Tailgating Unlimited, Part 1

It may not seem like it right now, while we drown in the North Carolina Heat Index and wish that merciless August sun deeper into the southern hemisphere where it belongs, but college football season is once again upon us. And with it the triumphant return of tailgating. The following is the first part of a series by various SFN authors that touches briefly on how the previous administration’s negative perception of tailgating was short-sighted, and we’ll propose that the new administration instead view tailgating as an unlimited opportunity to promote and grow the NC State brand.

Part 1

I’ve tailgated across the ACC, and also in Oxford before the Georgia game – every college football fan should make it a point to do this at least once – and in Tuscaloosa before the Tennessee game. What I can most assuredly tell you is that what West Raleigh lacks in small-town SEC charm, we more than make up for with intensity and panache. Sure, the coeds in sundresses mingling about The Grove would make any red-blooded male strongly consider grad school at Ole Miss, and the sprawling enormity that unfolds from the epicenter of the coliseum-like Bryant Denny in Tuscaloosa is awe-inspiring. But beneath the canopies of The Grove in Oxford or The Quad in Tuscaloosa, you’ll find an environment that is far too homogenous, pristine, catered.

Walking around either place you won’t catch even the slightest whiff of a Bojangle’s tailgate special or the battle of aromas from pigs cooking in various homemade rubs. You won’t see many smokers or tables covered in shrimp. Every spot looks the same, as if the fans all read the same vanilla handbook issued by the athletic department describing the appropriate, most efficient tailgating setup: finely-dressed genteel folks sitting around flat screen TVs eating little pre-made finger sandwiches. You’ll never once have to cross through someone else’s Cornhole field of play, and since no cars are allowed in either The Grove or The Quad, you won’t have to move your entire setup to let that one last late arriver into the tiny spot you somehow managed to sneak past the parking folks.

Sure, I had a blast in both places and the game day experience was memorable – one of the coolest moments in all my years of watching way too much college football was being in the middle of Rammer Jammer after Alabama beat Tennessee last year. But every time I’m on the road for a game, whether it’s Ole Miss or Alabama, or Clemson or Virginia Tech, I can’t help but wish that I was instead counting down to kickoff in my little corner of the Trinity Lot, where all seems right with the world, if only for those fleeting five hours.

There’s a reason the SEC schools are famous for their tailgating. At its core, those SEC tailgates are a festive event for the fans, inseperable from the game itself. State fans feel no differently, yet unfortunately for us, we’ve had “leadership” — pause here to scoff — over the past decade that has been too obtuse to recognize this. With new leadership to guide us, hopefully they’ll soon realize what most of us have always known: that tailgating has the unlimited potential to be an indelible complement to NC State football.

I’m not suggesting that tailgating is anymore apart of the NC State culture than anywhere else, but it’s a real shame that for the past several years, our anti-leadership has failed, or perhaps simply refused, to recognize the opportunity to promote NC State football through its vast tailgating culture; instead, they’ve viewed it with contempt and treated its culture with disdain – the problem in need of a solution. In no way am I making light of that tragic incident in 2004 that admittedly left our administration no choice but to somehow react, but over the years that response has proven misguided. My group was tailgating a Steve Videtich field goal away from where the shooting happened, and it’d be irresponsible for me, or any of us, to suggest that the old Fairgrounds setup harbored anything short of an atmosphere where utter chaos reigned.

But in its aftermath, the administration chose to view this isolated incident as an institutional problem, which is disconcerting for those of us in the vast majority that felt punished for an environment that we never supported. Where our Sports Information Department should have chosen to highlight the positives to a media that we were allowing to once again villify us, the administration opted instead for ad hoc damage control – after all, restrictions and limitations would surely curb future chaos by those evil NC State tailgating hoodlums. This kind of response simply proved a microcosm for how our previous leadership continuously failed to capture the spirit of the very fan base it was tasked to promote, and in the process they alienated the very folks they should have embraced. Tailgating was very bad and it had no place at NC State. That was the message they tried to shove down our throats as they marketed the brilliant racket of linking LTRs to season tickets and the uber-valuable parking passes.

They never figured out, or perhaps never cared, why contrived gimmicks like the Walk of Champions or the pre-game Fanzone were never more popular. Yet, it’s a concept of which most of us have a keen appreciation: we’re not simply investing in the game itself, but rather in the social event that is college football – just like at Ole Miss or Texas or Notre Dame. Personally, I’m just as content watching the game on TV (it’s why I don’t have LTRs or season tickets for basketball). I doubt it’s a leap to presume that very few of us invest, at the minimum, annually, $300 for WPC dues, $300 for LTRs and nearly $800 for two season tickets and a parking pass simply to have a spot in the bleachers for six or seven home games. No, we do it because on those six or seven weekends each fall, we get to spend time with our good friends, who come in from different places, and share that common bond of being State fans in a welcoming environment that reminds us all that sports indeed transcends life. And after that we still get to go watch our favorite team play.

When 60,000 folks gather in such a relatively small area, of course there will be problems. But that doesn’t make the problems institutional. There’s nothing nuclear about my tailgating family (except for my baby sister, the nuclear engineer); for the most part, it’d be no easy assignment to pen the history of my group’s evolution over the years into the finely-tuned Tailgating Machine we are today. But we pretty much keep to ourselves in our own little corner, and that’s probably not atypical of each of your groups. Other than the usual friendly jab, we don’t harass opposing fans as they walk by, and many weeks they’re tailgating as our guests. We open our coolers and offer up food to our neighbors or folks that stop by to say hello, and we let complete strangers have a turn at Cornhole. On hot days we even try to make sure the law enforcement folks working the Trinity Lot have water when they pass by our spot.

But I’m not suggesting that we’re just more decent, classier folks than most others out there. On the contrary, we fit inside the rule; we’re no different than any of the groups around us. State fans are generally just good ol’ folks enjoying the tailgating festivities, and we don’t need the condescending W.I.T.H. program to keep us behaved. That’s what’s institutional. Yet over the years this fact has felt lost on our administration. They’ve never viewed tailgating as that aforementioned indelible complement to NC State football, but rather a nuisance they’ve had to tolerate in order to sell more LTRs and season tickets. We’ve even had a coach on the Jumbotron imploring us to be in our seats on time – you know, at nearly $1,400 per year, instead of implying I’m a bad fan for missing the band enter or going out at halftime, a simple “thank you” would suffice.

But I’m encouraged by our new leadership. Thus far, the actions and comments of both new chancellor Randy Woodson and new Athletic Director Debbie Yow have been both authoritative and positive in tone. My initial impression is that the latter came to Raleigh with a fundamental, if not keen, understanding of this fickle yet passionate fan base, while the former came with the openness to discover it on his own.

I’ve said before that State fans hold Jimmy V’s immortal words with such high regard because for the past two decades – through incompetent leadership and underwhelming performance – hope is all we’ve had. But after far too many years, in the summer of 2010 I have a renewed hope that those of us we’ve entrusted to lead our beloved alma mater will recognize the unlimited potential for opportunity within this fan base rather than simply exploiting our generosity.

We State folks pride ourselves on being innovators in the real world, and with the proliferation of technology there’s no reason we shouldn’t be embracing every opportunity within the tailgating culture to promote the NC State brand.

About LRM

Charter member of the Lunatic Fringe and a fan, loyal to a fault.

'10 Football AD & Department Athletics Directors College Football Debbie Yow NC State NC State Administration NCS Football

26 Responses to Tailgating Unlimited, Part 1

  1. Alpha Wolf 08/11/2010 at 7:51 AM #

    I look at tailgating at CFS as one of the best “small towns” in the state of NC on a given gameday. Folks are generally friendly, folks are having fun, and most are very well behaved.

    Sure, certain areas got out of control once upon a time, and a tragedy that was actually coincidental to the football game ruined it for everyone because the university decided to punish everyone instead of dealing with the area where there were problems.

    I’ve always called it the “Punish The Innocent Program” and it has always really ticked me off, because instead of fostering a culture that loves and celebrates NC State football, they decided to make it another business and take out the passion that fueled a lot of folks to really want to be there every Saturday. Those folks came win or loss, rain or shine and wore their best red, but they have had to bear the cost of others.

    That’s wrong and our new chancellor should fix it, pronto.

  2. Tiew 08/11/2010 at 8:10 AM #

    Articles like this are why I keep coming back to this site. You guys combine a ridiculous breadth and depth with an obvious love for your subject.

  3. greatballsoffire 08/11/2010 at 8:11 AM #

    Well written. Hope to see more from you.

    I’ve attended Kentucky (back during the sanctions), and the indiscretions taking place during their tailgates were way worse (on average, of course) than what takes place at NCSU. The shooting in ’04 was terrible, and it came as a shock to many (if not all) of us. But any function can attract those with limited cognitive ability and have the potential to be dangerous. This 4-hour or 6-hour before-the-game restriction is completely arbitrary.

  4. MrPerfectionest 08/11/2010 at 8:21 AM #

    “My group was tailgating a Steve Videtich field goal away from where the shooting happened”

    I’m sure someone else has an even more sensational story, my car was the first one outside of the police tape. One of the victims fell on the dirt I had been standing on no more than 15 minutes before.

    I don’t see why we shouldn’t make a push for more time now that we have new blood in the admin.

  5. McCallum 08/11/2010 at 8:28 AM #

    That was a well written piece. Clearly LRM has been around and his notes concerning the tailgating at Ole’ Miss and Bama are on the money. Much of the same takes places in Knoxville, Baton Rouge and Athens. These are big social events where people dress up for the games and I suggest that these events are extensions of aristocratic Southern culture. I would also suggest the mish mash taking place in Raleigh is a combination of a number of factors: no leadership (poor leadersip would have a quantity and quality), yankee migration and the utilitarian nature of yankee culture (cornhole showed up during the 90s and I detest it), and a central unrooted location.

    I don’t see much “cooking” going on around the SEC other than in Baton Rouge. The only place with more quality cooking going on than Raleigh is down at LSU. The combining flavors there are extreme; east Texas chill, the traditional flavors of Louisiana with 5,000 black pots brewing all sorts of delightful tastes, home made wines abounding, and all right smack dab in the middle of campus with access to buildings, alumni and the stadium. That on campus location is what all of the SEC programs have going for them, besides Mouth Carolina. It serves them well and the atmosphere is hard to match but frankly I’d match my low country boils, my pigs, my ribs, my chickens against anything I’ve seen in Athens. The famous North Campus in Athens is very nice but it is defined by UGA tents, Jack Daniels and trash on the ground. Everyone eats across the street at a restaurant or they “pack” a lunch that they bring along. Cooking and helping someone to cook is the essence of culture my friends and though I find it hard to believe I’m saying this about Raleigh, there is a strong component of native culture alive and well in Raleigh DESPITE the efforts of the administration.

    So my central theme is that the administration does not understand the alumni or the students. They do not understand logistics and they do not understand risk management. Those gates need to be open 6 hours prior to kickoff at least and they need to employ the staff to manage that gesture to the alumni and students. Risk management would assure that they monitor trouble makers and deal with them. Risk avoidance, which State corners the market on, says everyone be damned-square peg into round hole.

    BTW: these new tv contracts will produce more night games. Night games are nightmares for the administration so beware of what they will be thinking as we go forward.


  6. Pack05 08/11/2010 at 9:16 AM #

    That was a wonderful summation sir, very well done indeed. Please forward to Randy and Yow. I think this is the type of well crafted article that would be received in a positive manner.

  7. Homeboy 08/11/2010 at 9:37 AM #

    NC State tailgating has no reason to feel inferior to any SEC school in terms of quality of food, amount of properly made pork, and size of the party. Much of the SEC tailgaiting is, as someone above pointed out, wanna be southern aristocrats wearing seersucker…the reason NC State doesn’t have that has nothing to do with yankess, tho. It’s because we in the Old North State had nowhere near the dominance of planter-aristocrat types running our state and culture for so long…the proud yeoman farmer was the dominant type here, and one I’d rather associate with than some overdressed snob with roman numerals after his name trying to party like it’s 1859 instead of going to a football game.

    I digress…NC State fans have nothing to be ashamed of (other than the cringe-worthy epithets some of my friends yell at opposing fans; just ignore them and don’t share the pig), especially when compared to SEC tailgating, which is generally overhyped.

  8. IMFletcherWolf 08/11/2010 at 9:42 AM #

    Excellent analysis LRM. You bring up some interesting points about our fans and how the administration has treated us recently.

    I believe Dr. Woodson and Dr. Yow are working to repair the damage done by the past admin. Let’s hope some changes will be coming soon that will harness the energy of State fans instead of trying to counteract it.

  9. tobaccordshow 08/11/2010 at 10:03 AM #

    Fantastic LRM. As always.

  10. travelwolf 08/11/2010 at 10:33 AM #

    This university goes ridiculously overboard on trying to seem ‘upstanding’ – as if we have a something to prove. It happened with Valvano and with tailgating. It’s like the ‘leadership’ wants to shoot this university in the foot. I can guarantee you that Carolina won’t be doing that when the investigation ends.

  11. SMD 08/11/2010 at 11:06 AM #

    I think the broader point is that for NC State to be a research institution, our past academic and athletic leadership has seriously failed to think strategically.

    For example – the shooting happened in the PUBLIC lots. Why do those of us who pay the freight with our WPC dues and WPC parking have OUR time limited? What the heck has ever happened in the private lot?

    The other lack of strategic thinking, as usual, revolves around marketing and showmanship. We’re always reactive, rather than proactive. “Let’s see, other schools have a “walk” before the game, so we should too. And though we haven’t won jack shit in years, let’s call it the Walk Champions.” Sigh.

    And LRM is dead on, the shooting could have been used as an opportunity to show how out of the norm that is, and how great Wolfpack tailgating is.

  12. WolftownVA81 08/11/2010 at 11:58 AM #

    Great read. Thanks.

  13. BassPacker 08/11/2010 at 12:02 PM #

    Excellent read. Tailgating has always been one of our favorite activities surrounding Pack football win or lose. I say “our” because not only has it become a family tradition with friends, it has become like a neighborhood tradition as we have gotten to know the families and groups around our parking space, always looking forward to Saturday’s with them.

    There needs to be a lifting of the time restraints. It really limits what we cook or do, seems we are always rushing to get there, rushing to get set up, rushing to eat and then rushing inside stadium. More time would allow us to get set up, enjoy things like Walk of Champions, Family Fun Zone and still have time to eat and socialize.

  14. Spacewolf 08/11/2010 at 12:36 PM #

    When I first saw the Wolfpack Unlimited feedback feature on gopack.com, tailgating is the first thing I thought of to address. I drive from Florida for the games, so when the tailgating time restrictions went into place, I had to think long and hard about whether it was worth the 18 hour round trip for 4 (now 5) hours of tailgating, plus the game. I wrote letters to the Chancellor, AD, WPC, and the Alumni Association imploring them to reconsider the restrictions, all to no avail. The fact that we’re treated as potential troublemakers rather than welcome guests really irked me then and still does.

    This was an outstanding read, LRM, and I think your sentiments are shared widely among our fans. I hope you’ll send it to the powers-that-be. Hopefully, they’ll be more open to our ideas than the previous regime.

  15. Alpha Wolf 08/11/2010 at 12:46 PM #

    ^ They are and it will be looked at. Since it was another author who made the contacts and received replies regarding tailgating limits, I will leave it to them to comment more fully.

  16. ppack3 08/11/2010 at 1:17 PM #

    LRM, I want to thank you and SFN for this series. Part I is very well written, and makes a fantastic argument for ratification of this ridiculous 5-Hour rule.

    [Gratuitous] The shooting was tragic.

    The shooting happened after most fans were already inside the stadium, if I’m not mistaken. It didn’t happen 5 hours before the game.

    I’ve been attending NCSU Football games (almost all of them) since 1977. Our family, since the 70’s, have looked forward to cramming all of our gear into the cars/trucks and heading to the Carter as early as humanly possible. Of course, it felt like we were the first people there, but we weren’t. We simply had enough room to stretch our legs, throw around the football, and enjoy the company of family and friends. You see, THESE are your most dedicated fans! And THESE are the people you’re alienating!

    We’ve resorted to buying a bus, in order to circumvent these ridiculous rules by parking in the RV lot. That has become impossible, because of the amounts of money that people are giving in order to be able to park their 500k RV next to the Murph, so that they have a plush place to spend their time before making the short trek to Vaughn Towers. We’ve been regulated to the fairgrounds lot. We still take the bus out extremely early, or the day before the game. But, the large majority of fans can’t do these things. And, next year, the bus will probably be gone, and all of our tailgating traditions will be part of history…unless something is done to lift these restrictions.

    I agree with the sentiment that 5 hours is nowhere near enough time to set up, cook, eat, visit anyone (including the WOC or the Fanzone) and still make it into the stadium. You can do these things, but it is hurried and isn’t all that enjoyable.

    What sense has it ever made to keep people from getting to the stadium early in order to control what generally happens closer to game time? Since 2k4, I have witnessed a whole lot more young fans and students showing up drunk. They don’t have time to drink beer (among other things) at their leisure in the parking lot, so they binge before heading out to the Carter (with DD’s I’m sure). If they don’t, that’s what Beer Pong is for, eh? So, who exactly, is contributing to the problem?

    I like the Equine-Cops patrolling the lots. Keep that up. These things are effective. But the time restrictions cause more problems than they solve. I feel like the restrictions are killing the enthusiasm for the tailgate. I also feel like the traditions that I’ve enjoyed (and my family) for the past 30+ years are being taken from me one by one…and I’m one of the lucky ones. That’s sad.

    Please, lift the restrictions and allow us to be fans again!

  17. Homeboy 08/11/2010 at 1:22 PM #

    the Fairgrounds lot would be fine, if not for the people that seem to inhabit it…they’re an embarrassment and a blot on the image of true NC State fans.

  18. Defenestrate 08/11/2010 at 1:40 PM #

    kevmcd86 over on TWW had an interesting email exchange with Dr. Yow regarding this (perhaps you will post something similar in coming parts of this series). I won’t post all of the letters from pages 11 & 12 of the thread linked below, but she basically promised to do a full review of the restrictions in place and make an informed decision on how things will be setup going forward. Very impressive if you ask me.


    (apologies if this has already been posted somewhere..)

  19. CStanley 08/11/2010 at 2:55 PM #

    I think the previous (and likely a good portion of the current) admin felt like an all day tailgate wasn’t really necessary. Winning would fix whatever complaints fans had or have. Except, one small problem…we haven’t won squat since the year before that fateful 2004 season. It was a knee jerk reaction by an administration that has continuously shot itself in the foot over the past two decades. Hopefully that will all change soon with the new faces.

  20. James C. 08/11/2010 at 4:04 PM #

    Do they still require students to present their game tickets in order to tailgate in the Fairgrounds lot? I would love it if we had a dedicated patrol devoted to patrolling that lot, and wish they would clear it out after kickoff. Had the lots been patrolled and cleared after kickoff, the shooting of ’04 would’ve been avoided.

    THAT should’ve been the school’s response–NOT a blanket, knee-jerk reaction that punished the entire fanbase.

  21. choppack1 08/11/2010 at 4:19 PM #

    LRM – great article.

    I have to admit, that sometimes I’m stunned at what my fellow Wolfpackers manage to do in 5 (or in most cases, less.)

    I’ve said before and I’ll say it again – the NC State football games were one of the few things at NC State that had the recreational “college” feel that I think everyone wants when they attend a traditional university. When I was a freshman in 1988 – the university had already taken steps to manage and control the kind of fun that went on unfettered at other large universities. Mind you, there were still parties and there was still alcohol – and there were areas where you could let your guard down – but it had a distinct “Prohibition” feel to it.

    But when I went to Carter-Finley for my first tailgate – suddenly, there you were surrounded by other students, every body drinking cold ones w/out worrying about ALE, Campus police or anything like that. And it was nice to know that first game wasn’t unique.

    Tailgating at NC State flourished precisely because it was the one time when the university “stood down”. You felt a great combination of community and freedom – you certainly didn’t feel unsafe…and as thousands were dipped in this culture, they decided that these moments were repeating and enhancing.

    Unfortunately, as it often is with “great secrets” – they get out – and sometimes what made them special on even a large micro scale – is what ruins them on the macro level. Even before the shooting, the scene at the fairgrounds had denigrated to a free for all. It had basically become Brent Road – “Hey, you want to go to a crazy party – go the fairgrounds for a state game.”

    The results were forseeable – and had the university been on the ball – they would have seen this or another disaster coming a mile away. As LRM and McCollum noted – the university showed their stupidity – attacking what they perceived as the cause “too many people tailgating too early before going to a State game.” They basically thought it suitable to punish everyone who tailgated at a state game.

    Of course, the facts of the case itself reveal how flawed the “solutions” were and remain.

  22. john of sparta 08/11/2010 at 9:56 PM #

    Cstanley…i agree. one and done.
    our John Edwards moment in the sun.

  23. 61Packer 08/11/2010 at 10:19 PM #

    If Wolfpack officials want to limit tailgating, they should start with the Student Permit Lot/Fairgrounds Lot and leave the areas on the north (other) side of Trinity Road (around the stadium and arena) alone. The past problems weren’t in the Wolfpack Club pay-to-park areas to begin with. Allowing at least those who are towing cookers to come in over 5 hours before gametime makes sense to me. This might also help ease the pre-game traffic jams around the stadium.

    An even worse problem to me is the after-game traffic flow. DOT’s allowing two-way traffic on major exit arteries like Trinity and Blue Ridge Roads near CFS is insane. Exiting Gate B, we cannot get across Trinity to head away from the stadium toward Hillsborough Street, but are instead forced to go right onto Trinity TOWARD the stadium. I’d like for AD Yow and others who can do something about this bottleneck to consider an exit flow that would take all exiting traffic AWAY from the stadium, not toward it.

    I occasionally attend games at UM in Ann Arbor, and despite having over 100,000+ people every game, I have never seen a traffic jam there that comes even close to the CFS post-game mess. All roads around the Big House are open in one direction only, AWAY from the stadium, and they empty that place three times faster than we do here. I love tailgating here, but somebody has GOT to do something about getting us out of the stadium easier.

    And one final note to those who have parking spaces bordering up against the small wooded area in the SE Lot east of the stadium. There is now a 6-foot iron fence that completely surrounds all the trees where the porta potties were. Anybody know the story here? Is it just to protect the one grave marker in the corner of this area?

  24. McCallum 08/11/2010 at 11:20 PM #

    More items of note:

    1) 90 plus thousand hit Athens and I’ve gotten out of there in less than 10 minutes ALWAYS.

    2) North Carolina had an extensive planter culture. It was predominate along the major rivers of the state (see North Carolina Planters and Their Families 1800-1860 by Jane Censer) but what you see in North Carolina is a dilution of that culture. You’ve the upper crusts in chapel hill, the sockless yahoos in Greenville sporting their Sperry Topsiders, the engineering geeks and yankees in Raleigh, the lucky sperm club over in WS and the Al Shapiro U in Durham. No SEC states break out along those type of lines and most of those schools, exceptions being Vandy and UT, are in fairly small college towns. The sense of place and position is only deepened in small college towns with their enforced dogma and view.

    3) It is McCallum not McCollum. McCollums are outcasts and can be found looking for old cans near Reidsville and otherwise reduced to lecturing on the evils of roll on deodorants.


  25. Homeboy 08/12/2010 at 11:27 AM #

    ^ McCallum:

    2) compared to every other state in the former confederacy (sic), NC had less of a dominant planter class and more yeoman predominance. That, of course is relative, and didn’t stop those yeomen from being virtually disenfranchised for much of the 19th century. Still, our vale of humility between two mountains of conceit rings true, as does the need for NC State tailgaiting to hold its head high against the conceit of SEC partisans.

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