams have a nation, like Gator Nation at Florida," said Rob Bashore, a 1992 Clemson graduate. "Clemson fans aren't a nation. We're a family."
"Family" is the word that popped up repeatedly while visiting with Tigers fans before a game against Georgia Tech. It helps that there are easy through-lines for generations to connect, from lasting traditions to familiar haunts.
Start at a place like Mac's Drive-In, which isn't actually a drive-in but a small diner that opened in 1956. From the looks of the wood paneling and Formica counters, not much has changed since then. A cheeseburger here costs $3.05. Yellowing photos of famous Clemson athletes line the wall. Founder Harold "Mac" McKeown fed many of those athletes and coaches before passing away in 2009.
"People still come back from all over," said Ted Hunter, who manages the diner with his father. "People who went to school here now bring their grandkids in."
No trip to a Clemson game is complete without a stop at the Esso Club, a 1920s-era gas station that was transformed into a sports bar in 1985. The Esso proudly proclaims that it's Clemson's oldest place to get a beer, serving suds since 1933.