From Madison to Miami, College Station to Chapel Hill, wander onto nearly any major university in fall and you will be greeted by familiar sights, sounds and smells; seasoned meat on open flames, beer cans rattling around an icy cooler, the dull pop of a football being tossed back and forth and kinetic, anticipatory buzz of thousands students, alumni, and locals coming together on campus to get ready for a big football game.
Mix in retrofitted monster RVs and trailers, beer bongs, beer pong, baby back ribs and college girls – oh, so many college girls – and that buzz becomes a full-blown tailgating amusement park and the perfect pregame bash before any sporting event. Tailgating is an event all its own. And the chaos and camaraderie make it one of the best aspects of football fandom.
The first reported incident of tailgating a sporting event occurred in 1869 at a Princeton-Rutgers football game. In 2014, according to Nationwide Insurance, over $12 billion was spent by roughly 50 million tailgaters across the United States. Just over one-third of people who tailgate don’t even go into the game, meaning the atmosphere itself is enough of a draw.
Of course, tailgating has changed a lot through the years. Americans love to party. But we also love to innovate. And the good times that take place in parking lots and fields on weekends in the fall belie the bizarre beginnings of this cultural phenomenon back in the 1860’s.
Here are some ways in which technological advancements have improved tailgating and helped it become the social extravaganza that it is today:
The Views Are Less Violent – The first form of tailgating took shape at the Battle of Bull Run in Virginia back in 1861. Locals apparently brought picnic baskets with them on the outskirts of the battle, laying out blankets and baskets on fields and on top of hills. There they ate, imbibed and openly “rooted” for their “team” to win the fight. Unbeknownst to them, they were tailgating the largest and bloodiest battle in U.S. history to that point.
I know blowouts in a Baylor-Wofford or Georgia Tech-Elon early season tune-up game can seem a little ugly. But they are nothing like the views those Civil War spectators took in way back when.
You Can’t Beat The Eats – In 1866, the chuck wagon was born. It was basically just a wagon with a grill on the back for cooking meat and it was used as a meeting and socializing stand for cowboys grabbing some grub while away from the ranch.
That portable meat-cooking machine was a crucial invention along the tailgating timeline. And it has evolved into the monster smokers and weaponized grills and gear we see in lots across the country each week these days.
Grilling has become an art form. As recently as 25 years ago, you went to the game happy to scarf down a hockey puck hamburger or slightly undercooked sausage before kickoff. Now the food is at the center of the whole experience. And there are books, shows, apps and contests all dedicated to the best barbecue rubs, recipes and execution. Darwin never said evolution would taste so delicious.
Now We Are Riding In Style – In the early 1900’s, there generally weren’t dedicated meeting places for tailgating and socializing before the games. Most places didn’t have mammoth parking lots near the stadiums. And as a result, most people got to the game by train and the party took place inside that moving metal.
Now, stadiums are designed and built with tailgating and pregame considerations in mind. And some of the vehicles used to get to the game look like something out of a Mad Max movie.
Motorhomes, RVs painted in a team’s colors, doctored vans; there are all types of dedicated tailgating vehicles out there. There are also rental companies that offer 20 to 25 foot trailers loaded with flat-screen TVs, kitchens, bars and bathrooms in and on them. Parking lots become pop-up shantytowns on game day and fans bring a lot of the comforts of home to the party.
It also isn’t just the wheels that have gotten more sophisticated and effective. Everything involved in tailgating – from more efficient coolers to better boom boxes to more comfortable chairs – has gotten sleeker, simpler and just better over the last 25 years.
More Games Before The Game – The reason for tailgating is, generally, that you’re getting lathered up before walking in to watch a contest of athleticism and skill. But nowadays people get their own muscles moving and blood pumping with all manner of lawn and drinking games. Cornhole, washer toss, and flip cup are just a few of the dozens of games that people break out in the lot before kickoff.
These games don’t just help kill some time but they also get the competitive juices flowing. And they are the perfect outlet for guys, a la Uncle Rico, to show how totally athletic they are and prove to everyone within eye shot that, under different circumstances, they totally could’ve been playing in the game you’re about to go watch. Totally.
Before cell phones it was a major chore to organize a group to go to the game. You could waste precious drinking time by having to meet up at the local grocery store parking lot and following one another to the game. Or you could spend a frustrating half-hour wandering around the stadium hoping you spot the other half of your group. Either way, it was a major hassle.
Cell phones eliminated this inconvenience. But beyond communication, cell phones also make a lot of other aspects of tailgating simpler. Tracking the weather is easier and more accurate. So is taking pictures. Add in all the specialty tailgating and grilling apps and smart phones pay big dividends for weekend sports partiers.
Also, smart phones serve the ultimate tailgating purpose: settling idiotic sports arguments. Twenty years ago you could make up whatever BS you wanted just to win a pointless argument over some random team stat or player fact. Now definitive proof is just a couple clicks away.
And finally, getting information such as last minute injuries, odds and game match-up report picks and predictions are right at your fingertips since most websites are now becoming responsive so they are viewable and easy to use on any mobile device.
Where will the next 10 years take us?
(This is a guest post by Robert Ferringo. Robert is a Professional Handicapper at Doc’s Sports Service. If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more contributions from Robert, leave a comment below letting us know what else you think Robert should write about next.)
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