By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Players and coaches aren’t the only ones who have to adjust their gameday schedule for a late kickoff.
Take Jeff McDonald and Marilyn Johnston. The two Mississippi State fans normally arrive at the Junction tailgating area around 7 a.m. But with MSU and Tennessee not kicking off until 8:11 p.m., they waited until 10 a.m. to show up.
And it was still a long day of tailgating for McDonald and Johnston, who together head up the Ultimate Fan Tailgate, a group that on Saturday included 70 or 80 people.
“This will probably be the longest (tailgate) of the year, but as you can see we’re having a great turnout,” said McDonald, who lives in Southaven. “People are enjoying themselves. As long as you can see people smiling, socializing and having a good time, reliving good memories, it’s worth it.”
A late kickoff gives the gameday atmosphere a different feel. Instead of fans showing up at about the same time, their arrivals were more spread out.
“Some of the early games, everybody kind of disperses pretty quickly,” said Tupelo’s Jay London. “But this way everybody can get down here when they want to and still talk to folks and have a good time beforehand.”
Chris Hussey, also of Tupelo, liked the late kickoff because it gave him more time to explore campus. The 2005 MSU grad can only get to four home games this year.
And getting onto campus was relatively easy this weekend.
“The traffic is not (bad) coming in this time, it’s going out when it’s over,” Hussey said. “People were here when I got here at noon, and I was surprised. But it wasn’t full, and we were able to walk around campus and got some cheese, just stuff that I wouldn’t normally do.”
More time to tailgate also means more time to eat. Johnston said she started cooking at noon and figured she’d go “non-stop” until 6:30 or 7. London estimated that he would eat about “50 percent more than what I take in on a normal day.”
The major disadvantage to such a late start is that fans will get home late. McDonald anticipated leaving campus by 1 a.m., and Hussey was expecting to get back to Tupelo around 3 a.m., “and that’s if we don’t stop at the Waffle House.”
Work or Fun? Yes.
Tailgating can be a lot of work, especially for McDonald, who didn’t go into Davis Wade Stadium so he could watch after his two small children.
“It’s like running a business pretty much, just for the fun of it,” he said.
Johnston said the ideal kickoff time is 6 p.m., and other fans said the same.
But it sure beats kicking off before noon, “because you can barely get out here and eat breakfast, and you’ve got to go,” Johnston said.
MSU athletics director Scott Stricklin was taking a run through campus around 9 a.m. Saturday, and he noticed fans already under their tents, getting the long day of tailgating started.
“In some ways the late kickoff makes that better, because they get more time to do it,” Stricklin said. “I don’t know that we want to have an 8 o’clock kick every time – I think we prefer a little earlier than this – but the uniqueness of it adds to the special-ness of the atmosphere.”