Ducks and Beavers, Vikings and Pilots... Lions and Tigers and Bears... All are football teams, and all have their fans. And where there are fans, and football games, there are tailgate parties. Tailgating is a tried and true traditional autumn activity, flourishing during football season.
There's an art to tailgating, no doubt. But even a beginner can try out the fun. Why not tailgate by gathering friends around a cargo bike? Or take the MAX train to Jeld-Wen Stadium for a PSU Vikings game? Essentially, a tailgate party is just a picnic, oriented not to getting into the great outdoors, but to getting together with friends and celebrating school spirit at a game.
There are some tailgating basics to remember, however. First, cover yourself in your team's colors – you don't have to go all out with face paint and a wig, but at least wear a scarf that screams purple for University of Portland Pilots, or yellow and green for the Oregon Ducks, or green and white for Portland State University... If you're lucky, you're like basketball coach Craig Robinson of the Oregon State Beavers: for him, orange and black does double duty representing the team he coaches now and the college team he played for years ago.
No matter your team, bring plenty of beverages and snacks to share. (Recommended recipes below.) Arm yourself with a folding chair, or at least wear comfortable shoes so you can visit all the other tailgate parties while you're at the stadium. Bring trash bags, cloth napkins, a bottle opener and a corkscrew. Be prepared for rain, with an umbrella at least, or even a tent bearing the mascot and colors of the team you're rooting for.
Designate a non-drinking driver, unless you're taking public transportation. If you are taking the MAX, you might cart your bevies in a rolling suitcase cooler that holds 36 12 ounce cans plus ice and room for snacks, all outfitted in your school colors and logo. (Example in photo: Oregon, of course.)
If you're a Huskies fan, you could be lucky enough to float on up to the game. The University of Washington stadium is close enough to Lake Washington that many football fans do their tailgating on the water, in boats. (See the photo above, and read about it in this NY Times article.)
There seems to be no clear answer to how tailgating started. One story says it began in 1869 at the first intercollegiate football game, between the school that Robinson and his sister Michelle Obama (and, less famously, yours truly) attended, Princeton University, and its neighbor college Rutgers. (Rutgers won.) Seems more likely, though, that tailgating took off in the early to mid-20th century, once both car culture and college football caught on. (The NFL didn't begin until the 1950s.)
For food, regional favorites are recommended. Grilled salmon at the University of Oregon. Jambalaya at Louisiana State. BBQ in Texas. Its all about school spirit and boastfulness. Maybe the first tailgaters, arriving in horse-drawn carriages with their picnics in New Jersey in 1869, came with Tiger Prawns if they were Princetonians, cranberries and cherries if they were Scarlet Knights of Rutgers?
Some less partisan finger foods would be welcomed at any tailgate party, north or south, east or west. Meat, sweet, and salt is what the tailgating experts recommend. And anything's better with bacon. From those first ladies of football, Martha Stewart and Joan Rivers, comes this recipe for fab pre-game finger food, bacon-wrapped dates studded with Stilton. (Of course, their chosen game was the Oscars.)
Devils on Horseback
(from Martha Stewart Show, February 2007)
24 large dates, pitted
12 slices bacon, halved crosswise
1/3 cup crumbled Stilton cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place 24 toothpicks in a small bowl filled with water; let soak 15 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and fit with a wire rack; set aside.
Halve dates lengthwise being careful not to cut all the way through. Place a small amount of cheese in the center of each date. Wrap a piece of bacon around each date. Secure bacon with a toothpick.
Place dates on prepared baking sheet. Bake until bacon is cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.