It takes a lot of energy to power your tailgate.
The sky was clear and the air was crisp – perfect college football weather. He had waited all summer for the first day of the football season, and to say he was excited would be a colossal understatement – like saying Clemson fans are a bit fond of the Tigers or Notre Dame fans are partial to the Fighting Irish.
He lived in the same college town his entire life. His parents met while students at the university, he graduated from there a few years back, and the first outfit his daughter ever wore was a onesie adorned with the team mascot. The university wasn’t just a part of the town, it was a part of his family.
Game Day is as good as any holiday one could image only better, repeated six times in the fall – kicked off by The Tailgate: equal parts food, friends and primal bonding before the main event. The little-noticed players: natural gas and oil, providing power and support for college football tailgates from Auburn to Yale (as far as it is known, none of the U.S. colleges starting with the letter “z” competes in football).
Tailgates may look chaotic to outsiders, but they’re carefully planned, coordinated and supplied. Tailgaters rise early on Game Day, decking themselves out in team colors before trekking to campus, vehicles loaded with the ingredients for a great tailgate. His group pays big bucks to the alumni association to get two coveted parking spots a pigskin's toss from the stadium, spots #236 and #237 that his family had reserved for the past three decades.
After pulling their car into #236, they begin setting up. Tedious to some, but he considered it akin to warm-up music pumping him up for the show. He and his brother immediately set up the tent made with petroleum-based fabric and three long fold-up tables made from polyethylene over #237. His wife and sister-in-law quickly cover those tables in easy-to-wash polyester tablecloths and begin meticulously placing casseroles, sandwiches, dips and drinks on them.
He sets up his little girl, dressed in a polyester cheerleader outfit, in her bouncy chair before unloading color-coordinated folding chairs, over-sized coolers and the cornhole set, on which his wife had painted the team’s logo.
But the party is just starting. His brother sets up a final table for the pièce de résistance – a flat-screen TV on which they’ll watch pregame shows and the day’s early slate of games. After all, one can play only so much cornhole. With the help of a portable dish and a generator, they never miss a touchdown. It takes almost an hour to get everything unloaded, but it’s worth it.
He loves the tailgate not for the food or the game, but because it’s a tradition, one that actually organizes family life. And the lives of other families. Virtually everyone in town rallies in that parking lot before the game to support the university.
The minutes pass by and cars begin to fill in other reserved parking spots. Before long, the lot is filled, and the crowds are rumbling with excitement. He sees Phil and Rhonda from down the street set up in their usual spot in #234 as well as the Robertsons in #235. His parents met them for the first time at this very location, and now they are some of the family’s closest friends. He helps unload their car, and they join his tailgating party, as they always have done.
Throughout the morning, raucous college kids stumble past their tent, teenagers toss a football back and forth and smaller kids play cornhole. When fans of the day’s opponent pause to ask for directions, his party welcomes them with a a beer or a soft drink.
The whole scene makes him smile. It’s what he loves, week after week, season after season. Win or lose the game, the tailgate will generate good times and some lasting memories. No better way to spend an autumn morning or afternoon.
Natural gas and oil: Powering the moments that matter.