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That Guy's Wearing Red, Too!

Exploring the State of Nebraska and its unique football tradition

Tailgating Redefined

It was around this time of year in the late 90s that I first heard the term “tailgating” in connection with a football game. I was about to watch a game that had been promoted for weeks as crucial in deciding that year’s national college champion team – it may have been the Rose Bowl, if memory serves me correctly. The pre-game telecast began with a helicopter’s-eye view of the stadium and its surrounds, with thousands of cars already in the parking lot and thousands more on the nearby roads waiting their turn to enter. As I contemplated the bumper-to-bumper traffic and wondered what kind of devotion that would cause college fans to travel across the country and spend a public holiday stuck in traffic in an unfamiliar city, one of the commentators startled me from my reverie by noting “There has been a lot of tailgating going on all around the stadium for the past couple of days. It’s such a great tradition for College Bowl games”.

As a relative newcomer to North America at that time, and an even more recent follower of football who had only lately began to understand the basic rules of the game, the term “tailgating” simply meant driving one’s car as close as possible to the car in front. The picture I was seeing on the screen with cars moving slowly in heavy traffic coincided perfectly with my understanding of the term, and so I was amazed to think that the dedicated fans had been stuck in heavy nose-to-tail traffic for a “couple of days” as they waited to get into the stadium grounds and find a parking space. Meanwhile the camera cut to several shots of fans picnicking from the back of their cars in the parking lot, and all I could do was sympathize with how hungry they must have been after being stuck in their cars and enduring traffic that was not only heavy but also stressful as everyone tried to stay on the bumper in front of them. It was little wonder that some of them were drinking beer after such an ordeal.

But before I could relax and feel relieved for the fans who had safely made it to the parking lot, the commentators upped the ante all over again when they said in a matter-of-fact way “Well of course enjoying your favorite beverage is always a big part of tailgating. Some fans like their bourbon while they tailgate and others have their beer of choice…” I was too stunned to hear what he said next – as if the sheer volume of traffic going to the game were not enough, the drivers all tailgate one another and make a point of drinking while they’re doing it! It was at this point that I decided I would never go to a college Bowl game. No sir, watching it on TV would be just fine thank you very much.

However as the years went by and I learned the difference between a touchdown and a touchback, I also learned that “tailgating” had another meaning in addition to the one I had grown up with. Nevertheless I have yet to experience going to a Bowl game, much less the hospitable type of tailgating that goes with it. For that reason, combined with the self-sacrificing principles of journalistic integrity, I have made the decision to not only attend the Foster Farms Bowl this coming Saturday but also to sign up for the “Official Tailgate Party” that will take place at the stadium starting 3 hours before the game. No doubt the .

Given that the sponsor's fine product will likely be flowing in abundance, I’m sure this party will give me lots of opportunity to meet my fellow Nebraska fans and learn more about the long-standing tradition of tailgating. But just to be on the safe side I will be taking an Uber car to the game and avoiding the tailgating traffic on the roads!

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