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Tailgating 101: The social side of football makes its annual return

September 3rd, 2013 11:12 am by Amanda J. Vicars

Tailgating 101: The social side of football makes its annual return

Charlotte and Ted Hoover enjoy the Hoover family tailgate at Clemson.

Sports enthusiasts assemble: It's time to whip out last year's favorite food and beverage recipes and fire up the grill. 

With the 2013 NFL kickoff fast approaching (Sept. 5) and college football season already under way, fans of both (and of other sports like racing) will once again unite in parking lots outside stadiums for the pre-game ritual which has become one of the premier social events of autumn.

It's tailgating time in Tennessee (and pretty much everywhere else as well).

Whether a seasoned tailgate host or a newcomer to the uniquely American tradition, tailgating is a social phenomenon that has reached a level of popularity near equal to sporting events themselves.

Since its induction into the sports realm as a prelude to football in the early 20th century, tailgating (in southern states specifically) has become an art form practiced in testament to football fans' die-hard commitment to their team as well as a way to “get pumped” for the game to follow. 

Tennessee, Clemson and West Virginia were recently named three of the top 15 college-football tailgating schools in the south by Southern Living Magazine.

“In the south, tailgating and football go hand in hand. Tailgate planning begins on Monday and is tweaked and perfected until time to set up shop early Saturday morning... Tailgating rallies the troops in support of your team and builds up the excitement and anticipation for kickoff,” said Jessica Taylor, a University of Tennessee (UT) alumna and avid Vols fan.

Family time is also a key motivator in tailgating. Parents of college students often tailgate to spend time and eat with their children before a football game. For this reason, some of them do not attend the main event at all. Others may choose not to go to games after a tailgate because tickets are sold out or because the fan's preference is to attend an all-day tailgate party and watch the game on television.

Local Clemson Tigers fans Brad and Leigh Anne Hoover like to host their (sometimes) daylong tailgates out of a motorhome, which Brad refers to as a “Griswold mobile.” 

The RV is equipped with air conditioning and or/heat for any weather, a stove for cooking, a bed for “power” naps and a clean restroom (an asset they feel is most vital).

“It's a big hit,” Brad Hoover said. “We have a lot of fun with it and we make friends easily.”

Another common reason for alumni of local universities to tailgate is to “reunite”with friends and former classmates who share in their sense of school pride.

Benjamin Conaway, an alumnus of West Virginia University (WVU) and a current Knoxville, Tenn., resident, said he likes taking a “tailgating tour,” which entails hopping from tailgate to tailgate to socialize with different friend groups. 

“The best thing about tailgating is catching up with old friends - reunion style - and reminiscing about previous big victories!” Conaway exclaimed. “I enjoy tailgating for the community. Family and friends gathered together to eat, drink, and be merry... yes please! I also think tailgating helps build the excitement leading up to a game when everybody is hanging around discussing the team's chances and sharing their predictions for the big game.”

Southern tailgates tend to be extensive in entertainment choices, yet more colloquial in presentation. Participants have the option to socialize with old and new friends over food and drink or engage with them through other popular tailgate diversions.

“A true southern tailgate includes a table of food set up buffet style, coolers of adult beverages, a tent donning your team's logo, cornhole, music and/or a flat-screen tv to keep up with other games going on throughout the day,” Taylor explained.

Food is the ultimate centerpiece of fellowship between football brethren at a tailgate, and the menu depends on the kickoff time, according to Hoover who is known for his grilling skills.

If kickoff is early, there can be a “brunch” theme. If it is later in the afternoon, it's “grill time,” he explained.

Regardless of the entertainment or food provided at a tailgate, the pre-game rendezvous allows fans of opposing teams the opportunity to mix and mingle amiably before the heat of competition rises during the game.

The most important aspect of tailgating and the one most discernibly American, after all, is that rivals in the stadium can converge in the parking lot to observe the first rule of sports: it's all for love of the game.

For more recipes and tips, see the Sept. 1 print edition of Sunday Stories. 

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