Pre-game Pros Out There Tailgating Like a Boss Posted by: Rod Ford | 0 Comments
If the Internet is to believed, the origins of tailgating go back to the first college football game between Rutgers and Princeton. Like most things related to college football lore, the SEC didn’t invent them, it just does them better than anyone else. Tailgating is no exception.
The Grove at Ole Miss sports tents with chandeliers, Southern Living recipes spread on beautiful tablecloths and enough seersucker to convince a novice it’s Easter. When they aren’t starting things off in the Quad, Alabama fans roll out an impressive RV show for away games. Roll Tide!
Tennessee literally brings a naval armada to Neyland stadium, which is located next to the Tennessee River. LSU often begins “officially” tailgating on Thursday, but it could be argued most of the campus tailgates all 12 weeks of the season. Texas A&M likes to burn stuff.
Perhaps the school with the most internal tailgating debate is the University of Arkansas. As the only school in the country that splits its home games (between campus in Fayetteville and the capital city of Little Rock), there is a fair amount of argument which tailgate scene is the best.
No matter the campus or colors, every SEC school has a base of game day gurus, who take tailgating to eleven. In Arkansas, there’s Tusk to Tail: seven friends who run an operation sophisticated enough to rival a battlefield hospital. Each tailgate experience comes complete with flat-screen TVs, food and beverage service, comfortable chairs and up to 8 generators. That’s enough power to run a typical home, which is necessary when hosting 80-120 of your closest Hog friends.
The Godfather of this group, Craig May, makes sure everyone who wants to be is ticketed for the games. He has been to 177 of the past 178 Razorback football games, missing just one since 1999.
“The first tailgate I remember going to was in 1992,” said May. “I went to the War Memorial Golf course [in Little Rock] with some buddies with a couple of coolers in the back of a truck. We parked under a tree and dropped the tailgate and spent a few hours hanging out before the game. Things have evolved rapidly from those days.”
Dale Cullins earned the nickname of “Hardest working man in football” by becoming the logistical leader. He plans, stores and transports a trailer of supplies to each home game.
“On the Monday of game week I contact everyone and ask for a head count,” Cullins explained. “By Wednesday, I’ve negotiated a deal with our primary food supplier/caterer and confirmed the size of our order. Thursday the alcohol is bought. Friday I do a last check of our supplies and shop. Friday night is spent loading a trailer.
“I get up by 5-6 a.m. on game day and throw some items in the oven and load the coolers so they can be iced down. By 7:30, I’ve met up with some of the guys, we hit up one of the industrial ice machines to load up the 8 coolers and then try to be unloading at our spot by 8.”
David Rice does most of the writing for the blog and gives the reality show that is this 12-week cookout, a story arc and plot line for readers. “For the most part, tailgating is our only vice,” said Rice. “We would tailgate before a movie if we thought we could get away with it.”
The rest of the group, Mark Wagner; Jack Clark; Greg Houser and Sean Casey, provide support where needed. Everyone shares the cost, which can get to be considerable. The men say they try not to think about the money too much and instead focus on the relationships they’re building.
“Our group does a great job of being inclusive,” said May. “When you come to our tailgates, you’re going to see our parents, wives, siblings, kids and friends all having a great time and enjoying being together.”
Cullins claims most of the productions value is to lure his wife and daughter to join the extravaganza, “On the nice days, when the sun is shining and the air is crisp, you look around at everyone enjoying themselves, and it provides its own satisfaction.”
Rice reflected, “We have a group text thread where the seven of us communicate constantly. Sometimes it’s just guy stuff, dirty jokes and the like. Other times we really bare our soul about family matters, church, or work. Life in our little traveling circus is not always easy. But I don’t think we would keep on doing it if we weren’t having fun.”
Depending on how far the away games are and the tailgating rules of each opponent’s school determines if they take their tailgate on the road. They have been known to go to a local bar in a pinch.
No question, a love of the game and a good time is where this all began. But all of the men say it’s their friendship that kept it going.
“I love the camaraderie that I share with my friends,” said Cullins. “The best part for me is the morning at a tailgate. It’s just the guys, watching Game Day, catching up and sharing our lives together. I hope we are all able to do this for decades to come and pass along this way of life to our kids if they want it.”
Kerri Jackson Case is physically incapable of parking legally. She lives in Little Rock with her husband, son and two smelly dogs. If you’re around at suppertime, she’ll feed you. You can follow her unremarkable but thoroughly entertaining life at DrinkSleepAndBeKerri.com..