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Categories: FEB/MARCH 2024, FOOD & DRINK, RECIPE, Sports

Tailgate traditions: Our teams and the tastes that bring us together

By Dr. Lisa Mayfield Spence


Oh, the tailgate. The great autumnal tradition is not your average picnic. It’s better – it has football. Here in Macon, whether we’re cheering on the Bears, Bulldogs, or Yellow Jackets, everyone we spoke to agreed that the most important thing to know about tailgating is that the eating is good – and the sense of community is even better.


The Bears bring the party home

Tailgating in Macon has been popular since the first game at Mercer University’s Five Star Stadium in 2013. “Our alumni and friends grew up tailgating, just not at Mercer,” said B. Todd Smith, Mercer’s Associate Vice President for University Advancement. “The return of football has brought our alumni back to campus like nothing else. There are different alumni and fraternity and sorority groups at most every game. It is great seeing people stopping by other tailgates to catch up with friends.”

Ken Blair, (B.S. Organizational Leadership, 2013), co-chairs the Mercer University African American Alumni Network (AAAN), which sponsored a pregame performance at homecoming in 2023. “From reminiscing and celebrating with college friends, the delicious food, along with the Greek step-show with fraternities and sororities, and the entertainment through music with both a DJ and a live band, there’s a favorite song and dance move for everyone,” Blair said. “The high energy is continued in the stands as everyone cheers on the Mercer Bears with Toby, the band, and the cheerleaders.” 

He and fellow co-chair Katherine Ficklin have been especially encouraged by the growth and momentum of African American Alumni attending the homecoming tailgate, Blair stated. It’s not just the food or football – but also the connections made by recent graduates and older alumni who meet in the shared spirit of school pride – that make the tailgate energy jubilant. In Blair’s role as director of strategic initiatives at Wesleyan College across town, he’s even planning a Wesleyan tailgate at Mercer home games for 2024, further spreading the joy.

From inflatables for the kids to the Fall Line Beer Garden, Bear Walk, and Ford Concert Series, Smith said there’s a festive spirit across the Mercer campus. Students are encouraged to tailgate on Black Field, and fans of all ages can purchase tailgate packages through the school’s athletic department. “Our athletics program has also encouraged tailgating through celebrating a ‘Tailgate of the Week,’” Smith said. Most tailgating, however, is very organic, Smith explained, with fans setting up their own tailgates everywhere from the right field area of OrthoGeorgia Park to the areas along the Bear Walk. 

“I love that tailgating is not just for Mercer alumni,” Smith continued. “The Middle Georgia community has embraced Mercer football, and [they] are definitely a significant part of the tailgating scene.”

Millie Watson Jones (B.A. Special Education, 1988) agreed. “We love seeing friends from back in the 1980s and catching up. We also love meeting many player and cheerleader families, Mercer employees, and even a few fans of our opponents.” 

In 2013, Jones and a small group of old sorority sisters and spouses decided to buy season tickets to Mercer’s first football season. “My husband Stephen and I loaded tables, coolers, chairs, and tents to Black Field, which used to be the intramural field when we were in school there,” she recalled. “It was a great way to reconnect … and be wowed by all the changes on campus. There was so much nostalgia.”

Jones and friends still purchase season tickets a decade later but have relocated their tailgate to the RV lot. “This is such a fun spot as we take our camper and stay all weekend,” she said. Over the years, the Joneses have become part of a friendly community of regular campers. 

As far as food goes, Jones says it changes from game to game, but there’s always a theme. Among their favorites: baked potato bar, taco bar, egg rolls and dumplings, grilled cheese, chili and toppings, or appetizers, she said. Of course, a well-stocked bar accompanies any menu, Jones admitted. “We love supporting the Bears,” she said. “Mercer is a unique and beloved place, and I think it’s true that ‘we are not your average bear!’”


Alum step dance at the African American Alumni Network tailgate. Photo by Christopher Ian Smith courtesy of Mercer University.

Satterfields BBQ offers tailgate takeout packages. Owner Ben Hampton tells us that besides frequent Mercer gameday orders, it’s a go-to for locals Marty and Elmo Koplin before they hit the road to cheer on UGA.


Ken Blair poses in front of a sign for the African American Alumni tailgate. Photo courtesy of Ken Blair.


Millie Jones tailgates with family at Mercer. Photo courtesy of Millie Jones.


Dawg bites 

Barney Hester, retired athletic director for Bibb County School District and former head football coach at Howard High School and Tattnall Square Academy, knows a thing or two about how to celebrate football season. An avid University of Georgia fan, Hester and his wife Lynn have attended every out-of-town UGA game for the last two years. “We went to South Carolina, Missouri, Mississippi State, and Kentucky in the RV in 2022,” he explained. They also drove to Jacksonville and flew to California for the National Championship game that season. “This year we went to Auburn and Tennessee in the RV, drove to Vanderbilt, Florida, and to Miami for the Orange Bowl,” he said. “Our goal is to visit all of the SEC stadiums.”

Hester and his wife travel in the RV, while their two adult daughters and their husbands attend games when possible. The Hesters have six seats for home games, but with eight grandchildren and the adult children, they are seldom all able to attend home games at the same time. When together at a home game, he said, “We typically grill hot dogs and burgers with our TV set up under the UGA tent in the Print Lot. Six go in to watch the game in person, while the others stay at the tailgate and watch it live on TV.”

An efficient ramblin’ wreck 

Gene Dunwody, Jr. (B.S. Architecture, 1985) comes from a long line of Georgia Tech alumni who have been tailgating since at least the 1930s. “Dad used to tell us that they would drive up High 87 and stop in Jackson at Fresh Air BBQ on the way to Tech,” Gene recalls of his father, Eugene Cox Dunwody, Sr. “Personally, I have tailgated all my life,” he said. “My earliest GT football memory was when we played UGA in 1969 and won 6-0; I was in first grade.”

These days, Dunwody’s base tailgate group is his family. He and his wife, BJ, “tailgate with several fraternity brothers and some fellow Maconites,” he explained. “My sisters, Susan and Mary Bennet, and their husbands (all four of whom are GT grads), my brother George and his boys, my son Cody (another GT grad), daughter Chason, and son Jack.”

“My dad was chief of the tailgate pack until his death in 2021, and my mother still comes to games and tailgates with us,” Dunwody continued. “She is legendary in Section 205. We typically have four generations of Dunwodys present, with 10 season ticket seats on the 50-yard line.” The Dunwodys tailgate at every home game but also often travel and tailgate at away games, including Ole Miss, Clemson, and the Gasparilla Bowl last season.

For years the Dunwodys pulled into the GT lot an hour before the game, where they would park, pop the tailgate, eat and drink quickly, and go to the game before rushing home. “It was efficient and effective – just what you’d expect from engineering types,” he laughed. The younger generations, however, like to get there early and linger afterward, especially to celebrate the occasional win. Since GT grads are often hired far from the Peach State, Dunwody explains, “Many of my friends know that we have a strong tailgate and will join us when they come to the games. It’s good to see old friends, some of whom we have not seen for decades. They know they can count on us to entertain them.”  

Tailgates for the Dunwodys typically include beer, wine, bourbon, tequila, vodka, all of the seltzers, Bloody Marys, champagne, and mimosas “because we have a lot of noon kickoffs,” Dunwody explained. “And we sometimes do a Bloody Mary bar, which BJ calls the ‘Breakfast of Champions.’

“Oh, wait, we do actually eat, too,” Dunwody laughed. They always have either fried chicken or wings from JR Crickets, located near Tech in Atlanta. Sometimes the Dunwodys drive up through Jackson for old time’s sake and pick up Fresh Air BBQ. An old fraternity brother from Chattanooga often brings brisket, ribs, or Boston butt. “We team up with our neighbors at the tailgate to share,” he continued. “BJ brings healthy foods like fruit, cheese, veggie platters and charcuterie.” Other favorites include soups such as gazpacho, vichyssoise, chili, chowder, or lobster bisque; dips, finger sandwiches, cheese straws, chips, and crackers. “Over the last few years, we have tried to improve our tailgates,” Dunwody said. “We really like to mix it up.”

What’s your tailgate tradition? Let us know at, and send in your photos for future Faces. 


Marty and Elmo Koplin often bring a Satterfield’s feast to their UGA tailgates. Photo courtesy of the Koplin family.




BJ and Gene Dunwody get ready to cheer on Georgia Tech. Photo courtesy of the Dunwody family.



Gene Dunwody and her family friend cheer on the team. Photo courtesy of the Dunwody family.


Tried-and-true tailgate recipes

Gene Dunwody shares his mom’s recipe:

Mom's really simple super chip dip


1 (8 oz) package Philadelphia
Cream Cheese

½ cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
or sour cream

1 T. Worcestershire sauce

1 T. garlic salt

1 T. onion salt


Blend thoroughly; adjust last three ingredients to taste.

And the author shares her own:

Individual strawberry shortcake cups


1 small pound cake (homemade or store bought)

2 lb. fresh strawberries 

1 T. sugar

Fresh whipped cream


1. Cut pound cake into half-to-one-inch cubes; place several in each individual serving cup. Set aside 12 whole strawberries; slice remaining berries in small pieces and toss with sugar. Let sugared berries rest for 20-30 minutes to sweeten. 

2. To complete assembly, place desired amount of sliced, sugared berries on top of cake chunks in each cup. Top with fresh whipped cream and garnish with whole berry. Makes at least 12 individual desserts, depending on size.