RVing College Football -
The Ultimate Tailgate Party
Welcome to Tailgate City, as much a part of college football as the Heisman
Trophy and arguing about SEC vs ACC. From Mississippi - where women in formal
dresses and men wearing ties congregate at the "Grove" - to Tennessee where the
"Volunteer Navy" parties on boats docked near the stadium - tailgating is a
Southeast staple on game weekends. Friendships are renewed. Stories are swapped.
Gargantuan amounts of food and drink are consumed. And small RV cities spring up
on the parking lots.
Joe Cahn - The self-appointed "Commissioner of Tailgating". Visit him online
RV tailgating is an American tradition. RVers have been
tailgating since the very first college football game between Rutgers and
Princeton in 1869, when fans traveled to the game by carriage and buckboard
(think very early RVs), and grilled sausages and burgers at the "tail end" of
Of course, Yale's version, as verified by no less an authority
than Yale University itself, says it all began at Yale in 1904. According to
Yale, private train cars brought fans to a Yale game. The train stopped at the
station and the fans had to walk to the stadium. Upon arriving at the stadium,
they were naturally hungry and thirsty. So the idea was born to bring along a
picnic hamper of food for the next gameand tailgating was born.
Bulldog fans prefer grits and fried chicken when they gather in Athens, or
anywhere around the southeast.
(Photo courtesy of UGA Athletics.)
after that first Rutgers-Princeton game, in 1881, the first collegiate football
game south of the Mason-Dixon Line occurred on the bluegrass at Old Stoll Field
in Lexington, Kentucky. In those days it was customary for the fans of each team
to put on a fish and wild game supper before the contest and enjoy the leftovers
after the game where they relived the on-field exploits.
Whenever it began,
today RV tailgating is a cherished part of college football. The party often
begins days before the game, and many RVing tailgaters don't even bother to
attend the game! In fact the game, it seems, has almost become a sidelight,
nothing more than a reason to get together for some tailgating outside the
stadium. RVs with built-in big screen TVs, surround sound audio, mini
refrigerators, carpeting, and lots of extras highlight RV tailgating "cities".
Corporations set up tents with lavishly catered meals for some of their biggest
clients. Web sites have sprouted up, selling products to enhance the tailgating
experience. (How can you enjoy the game without a barbecue grilling iron that
brands chicken, steaks or pork chops with the logo of your favorite team? Or
dinner plates with team logos?)
Wildcat tailgaters at Kentucky have a tradition that goes back to the first
football game played south of the Mason-Dixon Line. (Photo courtesy of UK
Some RVers have even turned tailgating into a
lifestyle. After Joe Cahn, the self-proclaimed "Commissioner of Tailgating" sold
his business, the New Orleans School of Cooking in 1996, he hit the road in his
RV. While that doesn't sound so unusual, he differs from most RVing retirees by
spending the bulk of his time in stadium parking lots around the country. Cahn
has amassed over 217,000 miles, burned nearly 35,000 gallons of gasoline,
visited hundreds of venues and tailgated with thousands of hungry football fans.
During his journeys he has visited all 32 NFL stadiums and over 60 college
stadiums across the nation. He also has Dorito's as a corporate sponsor.
(Somebody has to pay his gas bill!)
RVing tailgating parties may be the last
great American neighborhood. While many people won't walk around their own
neighborhoods, when you're tailgating, you get to walk through thousands of
"backyards" with no privacy fences. You can visit with other RVers, say hello to
people, and they'll say hello back.
Tailgating (Boatgating?) on the Tennessee River. Tennessee and Washington are
the only two schools that can be reached by water...so the Vol Navy is the
tailgating hot spot. (Photo courtesy of UT Sports Information.)
No two parties are exactly the same. Some
are thoroughly unique. Ole Miss provides a special setting. The Grove covers 10
acres in the center of campus, shaded by giant oak trees (hence the name) and
packed on game days with students wearing their Sunday best and tailgaters who
opt for decorum over decadence. These are people who know how to party properly,
always with extreme reverence for the annual rite of autumn.
Manning, the Grove was about the only reason to attend a Rebels game. Even now,
some fans grumble that too many seats inside the stadium are empty at kickoff
because their holders chose to linger in the tranquil setting of the RV tailgate
Ole Miss has the "Grove" - 10 acres in the
center of campus...but they
don't miss an opportunity to bring their RVs.
The world's biggest tailgate party is probably at the Florida-Georgia
game in Jacksonville. They call it the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Fans begin arriving on Wednesday for a Sunday game. And the party does not stop
from kick-off...through half-time, through overtime. Sometimes they are partying
into Monday morning!
Another big RVing tailgate party takes place before the
annual Iron Bowl game between Alabama and Auburn. Fans start showing up as early
as Tuesday the week of the game, and would probably show up earlier if the
universities allowed it. As far as the atmosphere goes, it couldn't get any
better than over 1000 RV's and motorhomes and one of the greatest rivalries in
Cajun tailgaters party with huge pots of jambalaya.
(Photo courtesy Steve
Tailgating received the ultimate sign of social acceptance
a few years ago: a university study.
Stephen Ross, an assistant professor in
Minnesota's Division of Recreation and Sports Studies, found that tailgating can
be addictive - and it's got nothing to do with all the alcohol that's
"Once people start doing it, it's very hard to stop," he said.
"They continue to do it, and continue to do it for a very long time. We found a
fairly substantial number, maybe a quarter of the people, who had been doing it
for 20-plus years."
Other tailgating researchers have found:
1. Most tailgaters are men
between the ages of 25 to 44.
2. The majority of tailgaters have a college
3. A large majority of tailgaters will tailgate anywhere from 6 to
10 times a year.
4. A majority of tailgaters will arrive at the stadium 3 to
4 hours before the game.
5. An overwhelming number (93%) will prepare their
food at the stadium.
6. Over 85% will prepare their food for the tailgate
using a grill or a smoker.
LSU is the unofficial tailgating leader in the SEC. (Photo courtesy Steve
Franz/LSU Sports Information.)
The Southeastern Conference and Big Ten lead the leagues for tailgating. LSU
is the unofficial leader in the SEC, which shouldn't be too surprising. As
anyone who has attended Mardi Gras can attest, those Cajuns are serious about
their partying. At LSU, you find more big kettles than anywhere else, giant pots
of jambalaya. Instead of tailgating with 20 or 40 or 80 people, you'll find
groups of 100 to 150 people.
In the Big Ten, Michigan's fans party on the
college golf course, always making sure to park off the fairway. Purdue has some
of the most innovative tailgaters, including the man who converted a coffin into
a grill and ice chest and hauled it to the game in a hearse. Penn State has one
of the largest areas for tailgating, some 40,000 people cramming the
agricultural fields around Beaver Stadium.
Pro football tailgate parties, particularly Super Bowl Parties,
of the biggest tailgating affairs.
The assortment of food found at
tailgate parties includes a wide variety of dishes. You will typically find
regional foods at tailgates. At Georgia, it's grits and fried chicken. At
Tennessee, there's always plenty of barbecue. And did we mention the pots of
jambalaya at LSU? Of course, some foods are universal. Brats, hamburgers, steaks
and kabobs are popular in all parts of the country. And some fans cook to the
team they're playing. When Georgia is playing LSU, you'll find a lot of
jambalaya in the Georgia tailgate.
In general the grill and/or smoker is the
cooking equipment of choice. So whatever you find on the grill or smoker will
typically show up at the tailgate party. Hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages are the
easy menu items, but chicken wings, both fried and grilled, make their way to
most tailgate parties. Other Southeast tailgate favorites include lobster,
shrimp, oysters, even whole hogs!
The menu can be very simple or it can be
very extravagant. Re-member, you can use your RV kitchen and/or micro-wave to
prepare some tailgating menu items, and enjoy them outside on the parking lot,
or do some preparation at home and bring the cooked food to the tailgate party
to eliminate the preparation on site.
make an ordinary football game into a special event. It brings together friends,
family, fans and food. (The 4 F's.)
Tailgating is about having fun. Eating
some good food. Doing some armchair quarterbacking. Tailgating is talking about
how the game will turn out in your opinion (before the game) and then dissecting
every play (after the game).
You do not have to have a fancy RV. Vans,
pop-ups even a converted hearse will work. All you really need is to get out
there and have some fun.
What you need:
Choose a spot in the parking lot
where you get a great view of the stadium. Some fans may elect to stay at the
tailgating site for the entire game, so a view of the score board is always good
to get. A good location in the parking lot also lets you be around other
tailgaters and folks just passing by headed into the game.
your RV supporting your favorite team.
Ice and at least three ice chests. One
ice chest for your drinks, an ice chest for storing left over food, and a third
ice chest to store ice. Have plenty of ice!
A grill, smoker, propane stove,
or propane fryer for frying large amounts of food. You don't want to make too
big of a mess inside your RV!
Plenty of food for everyone to enjoy, and have
some extra for people you run into.
Chairs, for your friends and visitors to
You are going to need plenty of water. NO, you don't
really need water to drink but you need water to put out the fire in the grill.
You will also need water for people to wash their hands in after eating, and to
clean up the area before you leave.
Paper towels. Bring twice as many as you
think you will need. They work great for napkins, cleaning rags, etc.
paper. Just in case the port-a-cans don't have any.
Paper plates, plastic
forks, and spoons, garbage bags, wet wipes or baby wipes.
Aluminum foil, you
can use this for a bunch of things.
Disposable serving trays.
Go out and support your team. It doesn't matter if you
have a national championship or super bowl contender. The idea is to get out
there and have fun.
If you have a good tailgate recipe, please send it to us.
We'll include them in a later issue of RV Freewheelin'.