Tailgate Guys makes tailgating easy

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By Jack Smith

It might be the easiest birthday party Melissa Worley ever hosted.

She and her husband, Ben, drove to Auburn from Atlanta last Saturday morning to tailgate and celebrate the birthday of their daughter, 19-year-old Auburn freshman Lauren Worley. They showed up with a cake. The Tailgate Guys did the rest.

Their tent, tables and chairs were already set up, the TV was on and a catered spread of food was on its way.

"We think this is fabulous," Worley said of the turnkey tailgating outfit now in its second year of operation on the east side of Jordan-Hare Stadium. "We were invited by our friends to their tailgate and we are just happy to be here. We just showed up with the cake for her birthday. It's been absolutely low-stress."

The Worleys joined several thousand other tailgaters at more than 100 tents set up by the Tailgate Guys. The white tents in small and large sizes even have creative names that you might see plastered on fancy boats at a marina. They range from "Strictly Chizness" or "Malzahn's Toaster" to "Dyer Straights" and "Woody's Spot."

Phillip McCallum's group is simply known as "The Vestavia Tailgate Group." McCallum and his family rolled into Auburn from Birmingham at around 2 p.m. the day of the South Carolina game. They were in no hurry, because they knew the Tailgate Guys and their "bellhops" would be waiting for them when they arrived. McCallum's wife, Kelley, and daughters, Caitlin and Savannah, went shopping while he held down the fort at the tent with his son, Murphy.

"They make it real easy and practical so you don't have to lug coolers or tables and chairs," McCallum said. "It's basically ready made for family and friends to show up, to relax, to socialize and get our game face on. We love it."

McCallum said their tent has become a social hub for Vestavia Hills families and students, those who already attend Auburn and those who one day will.

"The kids have become the common bond that make this tailgate work," McCallum said. "Invariably, you will walk over and see a large group of parents and you will see us with big smiles on our faces because there are 40 kids connecting and hanging out, just fired up about being at Auburn. It's a gathering point. It's a kids' paradise."

David Knight, a real estate developer from Atlanta, says the crowd at his tent grows larger the closer it gets to kickoff. While Knight is a Florida graduate, he and his wife come to Auburn and cheer for the Tigers because both of their children, Joe and Lila, are students at Auburn. They spend Saturdays at Auburn visiting with five other Atlanta couples who all have Auburn connections through their children.

"We have all been friends for a long time, but this has kind of brought us back together," Knight said. "We wanted to have a place where all of our kids could come and just enjoy the camaraderie. Sometimes we'll have 100 kids here. We always order a lot of food so we don't run out."

Tailgate Guys is the brainchild of Auburn graduates Parker Duffey and Michael Otwell. Both say starting the tailgate service from scratch has been hard but rewarding work.

Duffey said the whole idea of the service was to make tailgating easier--and they found plenty of customers willing to pay for it. All but one of their customers from last season rented tents and various amenities again this year. The tents have been sold out for all of this season's games except Louisiana Monroe and Chattanooga.

"It was very well received after that very first Saturday last year," Duffey said. "It was a service that was needed, and this was an area that wasn't being used before."

The center of the Tailgate Guys footprint is located where the old eagle's cage was. The Campus Green where kids organize games of two-hand touch each Saturday, a swath of green the size of a football field between the tents, was once a parking lot for Haley Center.

"Our customers love the location, and they enjoy not having to worry about their tailgate," Duffey said.

Otwell credits consistency and convenience for the venture's success. "One of the biggest plusses is after the game, you can still hang out and enjoy it, but when you are ready to leave, you don't have any work to do."

And while it takes the better part of three days to set up 113 tents and countless tables, chairs, TVs and generators, it's all put up and cleaned up by Sunday morning.

"If you come out here the next morning, the only trash that you will see is in the trash cans," Duffey said. "That's something that we take a lot of pride in. We want to leave this area spotless."

For Otwell, one of the joys of his job is seeing Auburn people connecting and welcoming fans from other schools that drop by to see their friends.

"Auburn people are proud of what we have here," he said. "It's really special."

For more information on the Tailgate Guys, including a map of their location and a schedule of upcoming events, visit www.tailgateguys.com

Luke Mann and twins Luke and Will Pietrantoni relax after a game of two-hand touch. Ben, Melissa and Lauren Worley celebrate a birthday.
Phillip McCallum's group is simply known as "The Vestavia Tailgate Group"

The Auburn Experience is a new feature that will highlight a different element of the Auburn Gameday Experience and what makes it special each week.

Auburn Experience Archive:
Sept. 28, 2010 -- Tailgate Guys makes tailgating easy
Sept. 21, 2010 -- ESPN College GameDay: Auburn 'like no place else'
Sept. 15, 2010 -- Eagle practice at Jordan-Hare Stadium: Auburn icons 'confident, bold and brave'
Sept. 8, 2010 -- Tiger Walk: Often imitated, never duplicated
Sept. 2, 2010 -- Lovelace Hall of Honor