By Nancy Spitler
Photography by Craig Mahaffey ’98 and Ashley Jones

It’s fall again in Clemson, with everything that comes along with that: Move in, Welcome Back, First Friday Parade — and football weekends.

During football season, there is no place like Clemson. No other place that’s so wall-to-wall with alumni and fans. No other place where you can find anything — and I mean anything — in orange.

Orange campers festooned with Tiger Paws roll into town on Thursdays and Fridays; orange tents are set up pole-to-pole on Saturday mornings; orange grills are lit; and Clemson-themed drinks are mixed in parking lots and fields across the campus and the town. Orange-clad fans you’ve never met before will pull up a chair, add some drinks to the cooler, and watch the game with you outside the stadium. It’s a party like nowhere else. Whether you’ve been tailgating in Clemson for decades or still trying to find your prime location, we’ve put together a guide. We hope it will help as you head to campus this fall.


We’ve been assured that despite the summer’s morass of construction, all roads leading to Clemson will be open for football season. That said, the best advice is always to arrive early. Veteran tailgaters will be setting up their tents by 8 a.m. for a noon game; by 10 a.m. for a 3:30 p.m. game; and by noon for one in prime time. The earlier you arrive, the less chance you’ll be sitting in traffic on Highway 76 or Tiger Boulevard at kick-off. Be aware that traffic patterns change leading up to the game; at some point, all roads lead to the stadium.

One of the great perks to arriving early is the chance to wander around and get ideas from other fans. “There are lots and lots of intricate and elaborate setups,” says veteran tailgater Jackie Ellis ’83. “We built a stand for the dish antenna so we would get better reception for the TV. We actually saw the prototype in another lot, took a picture, and Norman [her husband] designed and built it in a weekend.”

IPTAY parking lots open at 6 a.m. for noon and 1 p.m. games and at 8 a.m. for all other kickoff times. An IPTAY parking permit is required. Free public parking is available off Perimeter Road (east of Cherry Road, excluding reserved lots) and on Kite Hill (intersection of Perimeter Road and Highway 76).

Links to parking maps and online reservation forms here. IPTAY’s game-day guide is another good resource.

If you don’t have IPTAY parking, don’t despair. Advice from local tailgater and former faculty member Elaine Richardson M ’76, Ph.D. ’86 is to check tigernet.com and Facebook for reasonably priced parking spots. Most downtown churches and many businesses also sell parking spaces, often with the proceeds going to charitable causes. Some are reserved for the season, but many options remain for the day of the game. A likely pricier option, but sometimes closer to the stadium, is to find downtown residents who rent out their yards for parking. A word of warning: Don’t park on the street, and if you park in someone’s yard, make sure your wheels are off the sidewalk and off the street.

Getting out after the game is always an adventure. Some Tiger Fans will slip out of the gate when the game is not close, get on the road and beat the traffic. The faithful, however, stay until the last second has clicked down and enjoy the on-field celebration. Check out our menu suggestions for snacking after the game while you’re waiting for the worst of the traffic to clear.


If you haven’t been to a game in the past few years, a few things have changed. Security at the stadium is tighter than it used to be. Unless your purse is 6.5 inches or smaller, you’ll need to find a clear tote, available in downtown stores. In a pinch, a gallon-capacity zip-close bag is an acceptable alternative. You can always slap a Tiger Paw sticker on it to match the game-day theme.

The gates open two hours before the game. Whatever else happens, make sure you’re in your seat (or standing) in time for what’s been called the most exciting 25 seconds in college football, when the team and coaches run down the Hill.


Doyle Carr and his wife, Judith, were touring colleges around the region with their two daughters in the early 1990s. They had never heard of Clemson, but their campus visit and the friendly reception was enough to convince both daughters to attend. Sherri Marie Carr graduated in 1994; Deb followed in 1998.

Doyle retired from UPS after 30 years, and the Carrs moved to Lake Keowee. Faithful Tiger tailgaters, they can be found with their orange 1934 Dodge truck near Gate 7 on football Saturdays.

This fall, Doyle enrolled at Clemson to finish the degree he started at the University of Cincinnati years ago. Although he’s been advised to start slowly, he’s planning to finish around 2020, looking forward to joining his daughters as Clemson alumni.


You can cook for days; you can bring your smoker and set it up onsite; or you can order a platter from a grocery or restaurant and pick it up the morning of the game. Tailgating at Clemson is as elaborate as you want to make it, but nobody’s judging if your serving dishes are plastic and you don’t have a chandelier hanging from your tent (and if you’re wondering, the answer is yes, you might see that).

Food varies widely depending on the time of the game. Mimosas and breakfast fare are typical before noon games, while you can find full dinner spreads laid out before nighttime games. It’s those 3:30 p.m. games that are complicated. Come prepared with appetizers and a everything you need for lunch, but also with drink options and easy-to-hold snacks that can be consumed during the games people play until the traffic clears. Cornhole is the old faithful, but ladder golf, KanJam and Mashball are making inroads. And apparently beer-can cornhole combines two old favorites.

You may have orange cups, orange tablecloths, an orange tent and Tiger tchotchkes to boot, but for some, the drinks at Tiger Tailgates are the stars. Ellis boasts themed bloody marys for every home game. “Really it’s like a meal in itself,” she says. “Pimento cheese sammies, chicken nuggets, Wickles, crab legs (for the FSU game), pickled okra, as well as the usual celery and olives.”

Find other great recipe ideas here.



Bloody marys with cayenne-candied bacon and mimosas
Chicken and waffle sliders with maple syrup
Breakfast pizza
Cinnamon rolls

Post game
Chicken and bacon Caesar wraps
Chips and assorted dips
Crackers and assorted cheeses
Reese’s brownies and chocolate chip cookies


Margaritas and full bar
Walking tacos with choice of shredded beef, BBQ pork and shredded chicken
Hawaiian roll ham, Swiss and poppyseed sandwiches
Vinegar-base coleslaw
Reese’s brownies and chocolate chip cookies

Post game
Full bar
Cocktail nuts
Chips and assorted dips


Full bar
Pulled pork sandwiches
Hamburger sliders
Baked beans
Corn salad
Chips and assorted dips
Vegetables and ranch dip
Reese’s brownies and chocolate chip cookies


Tiger Walk
Get your tailgating wrapped up about two hours before the game, then head over to Tiger Walk to “see your favorite player and coach dressed to the nines,” Ellis says. Join the crowd around the P-3 parking lot (aka IPTAY lot 5) and cheer the team and the coaches on as they enter the stadium’s WestZone. Coach Dabo Swinney instituted this tradition for his first game as head coach in 2008, and it grows in popularity every year.

‘90 Minutes Before Kickoff’ Concert and Pep Rally
After that, head over to the outdoor amphitheater for Tiger Band’s “90 Minutes Before Kickoff” concert and pep rally. Enjoy classics such as “Tiger Rag” and “Eye of the Tiger” as well as halftime show highlights before the band makes its traditional march down Fort Hill Street to Memorial Stadium. (If you’re in town on Friday afternoon and looking for kid-friendly fun things to do, join the Tiger Band Kidz Klub at 5 p.m. on the band practice field.)

’55 Exchange
Unless the weather is unseasonably cold, Clemson Ice Cream can’t be beat. Head over to the ’55 Exchange in the Hendrix Center for a double scoop of ice cream made and sold by Tigers.

South Carolina Botanical Garden & the Bob Campbell Geology Museum
If you need a relaxing break, walk through the spectacular 295-acre South Carolina Botanical Garden. Cool off at the Fran Hanson Visitor’s Center, go back in time at the Hunt Family Cabin and the Hanover House, experience the whimsy of the children’s garden and wander through nature-based sculptures. While you’re there, take in the Bob Campbell Geology Museum, home to an extensive collection of gems, minerals and fossils of the region and the only exhibit of saber-toothed cats in the Southeast.


While the Esso Club is the most famous spot to settle in with a beer to watch the game on the big screen, there are plenty of other options as well. Nick’s and Tiger Town Tavern have been here since the 1970s, TDs since the 1980s, and Backstreets since the 1990s, but Study Hall and Loose Change will have their doors open on College Avenue as well. You can also volunteer to guard the beer at a friend’s tailgate spot that features a satellite dish and TV.

If you’re that person in a rabid football-loving family who loves to tailgate but just doesn’t get all the hype and excitement about a game, there are still enjoyable options. Head over to the South Carolina Botanical Garden and the Bob Campbell Geology Museum, take a walk on the dikes or a hike through the Clemson Experimental Forest, or just wander downtown through the shops.


“Leave the glass dishes at home. And a Chick-fil-A tray will almost always be the most popular dish on your table.” 

Amanda Childers, Laurens

“Bring a roll of toilet paper. The port-a-johns will run out!” 

Miriam Hutto, Fort Mill

“Bring a cooler with wheels — if you’re walking to someone else’s tailgate.”

Corey Greene ’17, Anderson

“Bring water. ‘Fall’ is relative in South Carolina.”

Nathan Weaver ’13, M ’15, Athens

“Don’t forget the sunscreen. Know the traffic requirements, and be patient. ”

Corey Greene ’17, Anderson

“There are so many people with TVs in the lots now you can watch the game anywhere on campus. We have had strangers come up and take a chair and sit and watch the game at our tailgate with whoever didn’t have a ticket. Otherwise, we would suggest Nick’s.”

— Miriam Hutto ’84, Fort Mill

“I would tell someone who doesn’t have tickets to make friends with someone who does. There are often many people with extras depending on the game. Or at least make friends with someone who has a TV so you can watch from the parking lots.”

— Jackie Ellis, Clemson

“I never leave home without what I call the magic box. It’s a larger plastic tote that has everything — scissors, Advil, wine opener, trash bags, salt and pepper, matches, Band-Aids, batteries for remotes, charging cables, a sharp knife, bottle opener, trash bags, paper towels, toilet paper, napkins.”

— Sylvia P. Harrison, Greenville

“For folks with young kids: Try to avoid the first games of the season, and come when the weather is a bit cooler. I might add if you can afford or have room for a responsible teen to bring along, it helps to have that extra set of hands to make the day more enjoyable, and if your child gets restless during the game, they can take the child out and back to your tailgate spot. Regardless of when you attend a game — and young kids or not — never leave without sunblock. The weather can look deceiving when you leave in the morning.”   

— Diane LeGette, Clemson