The battlefield has always had its warriors and its gawkers — those who risk life and limb for God and country, and those who stay on the fringes to watch the mayhem. It’s well documented that perhaps the first so-called modern “tailgaters” regularly found safe vantage points during the U.S. Civil War at some of the conflict’s bloodiest battles. Bystanders who perched safely atop battlefield-adjacent hills with picnic baskets and flasks of whiskey and brandy could cheer on their favorite side, discuss military strategy, enjoy all manner of cookery, and get a little snockered as they watched the cannonballs fly.
Perhaps 150 years later things haven’t changed that much, even here along the Grand Strand. As witnessed locally at Coastal Carolina University football games, where students and fans are invited to campus, grills and beer included, revelers come to watch the gridiron carnage, show off their cooking and cornhole skills, and ruminate in the juices of a good BBQ sauce while they contemplate the day’s battle ahead.
In the unenviable position of following in the footsteps of the College World Series Champion Chanticleers baseball team, Coastal Carolina University’s football program started Sept. 3 with a win and with hopes to continue its 13-year history of winning seasons and conference titles. To many, tailgating is an important ritual that adds to the game day excitement, and helps build the program.
“Tailgating is becoming more popular each year, as the tradition of Coastal football is growing,” said Mike Cawood, associate athletics director/media relations for CCU. “The commitment of the university toward its athletics has really helped drive the overall enrollment. Tailgating is an important part of the game day atmosphere and adds to everyone’s excitement and enjoyment.”
CCU football’s home game Saturday against the Florida A&M Rattlers is the first opportunity of the new season to drag a carload of gear and beer to the otherwise conservative CCU campus. Thousands will flock to Conway to continue the tailgating tradition this fall that began some 13 years earlier. Here’s how (and why) to consider joining their ranks, with a few caveats.
Tailgating 101 – College Ruled
In an ever-intensifying politically correct and litigious world, that CCU even allows tailgating is some small miracle. On a campus where smoking cigarettes, and in fact all use of tobacco is prohibited anywhere, and where the shunning of alcohol-related advertising and editorial is common, it’s ironic that game-day charcoal grilling and the consumption of alcohol in the parking lot is allowed. Go figure.
While tailgating at some schools and at most NFL pro games is akin to religion, and is an event that starts with early morning elaborate set up, tents, breakfast and screwdrivers, CCU tailgating is limited to the four hours prior to game start, and all signs of the revelry must be packed up before kickoff.
The CCU website (www.goccusports.com) is loaded with the official rules and regulations that surround tailgating. There you’ll find all the legal disclaimers, dos and don’t, and parking lot maps for the uninitiated. CCU alumni and students enjoy preferred parking and optimal tailgating locations, while the tailgating general public must be content to occupy the outer lots, with shuttles provided to take ticket-holders to and from Brooks Stadium.
Who Goes There?
What manner of die-hard football fans will go to the trouble to prepare exotic dishes, plan theme parties, and spend no small amount of cash to fully equip themselves for game-day tailgating? A surprisingly wide variety of young and old, student and alumni, hardcore and casual, local fans, and families looking for a weekend diversion, all claim to be avid CCU tailgaters.
“We started going two years ago when we first got season tickets,” says Ashley O’Connor Henley. She, along with her husband and two daughters, never miss a CCU home game, but the pre-game is a priority. “At least for me it’s all about the tailgating. It’s the whole point of going,” she said.
Henley, who is the email marketing manager at The Brandon Agency in Myrtle Beach, is originally from Buffalo, New York. She confirms that some die-hard Bills’ fans will tailgate all day and night without caring much if they ever see a single play. Things are decidedly tamer at most college games, and very much so at CCU games.
“We go with a group of friends, and we’ve gone early, around 10 a.m., for the games that start at 2 p.m., but the four-hour [limit] seems about right. We might bring prepared dishes and cook as well. We have themed days. One time we’ll do a Mexican theme, and the next time a Southern BBQ. It’s always different.” Henley’s personal favorite? “Fancy Night,” she said. “We will grill steaks, have some sort of seafood. We’ve used gas grills, electric grills that run off the truck, that kind of thing. When it’s time for the game we will walk, or take the shuttle.”
Carolyn and Al Montanaro began attending CCU football games when their son, Mark Montanaro, was a student at CCU. “We’ve gone every year to nearly every home game,” said Carolyn Montanaro. “We’ve been season ticket holders since day one,” added Al. “A couple or three hours is usually plenty of time to tailgate for us,” said Carolyn. “We’ve gone with people who went all-out and grilled food, but Al and I never did that. I’ll bring a bottle of wine,” she added, “and I’ll bring a bottle of Absolut [vodka],” said Al with a chuckle.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
The responsible (and tricky) consumption of alcohol on the CCU campus, according to university guidelines, means kegs, glasses, bottles and aluminum cans are all prohibited. All alcohol must be consumed from plastic cups. So what exactly to put inside those cups?
The law is pretty clear, that, almost universally, transporting open containers of liquor is prohibited, except for in the trunk of your vehicle. Some CCU tailgaters will opt for transporting the makings of a classic Bloody Mary, or Margarita, or some game day rum punch, then clandestinely transfer such contraband into a plastic cup prior to consumption, even though this may be in violation of the rules.
Regardless, this is not an issue for the tailgaters who either don’t drink, or who will stick to the classics; beer and wine. “I like craft beer and mimosas, but it depends on the theme,” said Henley.
While Henley’s theme for Saturday was undetermined as of earlier this week, food was never too far from the top of her (and virtually all other’s) agendas as they plan for the pre-game party. Each tailgater, some more than others, seem to treat each home game like a mini holiday.
Food, Glorious Food
Though you might find some tailgaters with charcuterie boards, artisanal organic breads and premium imported free-range cheeses, tailgating purists suggest the basics: burgers, dogs, BBQ, chicken wings, chips, dips, and chili. Adding a coastal/southern flare to your meal isn’t a bad idea, either. Grilled oysters, steamed clams, shrimp (either cold with cocktail sauce, or hot off the grill with drawn butter), pimento cheese, Frogmore stew, chicken bog, and other foods of the South are welcome additions to tailgate events throughout the region, and especially here along the Grand Strand. But tailgating isn’t just about the food and booze.
Let the Games Begin
Before kickoff, parking lot tailgaters challenge one another in all manner of athletic feats, including: cornhole (a bean bag toss game), Frisbee, KanJam (a Frisbee Golf derivative), ladder toss (wrap balls connected by a thin rope around the highest wrung), washer toss, bocce ball, and other games of skill. But no drinking games…
CCU Punch. In honor of the the teal color scheme of CCU, mix 2 ounces vodka with 1 ounce Blue Curacao, 1 ounce lemonade, splash of pineapple juice, shake well with ice.
Beer pong, a popular beer-drinking Ping-Pong ball toss game, is out. “The use of devices intended to accelerate the consumption of alcohol (including, but not limited to beer pong, etc.) are prohibited,” say the official CCU website rules.
“We will play cornhole, the kids play football,” said Henley. “Everybody seems to have fun.” And so the time passes as the excitement builds toward the start of the football game.
While the tailgating party is important, and for some it’s most important, no one would be tailgating at all if it weren’t for the dedicated athletes who wear the helmets and pads, and play on the teal-colored field of the $20 million Brooks Stadium.
“About a half-hour before kickoff, we pack it all up, and go in to enjoy the game,” said Carolyn Montanaro. “That’s how we tailgate.”
Top Ten Tailgating Foods
According to bleacherreport.com these top ten tailgating foods are the most popular in the land.
1. Breakfast; sweet and spicy sausages, steak & eggs. (Cheese grits in the South)
2. Ultimate Nachos – lime-seasoned chips with ground beef, chicken and/or steak, cheese, black beans, jalapenos, diced tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, guacamole.
3. A Turducken (thanks to John Madden), which is a de-boned chicken, stuffed into a de-boned duck, stuffed into a de-boned turkey. Google it.
4. Pulled pork. A crockpot recipe recommends slow cooking your favorite take on pork BBQ in advance and reheating on game day.
5. The Bypass (as in coronary) Burger. A sirloin burger cooked in bacon grease, topped with cheese, bacon, and an egg, served on a buttered Kaiser roll.
6. The Michael Phelps’ Diet: A fried egg sandwich, omelet, grits, French toast, chocolate chip pancakes, and a ham & cheese sandwich.
7. Chili. Pick your favorite recipe. A fall classic. Easy to prepare ahead.
8. The Sloppy Roethlisburger (feeds at least 30). See the YouTube video. Omg.
9. Baby back Ribs. Easy to cook, from beginner to seasoned BBQ pro.
10. Bacon wrapped shrimp. Also easy to cook, but there is right way (and wrong way) to do this. Check online for recipes.
Maybe don’t risk taking “spirituous liquor” to the hallowed CCU parking lot, and try these game day libations at home.
1. Whiskey and Lemonade on Ice. Just as easy as it sounds. Play with ratio until you’re satisfied.
2. Peanut Butter Bourbon. 1 cup Hot chocolate, 2 oz. Bailey’s Irish Crème, 1 tsp melted peanut butter, thoroughly mixed, topped with whipped cream
3. Alabama Slammer. Famous proprietary recipe at Alabama home games, here’s a close proximity. 2 oz. each vodka and rum. 1 oz. amaretto, 4 oz. OJ, 7 oz. pineapple juice. Served in 20 oz. cup over ice.
4. Muddled Blueberry Lemonade. 2 oz. Vodka, ½ cup blueberries (muddled), ½ teaspoon sugar, 12 oz. lemonade and ice.
5. Classic Margarita. Good quality tequila, sour mix, splash of Grand Marnier, ice.
6. CCU Punch. In honor of the the teal color scheme of CCU, mix 2 ounces vodka with 1 ounce Blue Curacao, 1 ounce lemonade, splash of pineapple juice, shake well with ice.