The idea of tailgating prior to games is embedded in football at virtually all levels. For instance, the winner of this year’s Cotton Bowl featuring No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Cincinnati will face the winner of the Orange Bowl featuring No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 Georgia in the National Championship game, January 10, 2022 in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium. The big game features a weekend of events, culminating in the self-proclaimed “extreme” Allstate Championship Tailgate— which includes a lineup of multi-platinum national recording artists—prior to kickoff at the stage at Monument Circle.
So how did this custom of pregame parties start?
What qualifies as the first tailgate party depends on your idea of what tailgating is. If you see tailgating as merely the act of enjoying food with friends while watching an event, you might consider the Battle of Bull Run in 1861, the first major battle in the Civil War near Manassas Junction, Virginia. Believe it or not, enthusiastic Union supporters gathered for picnics to watch the action amid shouts of “Go Big Blue.” Crazy times.
If, however, you feel that tailgating must involve some kind of sport, then consider Nov. 6, 1869. That day, the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University) and Rutgers University met in what is considered the first recorded game of American football, and fans participated in a party that accompanied the contest.
But even though tailgating had been “a thing” since the mid-1800s, it wasn’t until the automobile came along and the popularity of station wagons emerged after World War II that the practice got its name. Now many fans gather with friends for expensive, elaborate parties while, for some, the game itself is secondary. In fact, one survey found that about 30% of tailgaters never actually go to the game!