Tailgate traditions, food and frivolity
Sleek recreational vehicles begin arriving by mid-week. Adults wearing the colors of their favorite football team emerge from the long, bus-like vehicle, and almost immediately begin the traditional process of readying for their weekly tailgate party. They’re in the shadow of their school’s football stadium, surrounded by thousands of other parking spaces that will eventually be occupied by others like them that will celebrate another football Saturday in their own tailgate way.
Tables are lined up like so many players ready for pre-game callisthenics. Table clothes adorn the tables. They may be linen, they may be in the colors of their favorite team.
Small tent-like structures with overhead covers protect them from the sun or the elements should rain threaten their fun. Grills routinely produce the exotic smells of bratwurst, hot dogs, hamburgers and sizzling red meat flavored with secret recipes handed down from generation to generation of tailgate mavens.
Those of wealth and circumstance and the desire to broadcast that fact may bring out a candelabra, a fine wine from an alumni’s cellar or even some champagne they have saved since the last time Ol’ State U. slammed Siwash Polytechnic in a long ago Homecoming to remember.
The tailgating technique of recent graduates often is grounded in beer, burgers and school football jerseys with numbers and the names of famous players who helped beat Ol’ State U.
Competitive games are played. Beanbags are tossed toward holes in slanted wooden structures on the ground. That ritual game is cornhole. Footballs might be thrown back and forth. Music blares from speakers, loud enough to be heard dozens of yards away and by generations far removed from the age 20-something revelers.
Mounds of cole slaw and potato salad can be exchanged to those next door for other mounds of salsa dip and barbecue ribs.
Rivers of smoke swirl in, around and above the little tents and folding chairs that are also sporting the school colors.
The longer the festivities take, the louder the raucous laughter and throaty music gets.
As game time approaches, some decide to find a path to their seats inside the stadium. Others more into the drink and food will stay outside and watch the game on a deftly positioned television or loud-playing radio.
Food is often shared with students whose school cafeteria fare doesn’t tend toward champagne, steaks or homemade bread.
Some tailgaters have occupied the same parking spot for decades. They know the people next to them and often have made life-long friendships with them. Those folks catch up on what has happened since the last time they saw each other back in December at the last home game of the previous season.
Once the game has run its course and a winner and loser have been decided, the colorfully attired thousands reassemble at their tailgate venue. Little is discussed about the game that was just played inside. More alcohol needs to be chilled. More meat needs to be scented to perfection on the smoky grills. More plans need to be made about possibly attending a road game of some importance.
The recreational vehicles may be on location from Wednesday until leaving the Sunday or Monday following the game.
The age 20-somethings must return to work on Monday so they pack up their trove of food, trappings and tables for safe keeping until the next tailgate gathering.
Those unwritten rules of tailgating can gradually change, but everybody knows that adding spice to the College Football Saturday is why they gather by the thousands to celebrate a rite of fall, and the taming of another conference rival.