It’s that time of year to put away the swimming suits and the sailboats to focus once again on that most highly anticipated tradition that defines the fall season. No, not gutting pumpkins or deer; I’m actually talking about the quintessentially American fall ritual: football.
I mean, of course, college football, since I live in a pro football wasteland.
Or rather, college football tailgating. I can count on one hand the number of football games I’ve attended since graduating from Michigan State University (I won’t give an exact year, but suffice it to say that it’s been more than a decade. And a half.) but tailgating is an event in itself.
A typical game day starts at about 4:30 am. Yes, on a Saturday. We get decked out in our green and white, wearing as little clothing as decently possible for September games and then gradually increasing the layers as the season continues. For those late November games, I’m usually up to two pairs of leggings and then fleece jeans as well as a t-shirt, a turtle neck, a sweatshirt, and a coat. Top it off nicely with a winter hat and gloves to complete the ensemble. At this point, you should be picturing the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Nobody said that spending the whole day outside in the Michigan fall weather was for the weak.
Once we’ve loaded up chafing dishes and crock pots of food, we’re on our way to East Lansing. It’s only 5:30 am, but the expressway will already be crowded with other fans, many with flags flying and Sparty decals. I always like to stop at the rest area just a few miles before our exit not only because it’s the last actual bathroom for 8-12 hours (negotiating multiple layers of clothing in a porta-potty is exactly as fun as it sounds) but because of the camaraderie of other fans; there’s nothing like exchanging high fives when you’re about to pee.
When we arrive on campus at 7 am, we help set up our designated spot. The tent, the tables, grill, the generator, the TV, and the satellite dish is all set up. We used to have a tent without sides, years ago when we were still tailgating amateurs. Then, during one night game, it started pouring rain. Sideways. There were ten of us in the dark all huddled under the tent that was doing absolutely nothing to keep us dry. So we lowered it all around us until we were wearing it like a 10-person poncho. Needless to say, that was the last tailgate sans tent sides.
After everything is set up, it’s time for breakfast. Some tailgates just bring all lunch items to tailgates and end up eating things like lasagna for breakfast. But that’s kind of disgusting. I prefer normal breakfast items in the morning like scrambled eggs and pancakes and tequila. If any tailgate virgins were wondering up until this moment why anyone in their right mind would do this, you have arrived at the answer at last.
Tailgating is basically an excuse to walk around with open containers of alcohol, in public, in the morning and this is perfectly acceptable. In fact, one of our favorite things to do is to make Jello shots that coordinate the color with the team we are playing that day. For instance, if our opponent is Ohio State, we make cherry Jello shots. Then we look for fans wearing those colors and toss the shots across the street at them. Even if their team is ultimately losers in football, the fans are still grateful for our kindness. We assume.
Our tailgate always has a TV with games on all day, so naturally we attract random hangers-on all day, those who don’t have tickets or a TV. They come crash our tailgate and watch the game. At first, they hang out at the edge of the tent and peer in, just hoping to catch the score. This is my husband’s favorite part because he loves to cook (and loves to be told he’s a good cook) so he’ll lure them into the tent with the promise of watching the game and then spring the price of admission on them: at least one effusive compliment on his homemade salsa. He swears he doesn’t chase people around wielding salsa-filled chips, but I claim otherwise. Don’t bother asking for the recipe; you might as well call the White House to ask for the nuclear codes.
Kids also stop by to hawk their wares for various fundraisers during the game, and I marvel at their business savvy. They no longer need to bother with ringing doorbells in their neighborhood when they can come to campus on game day where there are thousands of people in one place who are clearly okay with throwing their money away. After all, they think nothing of spending upwards of $1000 a season for the privilege of parking on the grass. (We’re talking seven home games at most.) And I don’t know how, but these kids always manage to ask with the effectiveness of Puss in Boots. Bonus points for sympathy if it’s a November game and the kid is bundled up like Randy from A Christmas Story. I’ve somehow collected so many strands of beads over the years that it’s almost too bad that I’m not a college boy on his way to New Orleans over Spring Break.
Finally, with the multitude of empty beer cans come the people who collect them for the deposit money. We’re talking 10 cents a can and thousands of tailgaters, not to mention hours of drinking time. You do the math. One particular Can Man that stopped by our tailgate looked exactly like Mick Jagger. When I excitably told him this, he agreeably sang all of “Satisfaction” at my request (or at least the most memorable line, several times) and while he might not have had a voice like Jagger, he did have the moves; that is, if Mick Jagger were suddenly attacked by angry wasps that could only be mollified by a performance consisting of a cross between River Dance and the Chicken Dance. As I said, exactly like Mick Jagger.
This is why we tailgate: for the beads, the salsa, and the dancing. Remember that it’s not about the game itself, especially if your team has suddenly decided to make it interesting and compete for Most Likely to Underwhelm. So get out there this season especially if you’ve never done it (quickly, before you need to invest in long underwear) and if you’re not having the best time of your life, simply do another Jello shot. Repeat as needed.