The scene in this week’s picture depicts something completely foreign to me. Tailgating is a Saturday or Sunday ritual I have never really participated in even though I have attended countless college and professional football games over the past 46 years of professional work life. While barbecue grills smoke away beside spreads of every conceivable food option, I trudge past them with loads of camera gear hours before a game starts.
In the 80’s as Kansas State and the Kansas City Chiefs grabbed a stranglehold on the tailgating world, I made this photograph before a Kansas State game at KU. I have photographed many more such scenes since. None has been better. Besides the wonderful food setup in a van, fans for both teams truly enjoyed themselves.
Laura and I stopped at my sister and her husband’s tailgate before KU games at Kansas State for a few years. Sally’s husband, Denny, played linebacker for the Wildcats during the Vince Gibson years, and lives and dies with the team’s fortunes. Our stops were always brief, but it was good to see them having fun even though they no longer go to games as their children moved on with their lives and their own children.
We do wish friends would host post-game tailgate parties. Laura and I could pull up chairs and relax with some food and discuss the day’s game. Of course, by the time we completed all our work, that would be two to three hours after the game. By then weary and likely hung over fans have packed up and are long gone. That might be for the best.
We took in one of those post-game scenes this year after the Chiefs lost a Thursday night game to the Denver Broncos. Shooting for Sports Illustrated after a late decision on the game by editors in New York, we parked in a general admission lot, a taxing 20 minute walk from the stadium with all our gear. By the time we returned to our car post game, only the hardiest Chiefs’ fans remained, drowning their sorrows over the late loss. With traffic lines slowly winding out of the trash-filled lots, when offered a beer, we were so parched, we chose water instead.
Listening to them bemoan the Denver victory on a late fumble recovery, we realized maybe it was best for us to simply move on and wish them well. We wish the same for all those fans taking pleasure in the modern American ritual that tailgating has become. Enjoy.