Photos by Cameron Flaisch
Ages old, and most likely everlasting, the tailgating tradition is one that is not approached lightly. When the tents go up and the flags start flying, the die-hard supporters are easy to spot. And from the fall months into the winter, they eat, breathe, and sleep crimson red, coal black, blood orange, or royal blue (among others, of course). As these revved-up rooters plan their own personal season, their home away from home, the blueprints for the tailgating festivities are paramount to the experience. Whether a fan stands behind professional, college or high school football (or all three), there are certain aspects of a tailgating party that, for true (maybe even hardcore) fans, are never overlooked or under-adorned.
Parking lots become festivals of fanatic football foreplay. Pitched tents, stocked coolers and smoking grills are the basics as the parties begin, but setting the scene is an art. From the ground up, a consistent flow of vivid team colors are flown in the form of anything and everything you can imagine. Party planners can pay a visit to Traditions of Rome Inc. (101 East Second Ave.), where owner Rudy Childs offers the most fervent fans a complete goldmine of team memorabilia – from car flags, decals, plateware, and coolers to body tattoos, coozies, clothing, and everything in between. Tailgating enthusiasts can even declare their team loyalty, ever so elegantly, with painted ceramic and polished silver serving pieces. When asked if fans really get that intricate, Childs lowers his chin and raises his eyebrows, “Are you kidding me?!”
The food can range from fine cuisine to finger foods. While the traditional hotdogs and hamburgers will definitely find their place on the grill, a lot of fans take their party fare up a notch and bring out the smoker. For Roger Blakeney and his wife, Pam, celebrating the Georgia Bulldogs is a family affair, and barbecue is a game day staple, no questions asked. Their daughter-in-law even has her own recipe for a dish the family calls Bulldog Beans.
“I’ve been a fan since the day I was born,” Roger smiles as he boasts that his love of Georgia football has passed on to his two sons, Matt and Mark.
While barbecue is the Blakeney staple for the belly, Roger and Pam bring an extra something special to the lot that appeals to all the senses. Their 1947 red and black Willys Jeep is decked out from the red-rimmed tires to the Georgia tags, flags, and decals. “It’s a real conversation piece,” Roger smiles. And don’t worry, it’s completely functional, all the way down to the Bulldogs fire extinguisher in the front console.
Whether the Blakeneys tailgate at the game, party at the house or trek to Savannah for “Gator Hater” parties with the family, the Jeep remains a focal point – displaying loyalty to Georgia with the booming sound of the Bulldogs fight song at the touch of a button. Roger says that of all the UGA games, there’s one in particular at which he makes it a point to park his prized piece of fandom, the Georgia vs. Auburn game.
But the Willys can ward off fans of the orange and blue in silence with a defeated plastic tiger hanging helplessly from the trailer hitch. Roger and Pam smile, pleased with their witty warning. “We like to aggravate them,” she says.
Roger and Pam remember a time when Sanford Stadium was not yet closed in and they could climb up on the bank and watch the game. There’s nothing like the rush of being in the midst of a game day celebration, he says. And whether you stay in the lot to view the game on your own TV or you sit between the hedges, the Blakeneys agree that the energy is indescribable.
While there may be an extra boost of team spirit along the main stretches of home games, tailgating is a tradition that travels. As a longtime season ticket holder, Alabama fan Ted Corwin of the Corwin Firm (414 East First Ave.) has met many people along the team trail, and they have all trekked together to attend games away from home – Pasadena, Calif., New Orleans, La., and Miami, Fla., are just a few of their destinations.
“We’re all members of Tide Pride (a ticket priority donor program) and our seats are together,” Corwin says. “We all sit in the same little area and, over time, we became friends and started traveling together.”
In Corwin’s past setup, Astro Turf laid the foundation for the crimson red roof of an Alabama tent towering a perimeter of tables set and spread with a banquet of home-cooked food. Family, friends and sometimes fellow fans helped themselves to the game day feast dished up from Bama-branded serveware; no cup, plate or tablecloth was spared the prided colors of the rolling Tide. Right there in the lot of the Hotel Capstone, less than a mile away from the stadium, Corwin and his family set up their satellite and TV in the back of the SUVs; they had their living room, kitchen and reunion hall all under the shared burgundy shade of proud Bama bannerol.
Although personal circumstance has paled Corwin’s pregame for a couple of seasons, he intends to get back in the game this year, full steam, in his newly rented home away from home – an apartment within walking distance of Bryant-Denny Stadium. In the complex, Corwin is surrounded by Romans, all with the same Bama-supporting agenda.
“When [the apartment] became available, I rented it – site unseen – because they go so fast,” he says. “It’s only five blocks from the stadium.”
Like Roger and Pam, Corwin finds it hard to describe what it’s like to be part of the sea of football fans on game day. “To give you an idea of the number of people there, there’s probably about 100,000 people that don’t even go into the game; they just tailgate and watch TV,” he says. “It’s just amazing to see. Everywhere you walk, tents and flatscreens and people cooking out for miles.”
It’s a place where hatchbacks become entertainment centers; the trunk becomes a grill; and people transform into walking, talking placards for their beloved band of athletes. From head to toe, fans cover themselves in their team’s prideful colors and, for one full season, they revel in good times, good people, and good spirit.
No matter the team, the mascot or the colors, tailgaters all have something in common; they are the sounds that suspend the stadium in a momentary rush of charged electricity. Their voices, in allegiance, ignite the spark of support that surges through the countless miles of a nationwide radius. The players become conquerors on a quest for victory – the field their battleground. And as the war cries unite and echo on the streets and in the stands, colorful strands of hope suspend themselves at the mercy of their heroes’ clout.
For some, it’s a way of life. For others, it’s a celebration to anticipate. But any way you look at it, tailgating is all about solidarity and camaraderie. That is why it has become a tradition that will never die. VVV
For all of your tailgating needs visit Traditions of Rome, located at 101 East Second Ave., or call 706-232-1427