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Serious Tailgaters Prepare Days Ahead Of Birmingham Football Rivalry Game

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A giant tailgate party has been underway for days in Birmingham, Ala., as tens of thousands of football fans gear up to watch today's Magic City Classic. Alabama A&M will play Alabama State University in one of the most popular games between two black colleges. Sherrel Wheeler Stewart of member station WBHM reports.

SHERREL WHEELER STEWART, BYLINE: It's like a sea of RVs mixed with pop-up tents and showrooms of barbecue grills and deep fryers. The 75th clash between Alabama State and Alabama A&M is today, but the tailgating kicked off days ago.

TONYA DAVENPORT: Yeah, we're doing cabbage. We're doing baked beans. We're doing turkey wings. We're doing barbeque wings. We're going to fry a little wings.

STEWART: That's Tonya Davenport. She's here with her cousin Edmund Nelson, and they began setting up on Monday.

EDMUND NELSON: Grills, smokers, deep freezers - refrigerator's on the way - couches, the full bar. I got speakers, TVs to hang.

STEWART: Nelson roots for Alabama State, but he's more of a tailgating fan. He drove 800 miles from Miami to Birmingham two weeks ago to start preparing. He opens the door to a large cargo trailer stacked with supplies.

NELSON: Inside here there's more TVs. We’re just getting ready for the Classic, something we do every year. It’s a big get together. My mom, she went to Alabama State. And every year, it just get’s bigger and bigger.

STEWART: Hundreds of tents have popped up, and in Nelson's, there's artificial turf on the ground, a matching sofa and loveseat and five barbecue grills. No matter where you go, you hear music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEWART: Freddie Jones parked his RV across from one of his buddies. They set up a little courtyard in the middle, decked out with lights and a sound system. He says the Magic City Classic is popular because it's different.

FREDDIE JONES: You can go tailgating for the other teams and Tennessee and what have you - Alabama. And you have these restrictions where you can't play your music. But at the Magic City Classic, you can just about do what you want to do within reason - clean fun.

STEWART: At kickoff, for the 60,000 people inside the stadium, it's about the bands, dancers, football. But for folks like Jones, the serious stuff happens outside, beyond the gate.

JONES: Everything that comes this way is going to get cooked. Don't put your hand on the grill. We're cooking that, too (laughter).

STEWART: Once the game between Alabama State and Alabama A&M is over, it doesn't mean that the fun ends. Some of the tailgaters stick around through Sunday. For NPR News, I'm Sherrel Wheeler Stewart in Birmingham. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.