“The tailgate” is not a place. It is an experience.
Growing up 10 minutes from the campus of Louisiana State University, tailgating has always been a part of my culture. There is nothing comparable to the smell of burgers, brats and boudin mixing together in the humid autumn air.
Some of my fondest memories come underneath the live oak trees that fill the campus.
While tailgating, I watched as Appalachian State University beat the University of Michigan in what is largely considered the greatest upset of all time. I was face-first in a shrimp po’ boy (yes, we do things different in south Louisiana) when I met a guy who would become one of my best friends in high school. And it was while tailgating that I hit the most insane, spinning, no-look, long-distance, between-the-legs cornhole shot, forever cementing myself among the legends of the sport.
Tailgating is a family experience, even if the people you are with share no relation to you at all.
I fondly remember walking through “The Grove” at Ole Miss. My friend and I were stuck in the wild droves of people as the skies opened up above us and we were forced to take shelter under a rival’s tent.
What ensued was a glorious mixture of laughter, storytelling and finger sandwiches. Tailgating helped me to feel at home in an environment where I did not belong.
Tailgating is more than just the chance to show off club letters; it is an opportunity to develop friendships, eat beyond one’s heart’s content and support the team you are there to see.
Without a mutual rooting interest, tailgating is just dinner. It is just a barbecue in front of the GAC.
Too often I hear Harding students, teachers and administrators refer to tailgating as “the tailgate,” but I believe that terminology misses the point of what tailgating is all about.
“The tailgate” is not a place you can go to. It is an experience that can unify an entire community.
Harding comes into Saturday’s home opener ranked No. 7 by the American Football Coaches Association, one week after beating Henderson State on the road 41-17. As ESPN camera crews set up their equipment, students will set up their tents and grills.
But if the students do not move from the tailgate to the football field, the spirit of the tailgating experience will be lost. Students from different states with different Division I allegiances must unify behind the black and gold.
If they do, the burgers will be juicier, the drinks will be colder and the cornhole will be so much more intense. Tailgating is a family experience, one that brings people together and forms life-long memories.
If Harding hopes to bring that experience to the next level, students will have to be willing to dedicate themselves to more than just club pride.