Football season winding down at Williams-Brice Stadium can only mean one thing: it’s time for the most anticipated game -- and deep seated rivalry -- between USC’s Gamecocks and the Clemson Tigers.
Tailgating, as you know, is as big as the game itself. For some, tailgating out the back of a pickup truck with a platter of chicken tenders and a few cases of beer is all it takes. But that’s rookie stuff compared to these three tailgaters.
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Old School Tailgater
Michael Oana, 47, has been tailgating USC games since he enrolled at USC in the fall of ‘89, and since then he’s only missed 10 home games.
He’s been tailgating at the SC State Fair Grounds with the same 12 couples for the last 15 years, and their set up consists of four tents over nine parking spots with a grassy area they consider “spill over.” They bring high top cocktail tables, a generator, a big screen TV with high-end RV satellite and a communal pool of food and drinks. During day games kids tag along, making the environment kid and family friendly.
His best advice for rookie tailgaters: plan ahead, arrive early and check with the host to see what supplies you can bring.
“SC fans take their tailgating very serious and it’s something I believe that we have some of the best tailgaters. Tailgating at USC is a way of life. Our tailgating is second to none.”
Gourmet Gents in Gamecock Tents
Chris Millar, 41, is probably one of the most celebrated tailgaters today. As one-third of the Gourmet Gents, which formed seven years ago in Cockpit Park, Millar and his partners, Don Iorio and Dan Weaver, have grown from a parking lot setup to tented, ticketed events in the Hampton Plaza on the State Fair grounds. On any given gameday, their tailgates can net anywhere from 50 to 75 people.
“I say this all the time, but we don’t want to do your normal hamburgers and hot dogs. Nothing wrong with that, but for us we decided we wanted to do what we would do at home, which is more on the gourmet end,” says Millar.
So what’s his advice to a rookie tailgater?
“Things that you always want to have with you are duct tape, zippy ties, and when it comes to food and beverage, you can never have too much ice,” he says. “And I think it’s always helpful to have zip locks or press and seal, something that you can cover food with and put it back in the cooler. Especially if you plan to go into the game and have it after.”
“This Clemson one is going to be monstrous,” said Millar. “We’re calling it a “cock-tail party” since it’s a night game. We have a tailgate partner that’s sending us prime ribs and pork tenderloins. We’re going to play Sinatra and Tony Bennett. We have a bartender that’s going to make martinis and we’ll have an ice sculpture with a gamecock on it in the shape of a martini glass.”
And if that doesn’t sound amazing enough, you should know that former USC starting quarterback Connor Shaw will stop by the Gourmet Gents tent for the Clemson game. And for the record, Shaw asked them if he could stop by. They’re just that good.
All aboard Cocky’s Cockaboose
As USC alumni go, Garrett Humphries has school spirit to share. In fact, from 1998 to 2001 he did just that as Cocky, the school’s mascot.
Now, 38, and a district manager for a pharmaceutical company, Humphries has a new roost to tailgate from: his very own train car on the “Cockaboose Railroad.” As one of the most coveted tailgating experience you can get at Williams-Brice, Humphries purchased the caboose for an undisclosed amount on May 31, 2017 and decided to do a complete restoration on it.
Humphries’ caboose has custom pillows, gamecock cabinet knobs, Carolina bar stools and even his jersey, gloves and tights from his Cocky uniform on display under glass. Athletic directors, Will Muschamp’s wife, Carol, and even the current Cocky have dropped by.
Humphries says for the tailgate itself, he chooses his menu through Seawell’s Catering each week, and enjoys the minimal setup involved inside the luxe caboose.
But like everyone else, Humphries has advice for rookie tailgaters: “it depends on where you’re tailgating, but you always need to know how many guests you need to accommodate for your tailgate and plan accordingly for the weather.”