The first recorded instances of “tailgating” are not believed to have come from sporting events at all, but from the sidelines of war – and that’s not a figure of speech. The very first tailgaters are believed to have been American citizens during the Civil War, when civilians would gather at battlegrounds to watch battles between northern and southern troops. Despite best efforts to remain as far away from the danger as possible, there were many tailgaters who simply never made it home. To say the least, college football tailgating isn’t anything like tailgating during the Civil War – the tailgating of today is much safer, more fun, and friendlier.
Go to many major stadiums on any college football game day and you will no doubt see great examples of college football tailgating for as far as the eye can see. And depending where you go or whoever may invite you, you will enjoy some unique experiences. It isn’t uncommon to see tailgaters brave rain, wind, snow, and cold in the northeast and Midwest in order to stay true to the tailgating tradition. Throughout the country, the sun can fry fans during afternoon games in the early part of the season. So long as their favorite team is scheduled to play no matter what the elements, tailgaters will camp out in stadium parking lots and wait for a game to start for as long as it takes – poor weather or good weather, unexpected game delays, or long lines into the stadiums.
There are a few basics that every college football tailgating fan should count on as tailgating essentials. If you’ve never gone tailgating before, don’t try it without these choice items – obviously, your team colors are encouraged:
● Folding Chairs and/or a table – portable comfort that doesn’t take up a lot of room. Sometimes I forgo the chair, but a table if an actual tailgate is not available, is definitely an essential. Set up a folding chair in the bed of your truck and look out over your college football tailgating domain, but I suggest mobility to wander amongst the new neighborhood to find a group of like minded fans to join. Make a few new friends for game day. I’m always surprised how many people I meet may have common acquaintances with me. Ask my cousin Frank Scarpa. He’s my witness. At a game last year he said, ” I’m going to write a book just about all the people we meet at tailgates who know someone you know!” Sit or wander. Either way, you’re going to want to enjoy yourself until you go into the stadium for pregame activities. I or some other nearby fan might just happen to wander over to share some football stories and tailgate tales with you.
● Cooler /Thermos – I never go anywhere without my cooler(s). No matter what the weather, a cooler on hot days and on cold days can make a huge difference to your comfort. A cooler gives you plenty of flexibility to pack drinks to keep you cold or warm. My Penn State friends John and Kelle Massimilla introduced me to hot, buttered rum years ago. Perfect in a thermos during a cold pre-game party after you’ve heated up the cider and added the rum and the butter! It keeps you warm, but be careful because it goes down so smoo-ooth! When it comes to great snacks, I like to make my own mixes and put them in a big Tupperware Bowl. A blend of peanuts with Doritos and small pretzel sticks is one of my favorites for sharing with friends and for snacking on with cold beer while talking football.
● Portable Stove – If you have a short ride and plenty of time before the game, it’s convenient to have a hibachi, grill, or anything that can throw some flame to heat up the pre-game cuisine. However, you have to eat early if you all want to get into the game on time for kick-off. What’s tailgating though without a cook out and with someone who enjoys doing the grilling? I’m lucky because I have several tailgate cohorts who are into it. I’ll bring stuff to grill along with snacks and “adult beverages”, but it’s rare that my excursions are short rides or they are possibly by air. So when I get to a game, I’m ready to hang out , party, and have a few beers or pre-game concoctions. And luckily I often have someone who likes to grill to meet up with – like John or his son-in law Aaron at PSU games; Cousin Frank at Rutgers games; and my Navy tailgate buddy Brian Donnelly and his local pals down in Annapolis. Some people use a portable stove to brew hot coffee or cocoa and to grill traditional college football tailgating food like hamburgers or hotdogs. Real grillers though usually love to bring their specialties to share. I don’t drink coffee, so I stick to beers before the game and take it easy after, or I let my wife, Saint Laurie, drive us home or to the hotel if she comes with me. Cousin Frank makes his award-winning pizza with a portable pizza oven that fits right over his grill. It’s now my only reason to attend a Rutgers game at The Birthplace of College Football as far as I’m concerned.
At LSU, some Tiger fans invited me to tailgate with them at their classic mobile home affectionately known as “Old Stinky.” At Auburn, my Auburn buddy Charley and his wife Lynda took us with them to tailgate with friends who built an open trailer with steel grating covered by a canopy that houses an oven, grill, refrigerator, and storage space dedicated just to tailgate. They only drive from a few miles away to get to Jordan-Hare Stadium. At Fresno State, my brother-in-law’s nephew Frank Chimienti brought us to one of his fellow Bulldog alums’ parties which set up a Mexican buffet complete with tables and chairs delivered by a box truck. We feasted on great Mexican food prepared by and served to us by actual Mexicans! And when we went to The Grove at Ole Miss for the first time in 2013, Dan Donnelly got us invited by friends of his friends to their tailgate party. Well, I just have to say every college football fan has to have that experience once in their lifetime (it’s a little tenuous when you’re rooting for the visitors as Joe Rogers was when we saw Ole Miss play LSU!).
To entertain children both old and young at tailgates, Corn-hole and the ladder toss games are popular now. I have both, but I prefer just tossing a football around with friends. On some group bus trips I’ve arranged, the kids always found room to get a game up. It’s also been a temptation and a challenge at places like Princeton and Lehigh where we’ve found goal posts on nearby practice facilities. Few of us my age were soccer players growing up as kids compared to those of today. My style is the “old school” straight-on form. It’s been a while, but I could do alright for extra points if I bend my knee way back under me. Now? Well it’s been a while.
Beyond everything, you’ll need to stay comfortable. Up north from mid-October on, always bring extra warm clothes to wear. It’s easier to take stuff off when you’re warm enough, but you’ll regret not having more if you’re too cold. I always wear two pairs of socks that time of year (but I may still be wearing cargo shorts). And anywhere you go, have some form of rain gear just in case, including coveralls for sitting on wet stadium seats. It’s also a smart idea to bring extra, dry clothes to change into after the game, especially if you have a long ride home.
The most you have to know about tailgating is to be sure to get to the stadium in plenty of time if you can to set up and mingle. Perhaps the best part of tailgating is getting to meet so many fellow fans – many great people in general from different parts of the country – so don’t be afraid to leave your tailgating camp, meet some new people, and share some stories about college football, both about what happened on the field and at the tailgate.
Some of the best stories I have from all my years attending college football games around the country come from my tailgating experiences. I’ve amassed so many memories about tailgating and college football that I eventually wrote them down and wrote a book, which is now available for purchase.
To read about my adventures in college football tailgating around the country, and hopefully to become inspired to try tailgating for yourself, download my ebook, “Tales from the Tailgate,” today. Click on http://www.amazon.com/Tales-Tailgate-whos-seen-them/dp/1463416865.