Facts You Never Knew About The All-American Sport Of Tailgating

sports | Rick Lax & Friends | 9/5/18

Some call it a sport, others call it an art form. Tailgating is a tradition born and bred in America that is all about grilling up some food, drinking some alcohol, and supporting your favorite football team in a parking lot. The tradition is so popular that hundreds of thousands of fans across America come together to tailgate every year.

You may know how to grill up the perfect chicken kabob and chug a beer, but do you know what team’s fans survived the coldest tailgate in history? Football season is upon us, so check out these facts about tailgating.

One Tailgater To Rule Them All

Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Bing
Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Bing

There are super-fans at every game, but there’s only one super-tailgater. Joe “The Commish” Cahn sold his business in 1996, and made tailgating his number one priority. He boasts the title of having visited every NFL stadium in the country, 126 different college stadiums, and every NASCAR race track.

He spends his year on the road, serving up 421 pots of his famous jambalaya, and has attended and hosted more than 800 tailgating parties.

The First Recorded Tailgater Was Julius Caesar

Photo by Camerique/Getty Images
Photo by Camerique/Getty Images

The Roman emperor was known for dating a powerful Egyptian queen, ruling over millions, and being the first ever tailgater. Of course, back in Caesar’s time, the sport to tailgate was chariot racing, not football.

Apparently, after a wild chariot race, Caesar decided to open up to Coliseum to the public to enjoy food, drinks, and live entertainment. They may have had fights to the death and waterfowl instead of beer pong and burgers, but it’s close.

Modern Tailgating Was Born During The Civil War

Corey Perrine/Getty Images
Corey Perrine/Getty Images

The first occurrence of tailgating happened in the summer of 1861, and it wasn’t even at a football game. In Manassas, Virginia, Confederate and Union soldiers met together at the Battle of Bull Run.

Supporters of the Union Army showed up with some food and drinks and cheered on the soldiers from their carriages. They ever sang battle songs, took bets on how long the battle would last, and caused a traffic jam. To make it even more poetic, it all happened on a Sunday.

Football Tailgates Began At Ivy League Schools

Doug Murray/Icon SMI/Corbis via Getty Images
Doug Murray/Icon SMI/Corbis via Getty Images

Some Ivy League schools seem too posh to tailgate nowadays, but they were where the modern tradition began. Yale, University of Kentucky, Rutgers, and Princeton all claim to have been the first to start the practice. We can confirm that Rutgers and Princeton were tailgating from horse-drawn carriages as early as 1869.

By 1906, some rich Yale students began driving cars to the games and continued eating and drinking before the game at their “parking lot picnics.”

The Term’s Origin Makes Total Sense

Matt Cardy – WPA Pool/Getty Images
Matt Cardy – WPA Pool/Getty Images

The first tailgates happened before cars were even invented, so the term originated from horses, not cars. The first football game played between Rutgers and Princeton was in 1869 and brought a large crowd of fans.

All the supporters arrived in horse-drawn carriages and grilled up sausages at the “tail end” of the horse so that the horse wouldn’t eat the food. Over time, the term evolved into “tailgating” when we began partying around the open tailgate of a car.

The Award For Coldest Tailgaters Go To The Green Bay Packers

Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images
Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images

Not every tailgater is as lucky as the Dolphins, Jaguars, and Buccaneers fans who get to hang out in year-round warm temperatures. Everyone else up north usually spends half the season in frigid conditions. The coldest tailgate in history happened in 1967 in Wisconsin.

Fans partied it up in weather that had a wind chill of 48 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. It has gone down in history as the “Ice Bowl” but at least it was worth it because the Packers ended up defeating the Cowboys.

Just Because You Tailgate, It Doesn’t Mean You Go To The Game

Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images
Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images

Thirty percent of tailgaters don’t even go to the game afterwards. Most of them are still major fans, but they want to keep the party going. Many fans will bring TVs or computers with streaming connections to watch the game, or listen to the play-by-play on the radio while they keep grilling.

Homer Simpson said it best when he said, “We’re not here for the game. The game is nothing. Behold, the tailgate party. The pinnacle of human achievement.”

The Annual Florida-Georgia College Game Is The Largest Tailgating Party

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The game between the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs has been a yearly rivalry since 1933. It’s such a big game for the two state universities that they play on “neutral ground” in Jacksonville, Florida. The game was moved to Jacksonville because both schools could easily get there by train.

At the end of it all, more than 150,000 people show up for the tailgate each year. The tailgating party has developed into the largest one and even gained the nickname of the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.”

You’ve Heard Of Tailgating, But What About Sailgating

@SInow/Twitter
@SInow/Twitter

There are three colleges where you can choose to sailgate instead of tailgate. The University of Washington, the University of Tennessee, and Baylor University are all located near lakes and rivers. The students have the option to grill up some food and have a drink on boats.

Sailgating has become a bonafide business in these college towns, and many students will get to the game by sailing across the lake or down the river. It seems like a great way to avoid the traffic jams!

Standard Tailgating Food Depends On Where You Are

Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images
Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

While 63% of tailgating grillers say that a good old-fashioned burger is their favorite tailgating food, it can change depending on where you are in the country. If you visit LSU in Louisiana, you’ll probably find quite a few different jambalaya and shrimp dishes. In the Midwest, brats are a fan favorite, and along the West Coast, it’s not uncommon to see grilled fish and cold pasta.

The one thing every tailgate does have though is beer.

There Is An Official Ranking Of The Best Tailgating Cities

David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The list can change each year, but tailgating fans rank the cities they party in on things like the quality of the parking lot, the environment, and fan enthusiasm. In 2017, Orchard Park, New York topped the list for being the home of the Buffalo Bills. True fans will arrive to tailgate rain or shine.

The home fields for the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens, and Houston Texans regularly top the list as well.

The Average Tailgater Spends $500 A Year On The Hobby

RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images
RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Some smarty pants out there decided to crunch the numbers and figure out how much Americans spend partying it up and supporting their team each year. On average, a tailgater spends around $500 every year on food, tickets, and travel.

When you consider that most tailgaters attend 6-10 parties a year, it’s only $50-80 per tailgate. They didn’t even factor in the cost of booze, so we bet it’s actually way higher.

Tailgating Is Slowly Going Green

Sportswire via Getty Images
Sportswire via Getty Images

With hundreds of thousands of people gathering in parking lots each year, it can get pretty messy. Don’t even get the Californians started about the number of plastic straws thrown on the ground. More and more, colleges are participating in the Game Day Challenge.

The program was started by the EPA and is meant to promote recycling and waste reduction at tailgates. So far, it has helped keep 500,000 pounds of waste out of landfills.

A Smart Businessman Was The First To Turn His Car Into A Mobile Kitchen

Dale Brazao/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Dale Brazao/Toronto Star via Getty Images

It wasn’t the desire to grill in a football stadium that inspired the first person to transform a vehicle in to a kitchen, but instead, just a cowboy wanting some food after a long day of work. Charles Goodnight was a Texas rancher and entrepreneur who hired cowboys for work.

He noticed that they would get tired and slow if not fed properly, so in 1866 he converted a U.S. Army Studebaker wagon into a mobile kitchen and would cook for his workers.

Tailgating Isn’t Just For Football

Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

While tailgating may have grown up in America at football games, people have taken the “sport” elsewhere. It’s common to see tailgating parties outside of other sporting events like NASCAR and baseball games, but you might even see one at a concert.

Jimmy Buffet fans have made it a tradition to hold Margaritaville themed tailgate parties before the show begins. We don’t know about you, but a margarita tailgate might sound better than the traditional kind.

Unsurprisingly, Tailgaters Are Overwhelmingly Men

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Surveys have shown that 79% of tailgaters are men, so women are in the minority at the parties.That’s not to say women in America don’t enjoy a good tailgate and football game, but statistics show that the tradition is male-dominated.

Half of an NFL game’s audience is women. So what we’re hearing is that men like to party it up beforehand, and women are there for the sport and to be the designated drivers.

Most Tailgaters Are College Educated

John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Many of us attend our first real tailgating party in our college years, so it makes sense why 59% of the tailgating population are college graduates. On top of that, 14% have a graduate degree. Whether we’re supporting our alma mater or have become fans of NFL teams, former college students keep the tradition going throughout their life.

Many outsiders probably think of American tailgating as a way to just get drunk and look stupid, but we’re more educated than they expect.

Do You Prepare Your Food Before, Or After?

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A longstanding debate in tailgating history is whether you prepare your food before the game and bring it, or if you make it and grill it up right then and there. The tailgaters have spoken, and 95% of them choose to prepare and cook all their food at the game.

Most tailgaters will grill, smoke, or fry foods on the spot. Thanks to this, there is a market for tailgating-specific cooking gear.

Can You Guess The Top Five Items Purchased By Tailgaters?

Marc Piscotty/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Marc Piscotty/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprised to hear that the top five items that tailgaters purchase each year are coolers, grills, alcohol, furniture, and meat. If we had to choose five words to describe American football fans, that would be them.

The Coleman cooler is a favorite for most fans since it hit the market in 1957. Many tailgate-specific grills are out on the market, but an overwhelming amount of fans prefer to bring a full-size grill to the game instead of a portable one.

Middle-Aged Men Dominate Tailgating

Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

College students are usually the ones you expect to be packing the parking lot, but only 4% of tailgaters are between the ages of 12 and 20. Instead, 60% of the tailgating population falls between the ages of 25 and 44.

If you think about it, it makes sense. College students usually can’t afford cars and tailgating supplies. You get a taste for the tailgate life in college, but it’s only once you grow up and can afford the hobby that you can make tailgating a priority.