Here's to the inventors of tailgatingNow, if you’re like me, you probably think of “tailgating” as a more recent phenomenon, created by “thick-waisted” drinkers and blatant overeaters who attend college and professional football games, but sometimes don’t even make it into the game itself.
By: Kevin Holten, The Dickinson Press
Now, if you’re like me, you probably think of “tailgating” as a more recent phenomenon, created by “thick-waisted” drinkers and blatant overeaters who attend college and professional football games, but sometimes don’t even make it into the game itself. If so, you’re only partly right, because Caesar may actually have been the first tailgater.
But before we go too far, let’s define what tailgating is: it is a social event that is held on and around the open tailgate of a vehicle in the parking lot of a stadium or arena before and occasionally after a game or concert and it involves the consumption of a few too many alcoholic beverages and a lot of grilled food.
Of course the Romans, who were really good at throwing wild toga parties, naturally would be considered a viable candidate for creating the tailgate phenomenon. And rumor has it that Caesar, after watching a particularly good chariot race, opened up the Coliseum and invited people inside to gorge themselves on wild fowl, drink lots of vino and enjoy other types of entertainment, thus setting the tailgating precedent.
Whether this is true, I don’t know, but I do know that at the Civil War Battle of Bull Run in 1861, Union Army supporters showed up with food and drinks in their carriages and sang fight songs, took bets on how long the battle would last, cheered their soldiers on and even caused a traffic jam after losing the battle, which seems to me to follow the classic tailgate formula, even if it was just a little bit weird.
Of course, some people believe that tailgating originated with the very first football game ever played between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869, when fans traveled to the game by horse-drawn carriage, grilled sausages at the “tail-end” of the horse and spawned the term, “tailgating.”
Meanwhile, Yale University claims that its alums were the first to start the practice of tailgating when fans, who rode in private railcars to football games and had little chance to snack along the way, started bringing beverages and chow along and turned it into a big pre-game party.
Then again, others believe that it was Southerners who created the tradition of tailgating at the University of Kentucky in 1881, when students and alumni at the school’s football games dined on wild fish and other tasty treats before the game and hung out afterwards eating leftovers and socializing.
Whoever started the trend, it certainly differs in how it is conducted in various parts of the country today, with some tailgaters burning brats on fiery grills, others burning taste buds with hot jambalaya, others burning brain cells with highly toxic beverages and still others, mainly on the left coast, sipping on white wine and eating grilled fish and pasta.
Whatever the case, we do know that, in theses modern times, 79 percent of the tailgaters are men, 60 percent are between the ages of 25 and 44, and, of the more than 20 million tailgaters in this country who spend more than $35 billion on food and beverages, 30 percent of them never make it to the game.
Meanwhile, the king of tailgaters might just be Joe Cahn, who once owned the New Orleans School of Cooking and has visited every NFL stadium, 125 college stadiums and nine NASCAR tracks, while serving over 325 pots of his famous Louisiana jambalaya at hundreds of events.
There is even an organization called the America Tailgaters Association which boasts more than 300,000 members and has a website that provides you, me and anyone else who is interested with recipes, beverage suggestions and grilling equipment that’ll help to insure a topnotch pregame gathering.
It is this same organization that claims the largest tailgate party in modern times was created by rodeo cowboys; which is the 10-day Calgary Stampede Rodeo in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, that’ll be held July 6-15 this year.
This makes sense since rodeo, which can be traced back to the Spanish ranchers of the early 1700s in the Wild West who influenced the American cowboy with their clothing, language, traditions and equipment, initiated competition involving roping, horse breaking, riding, herding, branding and much more.
Because, early on, most of these competitions could be described as big picnics that featured ranch competition. Thus, there is ample evidence that the cowboys of the Wild West are really the ones who created modern tailgating.
Which somehow reminds me of a quote I read on a plaque behind a bar at a recent gathering in the Killdeer Mountains, that seemed to indirectly describe your average tailgate function when it said, “A good friend will bail you out of jail, but your best friend will be the one sitting next to you saying, ‘Damn that was awesome.’”
Holten is a freelance columnist and cartoonist from Dickinson.