While no one knows for sure the history of tailgating, we like to think it started with a guy named good time Charlie, a Model T Ford and some butcher-fresh beef made into patties and charbroiled to perfection.
Other theorists, however, have suggested the culture of what we call "tailgating" and the camaraderie, food and tradition that surrounds these events actually dates back as far as ancient Greece and Rome.
Modern day tailgates are believed to be rooted from Greek and Roman fall harvest celebrations, or “vestavals;” the first official “tailgates.” During these vestals, the community would gather with food and drink during the last warm days before winter to celebrate the abundance at harvest. Since football season begins at the end of the summer and ends at the tail-end of fall, many believe the traditions of these fall celebrations ignited the tailgating culture.
In France, however, the history of tailgates is a bit darker. Historians believe the beginnings of these celebrations are linked to the Reign of Terror in the late 18th Century, when families would show up to public executions and enjoy meats and foods among the community in a carnival-like atmosphere (yikes!).
A look at early American tailgates as we know them today begins at the Battle of Bull Run in Manassas, Virginia during the Civil War conflict when Union sympathizers gathered at the battlefield with food and drink to observe the rebellion--that is, until confederate troops stormed the picnic, causing chaos and panic. Perhaps, this sparked the first food and drink celebrations in America involving a rivalry between two sides.
Fast forward to 1906, when the first true concept of tailgating emerged, with origins beginning at an Ivy League school in a game between favored-winners Yale, and their rival Harvard. It is said that while the modern automotive was still particularly new, due to the wealth of Ivy League-ers, it was no surprise to see a large number of fans gathering in cars, carrying picnics full of food and drink to celebrate the game. The wealthy gathered in their cars, feeding off picnic treasures while the less fortunate, arriving late by train, had missed their lunch. Tale has that those in automotives invited the train riders to join in on their picnics, and thus, the first demonstration of camaraderie over a passion for sports was born.
Today, the tradition of hope, food and camaraderie brings sports fans together during various types of competition in a tailgate tradition. A couple hours over the grill, a couple beers, and a little sports talk among fellow fans, and tailgating has become a phenomenon in contemporary American culture. Sports fans become a miniature, temporary communities of people, daunting the same clothes, talking the same talking, and eating the same foods.
Everytime the smell of grilled burgers hit the air, the sounds of chanting fans rings through the stands, and team colors paint the stadium, a rush of excitement hits fans as if it was the first time two competitors have ever went head-to-head. But, despite the feeling of fresh excitement, in reality, this tradition has been around since the time of the Romans.
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