Tailgate Nation II

OK so what makes a tailgate different than a stay at home party? The game of course. There has to be a game of some kind to focus passion and stir shit up otherwise it’s just a pic nic at the beach. Most historical accounts of tailgating fix the first tailgate at The Battle of Bull Run, which, in hind sight, turned out to be regrettable for all involved. Good idea ……bad execution. The next recorded one was about a decade later at a Rutgers Princeton football game. Of course there were no tailgates, there just wagons and horses, (the invention of the chuck wagon should not be overlooked), it was after the advent of the actual tailgate on a station wagon post WWII that tailgating took off.

Folks that don’t follow sports can drive by a game day event and form various impressions about what’s going on and many of them would be incomplete or just flat out wrong. Let’s do the numbers using college football as the measuring stick. The average CF stadium is somewhere north of 70,000 seats. There are 110 Division 1 Colleges that play football.  Most teams now play 12 games a fall. Lets assume that 60% of capacity participates in a tailgate that’s 42,000X55 (as it takes 2 teams to have a game) =2,300,000 folks are tailgating each game day at stadiums across the nation. Which would amount to somewhere around 23 million folks a year for D-1 college football. There is also D-2 and 3., pro football and auto racing and ………well you get the idea. It’s not just for a few diehards it’s pretty popular.

Walking through Lot 14 at Doak Campbell on game day is like a day at a fair, bazaar, flea market, and revival meeting. The smell of grilled food, the thumping music, and various game day events hooked up to portable satellite dishes, the laughter and shrieks of happy children and the camaraderie of folks relaxing and getting pumped for the big game is intoxicating. Sometimes during the post game tailgate the band comes through and sections stop in to tailgates for refreshments, often playing some of their repertoire.  Of course intoxicants are an integral part of the day as well. It’s a chance to cut loose and revel in the sophomoric spirit of the day. But to say it’s just sophomoric is not accurate for many.

It is a religion, game day is the holy day and the stadium is church. The holy rollers got nothing on rabid fans who definitely speak in languages during the game. The collective emotions of the fans boil up to a crescendo that is unique in my experience. Rival games are extremely intense FSU UF, FSU Miami, Alabama Auburn, Michigan Ohio State, UF Georgia are wild affairs. If you are thinking of a first time experience into the college football world these are probably not a good place to start, they are more like exorcisms.

In 2005 SI put out an interesting piece sponsored by Weber (wonder why?) which helps bring perspective.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/magazine/specials/tailgate/2005/tips/

And the answer to “why is this fun?” is quite simple. Because we want it to be.

Next: memorable tailgates.

Tailgate Nation Part 1

I have always been in love with FSU. From the summer music camp I attended for 6 weeks before 10th grade, through the challenges of life, to today. The music camp was my first real freedom. FSU’s campus was still a small, slow paced remnant of past elegance and charm, centering on the old Florida State College for Women campus; a handful of old red brick buildings, that looked more like Pennsylvania than Florida.  The tennis courts were grass, just the other side of Landis Green. Montgomery gym had a retractable floor covering the swimming pool and the bowling alley had no automated pin spotters, so young guys like me could make a couple of bucks setting up pins. The softball fields had beautifully green outfields and dark red South Georgia clay infields. I was still youthfully pure at the time not yet corrupted by the narcotics of love and recreational spirits. I was an athlete and a musician/scholar, the beginning of a renaissance man.  I inhaled the wonders of it all, it was summertime and there was no football.

When I came back as a freshman almost 4 years later the campus was humming with change, it was my time now and I knew it. I was no longer unaware of the pleasures of the flesh. It was the 60’s man, shit was happening. I mean really happening, girls had birth control, burned their bras and within 3 years the hippies began the summer of love. Streaking first appeared on Landis Green; FSU became a center of radicalism and was dubbed the Berkeley of the South. And there was football, complete with the parties that went before and after the games. There were parties everywhere. I began to notice there were tailgates but they looked kinda tame for my tastes. Standing around talking to a bunch of folks that had JOBS seemed kinda dull, that is until I had a job myself and then it all changed again.

Just having the income that permits one to become a certified tailgater is the first step, that takes a few years for most of us, particularly those with kids. Then making the decision to buy (4) season tickets, become a booster, and travel to Tallahassee 6 times a fall for a 2 night minimum is a significant budgetary and time commitment. But suddenly what many of us realized was that we seriously wanted to go back and live those party days again, without all the dramas of adolescence. We wanted to be part of our tribe again and hang out with our own. So we did, and we do. And it is truly so much fun I sometimes feel guilty that I am not doing something more significant than having a good time. But not often and not for long.

It’s our 60’s man and shit is happening.

A Day At The Yard

Yesterday we went to a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game. I’ve been to many over the 13 years of Ray’s baseball and have sat in many different locations but I prefer seats like the ones we had yesterday right behind the visitor’s dugout on 3rd base side, 15 rows up Right on top of the scoring action, and it started right away. Cleveland scored 3 runs in the top of the first, not a good Rays start. But it was to be an eventful game, featuring one of the games great young Tampa Bay players Carl Crawford. In the bottom of the first with the runners on the corners and 1 out the batter hits a scorcher right back to the pitcher. Crawford who was on third breaks for home distracting the pitcher from throwing to 2nd to begin the double play and end the inning, and then he stops running and draws the pitchers full attention (no longer being able to turn the DP he is totally committed to getting CC out in a rundown). He executes the run straight at the runner to force him to go somewhere and Crawford just kinda plays possum until the last second when the pitcher throws to the third baseman for the tag CC breaks for home. He runs like Flash and the 3rd basman can’t catch him so he has to throw ahead to the catcher who is set up at home, except the speed of CC so bedazzles him the throw is errant and CC slides safely around the tag at home. It was an amazing play from an amazing player.

CC is an example of a team player versus just a tools player. He is low key, respectful and will sacrifice with a bunt or a “take” to help the team. He is an all around complete player with great offense, defense and dizzying speed. He is a crowd favorite. We drafted him right out of Jefferson Davis High School in Houston. He was highly recruited by the elite colleges in basketball & football and by Major League baseball. He could have played point guard at UCLA or QB at Nebraska. The Rays gave him a tiered contract and have managed to hold on to him through the last 2 years when he has earned $18 million. He is a free agent at the end of this year and the speculation is that the Rays can’t afford to keep him if they don’t go to the World Series this year.

CC Swipes Home

CC is playing his heart out for himself and for Tampa Bay. He is low key and selfless but his numbers are gaudy. He was last years All Star MVP and is the starting left fielder in Tuesdays AL All Star lineup. If he leaves we will be sad but my bet is it will be done with dignity and class. The Rays probably just can’t compete with the big market teams for what CC can command. I’m betting he will get many offers and Tampa Bay will be proud to have had him as a Ray for the time we have. I’m also betting he won’t hold an hour press conference to focus totally on CC at the expense of Tampa Bay.

Yesterday the Rays won 6-5 in the bottom of the 10th, CC scored the winning run. He also hit a 2 run homer so he accounted for 4 of the Rays 6 runs.

He also did something else that will live forever in my memory; he hit a foul ball that I ended up with. My retrieval won’t make a highlight video, but I got the ball. I will leave the ball to a son or grandson to be a cherished sports moment from a classy guy. But I will keep it displayed in my living room for a few years first.