Tailgating before college and pro football games is an American tradition. From late summer until early winter, temporary tent cities appear in stadium parking lots across the country. A haze of charcoal smoke fills the air with laughs, jokes and the aroma of burgers and grilled hot dogs.
According to Tonya Williams Bradford, co-author of a 2015 cultural analysis on tailgating published in the Journal of Consumer Research, the modern hatchback has its roots in the fall harvest celebrations of ancient Greece and Rome. These events were marked with music, community and plenty of food and drink for a final feast before the onset of winter.
“The notion of bringing people together around food is not new: when contests popped up for entertainment, it was natural for food to be part of the gathering,” says Bradford, associate professor of marketing at the University of California to Irvine. “For practical reasons, people would come around to watch and bring meals. It turned into more festive gatherings, turning the pragmatics into part of the overall experience. Thus, we find a strong connection between the first gatherings and what we observe in modern times. “
Picnic spectators witness a Civil War battle
What could be considered America’s first hatchback took place on a Sunday, but spectators who attended were eagerly awaiting a clash that was far different from a football game. On July 21, 1861, residents of Washington packed picnic baskets and loaded them into cars and strollers for a day in the Virginia countryside. Rather than listening to the bucolic sounds of nature, they followed the sounds of artillery to witness the Civil War’s first great confrontation from afar in the First Battle of Bull Run.
Union Captain John Tidball witnessed “crowds of tourists” and hawkers “in wagons loaded with pies and other edibles.” The arrangements were more out of necessity than frivolity, according to the American Battlefield Trust, as the 25-mile carriage ride from the nation’s capital took more than seven hours.
Spectators were hopeful that the visiting team would achieve an early victory in what has become the “picnic battle”. Positioned miles from the action, spectators gazed through binoculars and complained about the views obstructed by smoke and trees. Despite its nickname, the battle turned out to be a picnic for Union forces, though future Vice President Henry Wilson handed out leftover sandwiches to the boys in blue as they rushed into the defeat.
Tailoring Comes With Automotive Age
Just eight years later, young Americans compete on soccer fields. Fans may have dined in a wagon watching Rutgers and Princeton play the first football game in 1869. In the 1880s newspapers reported that well-heeled fans were sipping champagne and enjoying other refreshments while watching the annual Yale-Princeton Thanksgiving game in New York City. the luxury of horse-drawn carriages parked on the sidelines.
Maturing in America at the same time, football and the automobile have always had a strong connection. (The National Football League was even founded in the Ohio auto showroom of Canton Bulldogs owner Ralph Hay.)
In the early 1900s, the schools that Princeton University-dominated football, Yale, and Harvard also had wealthy alumni who were among the few who could afford the new motorized carts. In 1906, when auto registrations topped 100,000 for the first time, the 32,000 supporters who will travel to New Haven, Connecticut for the Harvard-Yale game included motorists who were indulging in what may be the first forward. match.
“The open field around the pitch was just black with machines parked together in such a desperate mass that it seems impossible for anyone to find theirs once again.” the New York Times reported. The newspaper said that the hungry fans who arrived by train “gazed with envious eyes as they approached the field at small parties of motorists eating tempting meats that had been brought in picnic baskets spread over. a table cloth laid on the floor. “
As car ownership skyrocketed with the popularity of college football, it was possible for fans from a wider geographic area to make it to games. During the 1920s, colleges such as Michigan and Ohio State met the demand by building cavernous stadiums that could accommodate tens of thousands of fans. As it became more difficult for restaurants in college towns to feed the huge crowds, more fans held “box picnics” and dined on blankets in the parking lots.
After the advent of wood-walled station wagons in the 1930s, fans used folding rear hatches as seats or buffet tables. Thus, the pre-game party was increasingly called “tailgating”. While some credit Yale Sports Information Director Charley Loftus, it is not clear who, if any, coined the term.
Bottom-up explodes with mass production of plastic grills and coolers
As portable grills and plastic coolers became mass produced in the 1950s, hot grills and cold beer replaced wicker baskets filled with wine bottles and sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. Suburban grill culture flourished after World War II and became part of the American dream along with a green lawn and white picket fence. Car ownership also exploded after the war, with registrations doubling from 28 million in 1946 to 56 million in 1957.
As automotive culture continued to define the United States into the 1970s, NFL teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and New England Patriots moved from shoehorned stadiums to neighborhoods in the city in new with ample parking. Due to the lack of public transportation to some of the new venues, fans headed to the stadiums, which were surrounded by acres of asphalt instead of bustling neighborhoods with local restaurants and bars.
With the new venues, the lack of viable dining alternatives, and the rising cost of stadium concessions, tailgating has spread throughout the NFL, and some teams have promoted parking lot parties and barbecues as part of the game. of the match day experience. In 1973, the San Francisco 49ers even gifted fans with booklets containing recipes written by the players’ wives.
In some cases, tailgating has evolved from a pigskin appetizer to the main course itself. The festivities ahead of the annual college game between Florida and Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla., Began the Wednesday before kickoff. This led Florida Times-Union Columnist and Editor-in-Chief Bill Kastelz to nickname it “The World’s Greatest Outdoor Cocktail Party” in 1958.
While tailgating ahead of other college and professional sporting events does occur in some cities, the pre-game tradition is nowhere near as universal as it is with football. Bradford says timing is part of the reason.
“The football season coincides with the harvest season, so it’s natural to have hatchbacks with generous tables throughout the fall,” she says. “There is also the fandom with football which is not as prevalent with other sports, especially with college sports. There are often multigenerational family relationships with universities and teams, which translate into annual alum pilgrimages to return home and adopt tailgate rituals.