Fans & Tailgating
It is bad enough that the dastardly virus has brought about so much pain and suffering. Too many people are hurting, which is why we should not let our emotions about the loss of entertainment make us fret foolishly. Helping those in need should take priority over frustration stemming from the indefinite status of football.
Before you conclude that I may be biting the hand that has fed me well for years, be reminded that the aforementioned is to underscore that those in the college football business passionately want to see the country return to a state of normalcy. That is the first priority. That said, I hold the view that if games are played, that should bode well for the economy. If there is live television, that should boost the morale across the country. I feel good about that. Every day, every conversation focuses on the hopes that there will be competition and that there will be no major hiccups. A stadium quarter-filled is not the best, but better than the alternative.
Baseball is not so bad with “cardboard” fans except for the staleness of the stadium, which you can “feel” on TV. No shrill whistling, no yelling at the umpires from the stands and nobody leaning over the fence to grab a fly ball just beyond the reach of an itinerant outfielder.
If there is football in the three major conferences that have taken a “business as usual” stance, it will be far different from the past. No pregame show, no halftime show, no cheerleaders and no recruits crowding the sidelines to get the feel of the stadium before kickoff.
The biggest blow! No tailgating.
How can we play football without tailgate spreads across the campus? This is not suggesting we do otherwise, but a lament that one of the greatest of college football traditions will be missing at Georgia for the first time since 1892.
To substantiate that claim, here are the facts. Georgia’s first game was played on North campus near the Chapel bell. Dr. Charles Herty, a chemistry professor, who had learned about the game while a student at Johns Hopkins, had organized UGA’s first team.
The opponent was Mercer and Georgia enjoyed an easy afternoon, scoring fifty points to Mercer’s none. However, a member of the Georgia team (the Bulldog name would come about two decades later) told Dr. John Stegeman, Georgia’s first and foremost historian, that the score of the game was inaccurate. A. O. Halsey explained that Georgia had scored two more touchdowns but that the scorekeeper had missed them when he went across the street “to buy some booze.”
So, I have always concluded that Georgia’s first game also featured the first tailgate party.
There have been a couple of times in the past, when the original Varsity was located at the foot of College Avenue across from the Arch, I bought a couple of chili dogs and then walked over the Herty Field where I conjured up images of that first game.
There were no stands, no cheerleaders, no band and no extracurricular trimmings. Some fans showed up in horse and buggy, which included picnic baskets, but official tailgating for the University of Georgia began with a thirsty scorekeeper, whose identity has never been disclosed.
Through the years when attending road games in mostly Southeastern Conference schools, I have often gotten to the games early and walked the campus of the host school to observe what their tailgating and pregame socials were like.
Collecting recipes and interviewing fans who love tailgating as much as, or more than the competition, led to the conclusion that we cannot lose that most valuable custom.
I believe that football will come back in all its glory, and also believe that tailgating, which has always been akin to dinner-on-thegrounds, will enjoy renewed passion.
However, the rising cost of tailgating—from tickets to parking to lodging—may be more of a threat to this great tradition than the virus. Especially when you realize that wide screens are only going to get wider which allows for stay-athome preferences that eliminate all the hassle. No concession and restroom lines, no parking challenge and no traffic, chief among them.
If college football ever loses its tailgate tradition, we may be playing games without fans long after we have trampled out the virus. God forbid.