“Happily Ever After” Can Start When Football Season Ends

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Every Southern woman knows the cardinal rule of wedding planning: Don’t get hitched during football season. I broke it.

I’ve always loved fall, mostly because of my memories of going to games every Saturday with my family. I thought it would be fun to honor that tradition by getting married in a season that’s so special to us. I worked hard to schedule our nuptials on the weekend of a throw-away game (Vandy), and decided that for those who really loved us, it wouldn’t be a big deal.

I was delusional, apparently. There were score reports during toasts that night, and we’re still talking about the misguided decision at every family function seven years later.

I knew my brother’s fiancé wouldn’t make the same mistake. Mainly because he wouldn’t let her. They were married a few weeks ago, and the date was set for the weekend after the SEC championship game – just in case. Good call.

My parents wanted to throw a rehearsal dinner that would be fun for my brother and his groomsmen. On a lark, my mom checked out the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, just 20 minutes north of their home in central Georgia. It became the setting for an awesome party with all the hallmarks of a traditional tailgate.

Here’s a rundown of how we planned an event that honored the spirit of the game without actually sacrificing a single second of the 2012 season:

We announced the theme on the invitation, designed to look like tickets to your typical big athletic event. These were printed at home and cut from card stock, but inspired by several items found on Etsy.

We asked that everyone wear the colors of their favorite team to “cheer on the happy couple.” We ended up with several SEC schools represented — Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Vandy and LSU. But it’s hard to top these amazing Big 12 shoes, worn by a groomsman’s wife. She’d sported them with her own wedding dress just a few weeks before.

If we were going to carry on the tradition of a true tailgate, there had to be good libations and plenty of them. We started with a cocktail hour centered on my brother’s favorite beers: Lagunitas IPA, Sweetwater 420, Terrapin Rye Pale Ale and Heineken. We also served “Tailgate Tea” — a sweet tea vodka concoction — since it’s the bride’s game day poison.

The big winner, though? Eight pounds of peanuts boiled to perfection and self-served in paper containers that looked like basketballs and footballs. I don’t know why boiled peanuts aren’t a thing outside of the super deep South, but hot damn, they’re delicious. Can we please get this trend going here in Little Rock? I could see a gourmet twist on them at Capital Bar & Grill.

My mother and her caterer friend devised a menu that would shame many a gathering on the Grove: fried chicken, pimento cheese sandwiches, ham, rolls, deviled eggs, pasta salad, baked beans, seven layer-dip, fresh fruit, sheet cake and brownies. Better than Thanksgiving.

The decor was simple and reinforced our theme. Centerpieces crafted from football mums, carnations and hydrangea in picnic baskets my mother painstakingly spray-painted black. We included footballs, mini-basketballs, pom-poms and megaphones to round them out.

The tables for the wedding party included a pennant or other token from each attendant’s favorite team. We also took pictures of my brother and his now-wife from their childhood sports teams and blew them up into massive posters that decorated the banquet room. This made for some priceless moments. I’m fairly sure that before walking into the room, my brother thought he’d destroyed all evidence of his days as part of the “naked boys” spirit squad at high school football games.

The real fun started after dinner. All the exhibits at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame were open to us for perusing. My husband drooled over Lewis Grizzard’s typewriter, while I was fascinated by ’96 Olympics memorabilia.

The interactive exhibits got the most action, though. This has to be first rehearsal dinner where slam dunk contests and spiral challenges broke out in full force.

The next day, the happy couple exchanged vows and then entered the reception to UGA’s fourth quarter theme, “Krypton Fanfare.” My brother also put a new spin on the garter toss, slipping the silky band over a football and throwing it to the single guys across the room.

I have to admit that this bride and groom did a much better job of incorporating football season in their special weekend than I did. And best of all, they didn’t even have to break that cardinal rule.

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