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Where I Come From: Tailgate Traditions, or Killer Parties Almost Killed Me

This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.

I had never experienced a Michigan State tailgate until the Fall of 2002, my first semester in East Lansing.  I had just pledged a fraternity and was told to stop by the Rock for a tailgate; I thought I'd stop by for an hour then head to Spartan Stadium to get in line for the game. I walked down Farm Lane, turned a corner and was immediately awed by what I saw.  Hundreds upon hundreds of students drinking in the sun - some on couches they brought, some beside tables for drinking games, but mostly standing in groups, having the times of their lives.

From that point forward I was hooked on tailgate.  While my tailgate spot has moved around too much to establish any solid tradition, the one constant has been the ability to have a good time. For your entertainment, a brief history of my tailgate experiences is presented thusly:

2002-2004 - The Rock

The salad years of tailgate.  Here are my three of my most vivid memories:

- Seeing one of my friends getting kicked in the groin, at the DJ booth.  This was done somewhat willingly.

- The time was 7 or 8ish in the morning before a noon game.  I was hanging with a couple members of another fraternity (typically two fraternities and a sorority partnered together to split costs), when someone decided to use the bathroom.  While he's in the port-a-john, a couple of his fraternity brothers run behind it and knock it over.  Whoever was in there exits, jumps on top of the overturned stall, and screams at the top of his lungs, undoubtedly knowing that the damage could've been much worse later in the day.  However, a police officer walking by saw the occurrence, walks over to the student who yelled and gives him a minor in possession (MIP, I'll be using those letters a lot in this piece).  To this day, I still have not witnessed someone's day start worse that didn't involve a death.

- Tom Izzo driving through with the basketball team and Sparty on an extra long golf cart.  The SAT analogy that describes this scene is flies:honey::sorority girls:basketball players.

October 2004 - The Clampdown

The Notre Dame tailgate (a night game) in 2004 resulted in an above average number of incidents (85 arrests in all).  It was at that point that the trustees enacted stiffer tailgating rules, which set time limits for tailgates and formally banned drinking games.  It was also decided at that point that MIPs would be handed out to anyone that looked young and drinking, and not just the ones clearly out of control. At the next tailgate the MIPs were flying, the sorority girls' tears were flowing and tailgate at the Rock was effectively done for the year.

Spring of 2005

I'm on Interfraternity Council at this point, and a representative from Student Life is explaining why the clampdown happened.  The Trustees, who hadn't seen tailgate up close for a few years, walked through the first couple of tailgates in 2004 and weren't too happy with what they saw.  The aftermath of the Notre Dame game was the final straw, and the rules went into effect. 

(Note: An alleged sexual assault was listed by some as a reason why the restrictions were enacted.  I did some research and couldn't comfortably determine how that case was closed.  Regardless of the voracity of the claim, from what I was told, I believe the trustees would've enforced the stricter tailgate rules whether the assault happened or not.)

At this point we have to decide whether to keep tailgate at the Rock for 2005.  We decide to give it a shot.

Fall of 2005 - First Tailgate, 7 AM

Tailgate starts, police are nowhere to be seen.  People are merry.  Cautious optimism abounds.

Fall of 2005 - First Tailgate, 8 AM

Here come the police, here come the MIPs.  Tailgate at the Rock is officially dead and has moved into the city of East Lansing.  The one bit of levity during that day was knowing that whatever house rented the limos to get to tailgate had blown their money.


I'm tailgating at houses in East Lansing now before heading to games.  I miss the campus atmosphere but most of my friends are tailgating in the city, so I'm there.  Here are a couple of my favorite memories:

- Having a friend's parents make whiskey, tequila, and Everclear Jello shots.  The whiskey and tequila tasted just as horrible as you'd think, while the Everclear ones didn't taste like anything at all, which means stay away unless you like emergency rooms.

- Learning how to play dizzy bat.  If there's a finer game involving crushed up beer cans and a hollowed-out whiffle ball bat I've yet to find it.


My second tour of undergrad at MSU, and my friend Chris is asking if I know a good place to tailgate.  He wants somewhere close to the stadium and cheap - and the tennis courts, the student tailgating area, is the only parking I know that meets that criteria.  Hey, I'm a student!  I buy the yearly pass.   Chris and I, to this day, try to be the first ones out there when the lots open at 7 AM, 9 AM, or 1 PM.  He's got a big flagpole, cornhole, a grill, tents, lawn chairs, a fire pit - all the equipment needed for a fine tailgate.  That's where I've been ever since, and even though I've graduated, that's where I plan to be this year.  I might be a bit older than the students there, but I love their enthusiasm. It'll have to end when more of my hairs turn gray, but I'm going to milk my youth all I can.

In the past couple years, I've eased up a bit.  Maybe the tailgates aren't as wild as they've used to be, but they're just as fun now for a different reason.  As I've grown up and seen most of my friends move out of the Lansing area, tailgate's a good reason for us all to meet back up, have a couple beers, maybe a rum and cider if it's colder, and reminisce about the craziness of our youth. 

Enough about me.  What are some of your favorite tailgate traditions, stories, and recipes?