Mesoamerican ball games in the 12th Century BCE, Gladiatorial fights in the Flavian Amphitheatre (the Roman Colosseum) as early as 260 BCE, medieval tournaments in the 13th through 17th Centuries, the Battle of Bull Run in 1861, and early November’s “World’s Largest Cocktail Party” all have something in common: food and entertainment.
Anywhere people have attended spectator sports and entertainment events, someone has been cooking, serving, eating, or drinking. No matter what part of the world or what part of history you consider, sport and food have come together, though the definition of “entertainment” has changed over the centuries – most entertainment today isn’t as bloody. Though sport and food are a worldwide phenomenon, only in America do we have “tailgating,” a spectator sport tradition dating back at least a hundred years, but why this never caught on in Europe defies explanation.
Really, because tailgating requires a “tailgate,” it only stands to reason that the history of tailgating can only go back as far as tailgates and automobiles…
- It has been said that the first tailgate party coincided with the first college football game, pitting Rutgers against Princeton. There was a cookout, but there were no cars involved, so we’re not buying it.
- In 1904, a number of people arrived early to a Yale football game, but they came by train. Again, maybe picnicking, but nary a tailgate to be seen.
- Perhaps the most convincing origin story comes from the 1919 Green Bay Packers team, whose fans allegedly coined the term. Pickup trucks backed into spaces around the field were great seating, and it was only natural that food and drink would be served.
Really, no one can be sure when exactly the first sports enthusiast decided that the tailgate of a pickup truck was the perfect place to serve food. Honestly, does it even matter? The one undeniable fact that we can attest to, however, is that tailgating is here to stay.
Tailgating isn’t limited to football games, but any entertainment venue, and you can find tailgaters at the beach, at the pool, in the woods, at concerts, even before and after weddings. Still, if there’s anywhere that the tailgate party has firmly planted itself, it’s at the football game.
Perhaps from humble beginnings, some tailgate parties have become legendary in themselves, sometimes eclipsing even the games that they’ve come to celebrate. Some tailgate parties are held by people who don’t even have tickets to the game, but they revel in the parking lot with fellow fans, before, during, and after the game, listening to the play-by-play on the radio or watching the game broadcast on televisions of every size.
No matter what level of the game, pee-wee, junior varsity, varsity, college, university, or professional leagues, you’ll find tailgaters cooking up a storm and enjoying a good bit of friendly rivalry with opposing fans. After some games, it may cease to be friendly, but we’ll enjoy it just the same.