With football season bumping right up against us, it's time we start preparing by talking about the things that really make college football special. Chronologically speaking, tailgating is one of the first things done on a football Saturday (unless, of course, you count raiding the local grocery store for tailgating goodies like Doritos and beer). So let's take just a brief look at the history of tailgating, shall we? It'll be fun...
You might think that the first instances of tailgating occurred only decades ago, before modern football games, but you'd be wrong, but only slightly. The history of more general gatherings took place at least a hundred and fifty years ago, though today the practice might have us lose our collective lunches:
Well, if you examine the some of the earliest documented historical events, you may find that although modern tailgating most likely has its roots in college football, it may date back to the mid 1800's - think Civil War. You probably would not think that a war would be anyplace to throw a party, but it appears that is exactly what happened at the Battle of Run in 1861. Supporters of the Union showed up with baskets of food and enthusiastically cheered the soldiers on by shouting, "Go, Big Blue!" Source: E-Zine
Now, though true, the Civil War example sort of takes the legs out from under what we consider tailgating (and it's sort of a bummer, too), so let's jump a little farther into the future. For now, I'll skip the 1869 game between Princeton and Rutgers that is so often cited as the first instance of (wagon) tailgating. The football section of Suite101 has a much more recent example of the explosion of the nation's pre-game obsession:
During the 1920s and '30s tailgating was almost exclusively all day event taking place before and after games. But with the introduction of large electric lights in stadiums the night game would play a crucial role in the development of modern tailgating. Cooler night games allowed men and women to dress up for huge pregame bashes. The tradition of the night game continued unabated for about forty years until the beginning of the daytime college football coverage. This led fans to pack stadium parking lots for pregame festivities. With increasing media coverage, fan garb became more and more garish and absurd.Source: Suite101.
Of course the Roaring Twenties would bring about the modern idea of tailgating, wouldn't it? What began as an organic festival celebrating football has now become mutually exclusive to football itself. You can go onto nearly any campus holding festivities and find people of all stripes there just for the food or the drink or the company or the unique fashion, without any considerable knowledge or understanding of football.
This is the first in (hopefully) a series of articles about the art and history of tailgating.