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On the road in the SEC

Although three weeks late, the Southeastern Conference began football this past weekend.  That is not breaking news, however.  It was generously welcomed in most circles.  All interested parties have their fingers crossed that there will not be a hiccup, no backlash as the season moves forward.

A long-time friend and devout football aficionado stopped by my office in the last fortnight and began reminiscing about traveling to out-of-town games, noting that he had never been to Fayetteville, Arkansas for a game and wondered aloud what the town and campus was like.

Immediately scenes of the Razorback setting flashed into my mind’s eye.  It was easy to share with him what a trip to the campus, which was the furthermost West until Texas A & M joined the league, is like.

“Nice environment,” I immediately said.   “Northeast Arkansas is becoming and has not lost its small town feel.”  Come to think of it, that is not an issue with any of the campuses of the league—even Nashville, which is by far the biggest SEC venue.  Tennessee’s capital city remains a throwback to yesteryear when it comes to atmosphere.  Country Music, USA!  What a mesmerizing town!

Baton Rouge, Knoxville and Columbia are bigger than Auburn, Oxford, Tuscaloosa and Athens, but not enough to cause any issues when you visit their environs.

As the conversion gained momentum, I recalled, with uninhibited pleasure what I remember about Fayetteville.  It is but 30 miles from Bentonville, Ark., home of Walmart.  Alice Walton and her family founded and developed Crystal Bridges, one of the most remarkable art museums in the U. S.   So that the disadvantaged, the little guy can experience classic art, admission is free.

Not sure how to tell you how to find it, but there is a section where the family linage of Sam Walton’s wife, Helen, is referenced.  Helen Robson grew up in Sandersville and her father, Leland Robson, was a Georgia football letterman in 1905.  Her son, Rob, is named for his maternal grandfather.

Georgia’s road games this year offer some very interesting options for those who want to do more than follow the ‘Dogs.  Owing to football travel, I got my start, aside from Atlanta, experiencing the sights and sounds of my beloved South by following the ‘Dogs.

There is nothing I have ever done that I wouldn’t want to do again.  And again.  Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge was like the 8th wonder of the world if you were a country boy who had listened to the “Pick of Dixie” broadcasts on Saturday night following the Georgia games.   I couldn’t wait to see this iconic stadium.  The only place I had ever been outside the state of Georgia was to Jacksonville Beach, where an aunt lived.  Driving down the two late roads and stopping at Stuckey’s was as good as having dinner at the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

My first exposure to the “other world” was Nashville and Printer’s Alley, the buzzing nightclub row.  You can imagine the unadulterated joy I had when a Vanderbilt official took me to the Carousel for a beer and all of a sudden, Boots Randolph jumped up with his saxophone and impromptu ally played his signature number, “Yakety Sax.”

Dreamland barbecue in Tuscaloosa, visiting Pat Dye’s homestead in Notasulga, 13 miles from the Auburn campus, tailgating with Auburn alumnus Grant Harkness, who shucked raw oysters which he had ferried up from Mobile; taking side trips in South Carolina on the way to Columbia, enjoying stops at the charming villages on the Carolina coast; dinner at the Veranda in Starkville, Miss., where the Jones family, descendants of Coach Wallace Butts, remain loyal Bulldogs, but wearing the maroon of Mississippi State on Gameday; seeing the most sensational pep rally in the country on Thursday night before a home game at Texas A&M; experiencing “jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and a filet (a) gumbo” at LSU and thinking of the lyrics of many Hank Williams’ songs.

Two great cities, St. Louis and Kansas City, flank Columbia, Mizzou, highlighted by the arch in St. Louis and the Harry Truman library in KC.   Lots to see and do when you go there.  You can’t beat laid back and traditional Oxford where Faulkner remains relevant although Ole Miss football is not what it used to be.   Rowan Oak, the Grove and City Grocery.  Holy Moses, I would drive there for lunch.  It is only six hours each way.

Kentucky!  How can you beat a trip to the bluegrass state?  Bourbon distilleries, thoroughbred horses, stunning landscapes and reverberating   hospitality.   Kentucky in the fall is an unforgettable experience.

The foregoing glimpse would not even be worthy of cliff notes status, but if you get the picture, following your favorite on the road in the SEC can be an enriching and enlightening experience.