A Moveable Feast

Every year, when the air gets crisp and lap blankets come down from attics, mini-reunions take place near stadiums and playing fields, where food and fun are the menu of the day.

Tailgating is much more than a social event. With food and drink as anchors, it draws people together and, it would seem, keeps them together over years. In equal measure, tailgating is an homage to a place and a moment in time that directed the course of their lives; a link in a continuum that deserves a well-thought-out celebration of all that’s gone before.

“I met my wife [Tina, William and Mary ’98] there. I got engaged there. I got married there,” says John Novogratz (class of ’96), father of five, as he gears up for his seventh year of tailgating with family and friends from back in the day. “You met as kids yourselves, and now your kids are meeting each other.”

The Novogratzs’ friends get involved, with one couple—both alums—putting together an annual make-your-own “William & Bloody Mary” table.

Occupying the same spot next to the same people since 2002 has created a “tailgate family” for former UVA football player Walter Kulp (class of ’91). Every year, the same 15 or so friends lay out spreads adjacent to one another. The tailgate, Kulp says, “is certainly football driven, but it’s driven by a sense of community and love of UVA … It’s an extension of the university family.”

Committed tailgaters forge their own traditions. Here are some of our favorites from practiced tailgaters around the Commonwealth and recipes for starting your own tailgate traditions.


UVA

If you’ve ever surveyed the parking lot at Scott Stadium (i.e., gotten lost trying to find your car), you might have seen Walter Kulp’s tailgate just outside the gate, where he has put down stakes every year since 2002. He marks the spot with a bust of Thomas Jefferson wearing an orange and blue tie. “A lot of people ask to take a picture with the bust,” says Kulp. There are two other constants at a Kulp tailgate: “There’s always a bottle of moonshine,” he says, “and Wayside Chicken is always on the menu.”

Virginia Tech

“Location, location, location,” says Guy Gentry (’73), noting that each parking lot at Tech games has its own flavor. After 40-odd years, he has nailed his routine: By 6:30 a.m., his rig is set. “Then, about an hour before game time, we have a special Hokie cheer and a shot of a beverage [the cinnamon schnapps liqueur Hot Damn!] that signals it’s time to start getting to the stadium.”

William & Mary

“It started out just telling people ‘Hey, come by’… it’s like six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” says Joe Montgomery (’74), who has been tailgating at homecoming for more than 30 years. “We’ve never had to send out an invitation.” As many as 400 people may turn up to the popular party. “That’s what’s fun about it … they know they’re going to see somebody they know.”

University of Richmond

When UR moved its home games to its campus stadium, Jeff Brown (’85) and his fellow tailgaters of 28 years purchased space #42 and 11 adjacent spaces. Fried oyster Po’Boys are “a perennial favorite.” In case of emergency, don’t call 911; go to #42, the “most sought-after duty location for campus and local law enforcement working the game,” according to Brown.

JMU

JMU Vice President Donna Harper has tailgated with a core group of friends for the past 15 years. But every week sees new additions to the gang … parents of students, alums, locals. Once, a regular even brought along country music singer Phil Vassar. According to Harper, all are welcome, with one caveat: “Everyone wears purple and gold. That’s all that matters.” 


This article originally appeared in our October 2014 issue.

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