Clay Travis, a columnist for CBS Sportsline, spent the 2006 college football season traveling to each of the SEC’s 12 campuses, one a week. He tailgated with the home teams’ fans, attended the games and then wrote a book about his experiences: Dixieland Delight: A Football Season on the Road in the Southeastern Conference. For Vanderbilt fans, there’s good news and bad news.
The bad news: Vandy is the worst place in the SEC to watch a game. That is, “if you had but one weekend to live and wanted to spend it on an SEC campus watching a football game,” Vandy would be a more calamitous choice than even Mississippi State. Besides the team’s dismal record each year, Vandy students are just too damn smart to care about a game that has no bearing on their lives.
The good news, however, is that Vandy women are not only hot, hot, hot—for Travis, “the best part about going to a Vandy football game is seeing the drunk girls in their sundresses”—but are also, unlike the girls at other SEC schools, capable of carrying on conversations “without a nonsensical giggle by the third sentence.” And while Vandy girls don’t arrive until halftime and leave after the third quarter, that still leaves “fifteen minutes of third-quarter glory.”
On paper, Travis seems an unlikely candidate for SEC football fanatic. A Nashville native and resident, he’s also a graduate of George Washington University and Vanderbilt Law School, and spent time practicing law in the Virgin Islands. He knows his Faulkner well enough to pull off a very funny parody: in Oxford for an Ole Miss game, he sits with a bronze statue of Faulkner and begins, “The pulchritudinous and ponderous autumnal sun….” In one of the book’s photos, he can be seen wearing a Strand Bookstore T-shirt. In another photo, he is carrying what seems to be a library book. (A book! At a UT football game!)
But then, as Travis points out more than once, the majority of people attending attending SEC games—in 2006, 6.5 million of them—are not the stereotypical backwoods Southerners they’re made out to be. As if to prove his point, he travels, parties and watches the games with a culturally eclectic group of friends from college and law school: Indian doctors, African American and Jewish lawyers, and even his wife, a Michigan native. (In keeping with the theme of disrupting stereotypes, it should be noted that Travis’ wife is both a Vanderbilt Law School graduate and a former Tennessee Titans cheerleader.)
That said, Dixieland Delight is less social commentary than homage to SEC football, and especially the atmosphere on football Saturdays, a subject Travis can get downright poetic about:
“I was born and raised in the South, a place where, on Saturdays, the uncertain path of a football in the air seems to float on the collective breath of a region. If you don’t care who wins between Alabama and Auburn, you aren’t from Alabama. If you don’t cringe when you hear the first strident chords of ‘Gator Bait,’ then you aren’t from Georgia. And if you don’t speckle your sentences with y’all, fixin’, and reckon or still call your dad Daddy when you are seventy and he is ninety, then you’re probably not going to be familiar with everything I write. That’s okay. After all, not everyone can eat at Waffle House, or never get tired of whiskey, or turn in every direction on a football Saturday and see a gorgeous woman standing in sunlight wearing a sundress, replete with heels. But almost everyone can appreciate a road trip into the heart of a region and the exploration of football passion.”
That road trip takes Travis from his home in Nashville to Knoxville in early September, and then, week by week, through every SEC campus, finally finishing in December in Atlanta for the SEC championship game. An unabashed UT fan—his grandfather played for the Vols in the early 1930s—Travis vows at the outset to try to treat each school fairly. “I believe this is called objectivity,” he writes. “Of course I am not objective. For instance, I hate Florida.” Hard to fault a man for that.
After all is said and done, Travis sums up his journey with two lists. The first ranks schools by their general football atmosphere. Vandy is of course at the bottom; UT ranks second, behind only LSU, where, “By the time the game starts, the purple and gold uniforms of LSU’s football players at night will resemble colorful stars shooting across the southern sky.”
The other list ranks schools by the hotness of their women. “For as long as I can remember,” Travis writes, “SEC football and beautiful women have gone hand in hand” (except, apparently, at Mississippi State). While Vandy women rank third here, behind Ole Miss and Georgia, UT women come in a disappointing seventh: “As a group, UT girls are too fond of make-up, an unfortunate trend that leaves many of them looking like Joan Rivers.”While Travis is probably correct that his reporting won’t win him a Pulitzer, Dixieland Delight is conversational, engaging and often quite funny, though there’s perhaps one too many fat-girl jokes for the newer, more socially enlightened SEC fan base. Still, it’s the kind of book a football fan might even take to a game.
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