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Tailgating, as we know it, is born out of fandom. It’s an excuse to have a little fun in the parking lot before a game. Food, friends and beer can’t help but add up to a good time. But where does this glorious tradition come from? We’ve pulled together the probable origins of our favorite pastime so you can wow your friends next weekend.
The first tailgate celebration is believed to have occurred near the start of the Civil War. Civilians traveled out from Washington, DC to witness the first Battle of Bull Run in 1861. Enjoying picnic baskets full of food, they cheered on their “team” from distant areas surrounding the battle sites. This is one of the first documentations in American history of people cheering at an event while sharing food and company. These “fans” (not to mention those who fought) obviously braved a few more dangers than today’s tailgaters, but they laid the groundwork for future sports fans.
The chuckwagon — named for the slang term for food (“chuck”) — was invented in Texas in 1866 as a way to feed travelers and traveling workers like cowboys. The horse-drawn wagon was part of the wagon train and carried food and the means to cook it. The chuckwagon was essentially an early version of what many tailgaters set up on their own: a truck with a grill in the back.
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These early examples of “tailgating” are certainly not what we’re used to today. But that would soon change. The 1869 football game between Rutgers and Princeton is often considered the first American football game ever played, though the rules were more similar to soccer and rugby. It is also one of the first sporting events for which fans and players both wore identifying colors and headwear. This tradition of team spirit, of course, is alive an well today in stadiums and stadium parking lots around the country.
Tailgating has come a long way from the chuckwagon and the Battle of the Bull Run. Today these events often overshadow the actual games themselves. Whether in a parking lot, bar or backyard party, you’ll find fans who paint their bodies, faces, dogs and even children to support their team. Games such as beer pong, cornhole (bags), ladder golf and horseshoes are common. Then there’s the food… lots and lots of food. And did I mention beer?
Teams even offer VIP tailgating tickets, providing a viewing and eating area for fans who don’t have game tickets but still want to show support and party with other fans. Some diehard tailgaters don’t even attend games; they just set up a TV and an eating area in the stadium parking lot to take in the environment on game days. If nothing else, the tailgating tradition is all about camaraderie.
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Kaitlin Dershaw is an Ohio native with a distinct love for Cleveland. She enjoys making new discoveries from tasty places to eat and drink, to perfectly unique live music venues. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.