Attending many neutral-site games in hopes of always finding a wild pregame party is like playing tailgate Russian Roulette. Except we’re never happy about drawing an empty chamber, the goal of the real game. But this often happens when you remove fans from their home base and comfort zone. The fans’ spirits and enthusiasm and excitement all travel with them. But all their gear and mobiles, not to mention many of the young wild and beautiful student body(ies).

So you’re relying on alums, diehards and locals to shoulder the load. And they usually do a good job. Sometimes they make it feel like two campuses up and landed in a giant parking lot (see The Southwest Classic, Arkansas vs. Texas A&M). In this case the game was livelier than the pregame, for a number of reasons.

1. Travel can be a pain in the (fill in your choice colorful noun here), even if we’re only talking about a drivable distance. Charlotte isn’t THAT far from Atlanta (home of G Tech), but it’s not right around the corner, either. And nothing is close to Tallahassee, except, well, more Florida. So to get there for the game you have drive a decent distance, or fly. And that costs money. So we’re already down a good percentage of fans.

Tailgate Fan ACC Championship Georgia Tech

Photo Credit: Nick Stevens

2. Mother Nature did not do anybody any favors on this Saturday. The forecast all week was pretty miserable, calling for intermittent rain all day long, right up to kickoff. And while the rains actually dissipated by 2pm, they did enough to keep revelers from setting up temporary BBQ shop in the lots. Most people seemed content to bar crawl and pub-gate, if you will. And I can’t blame them! It was still a raw 40 degrees, that kind of damp cold that leaves your skin red and your body aching for a hot chocolate tub. Well, you know what I mean.

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3. Charlotte herself… hey, I love The Queen City. It’s on the rise, and for good reason. The city is accessible, has a relatively new downtown, money, a convenient airport, and many great places to eat and drink everywhere. (It’s a crime if you visit and don’t eat BBQ at Park 10 Lanes on Montford St. — yes, I just told you to go eat at a bowling alley.)

But the city is not at all set up for tailgating, especially the downtown area, where the stadium is. Oversized parking lots don’t come easy; all the lots within a good walking distance of BoA Stadium are small, oddly shaped and kind of hilly, too. We encountered these problems two years ago while making a Carolina Panthers Tailgate Fan video. Fun fans, but fewer of them, and they’re scattered about.

Two of the lots where we found the best BBQ and tailgate mobiles last time were closed, with cranes and construction smack dab in the middle. Seeing party lots close for construction is like watching your favorite ballpark get razed for condos (R.I.P, Ebbets Field). There are some garages, but grilling in a garage is like eating pizza standing up. I’ll do it, if I have to, but it’s far from preferred.

Tailgate Fan ACC Championship Florida State

Photo Credit: Nick Stevens

4. As for the fans… they did their best under the circumstances. Georgia Tech isn’t really known as a football or pregame party powerhouse, and Florida State, getting used to the big games again, probably wanted to save their money for a College Football Playoff trip. So the tailgating this time around was nothing to write home about (if you still write home): some cool fans, a couple vans, not much food. People downtown were stuffed in bars, not outside cars, waiting for kickoff.

I’m looking forward to my next trip to Charlotte. Hopefully I’ll have the time and means, thanks to all the time I’ve spent with so many of you great Tailgate Fans, to show the Queen City how to be a pregame party king.

Another season is almost in the books! It’s on to Baltimore next, for the great tradition of college football’s final game (and party): Army-Navy. And if this year is at all like what we encountered last year in Philly, it’ll be an honor and pleasure to do our duty and serve (burgers and beer) alongside some of the best fanimals we’ve ever seen.

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