This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
We've discussed tailgating a few times here, but mostly offhand. And yet, even if you don't drink (but especially if you do), tailgating is as essential to the Iowa football fan experience as anything else. Put it this way: Having been given the option to tailgate a game or take the game in at Kinnick that afternoon, I have chosen tailgating every. single. time.
Now, part of that has to do with the incredible leaps ESPN and (to a lesser extent) the BTN have made in maximizing the gameday experience for fans watching on television. But it also has to do with the irreproducible feeling of walking down a packed Melrose Avenue two or three hours before kickoff. Literally tens of thousands of fans, all anxious and eager, none causing a disturbance that can't be fixed by a quick elbow to the shoulder from their friend next to them.
But this post is about traditions, and as long as we're all able to differentiate between "tradition" and "requirement," we're all probably in good shape. The people who take tailgating (of all things) too seriously are the reason we wrote this post. And, conversely, the people who we've tailgated with over the last 10 years are the reason we're writing this post.
Now, there are certain things we fans do with some regularity. The blue boxes of beer, be they Busch or Bud Light, are ubiquitous at tailgates. As quasi-beer snobs, we certainly don't endorse them as beverage choices. But with 11:00 a.m. kickoffs, there's usually scant time to enjoy a tailgate before kickoff, time too precious for the 45 minutes it would require to properly appreciate a Goose Island or whatever. Waterbeer it is, especially in Iowa City.
The other key component of Iowa tailgates is, of course, the Tailgate Hipster. Oh, they'll never admit to being a hipster, but hipsters never do. Yet the hipster dress cred is undeniable. Everyone wears clothes that would be moderately-to-severely improper in any other usual social situation. HS wears a vintage Rose Bowl shirt. I have a Reebok Iowa jersey with Calvin Jones' retired number. Black and gold overalls are commonplace, as are other ridiculous pieces of clothing. There's even fans who dress up as referees, which is kind of like going to a casino and dressing like the dealer. And generally, the more ridiculous the outfit, the more appreciated it is by fellow hipster fans. We are hipsters. We should just go ahead and admit it.
But at the end of the day (or afternoon or whatever), tailgating is only as good as the people you're with. Sure, we can laud the Big Ass Turkey Legs, and sure, we can direct people to the Magic Bus since no other tailgating option sits in the middle of the Venn Diagram of Popular, Very Close, and Open. But the people who go to the Dental Lot go there for the people they expect to see there; the same goes for those wealthy enough to swing a spot next to the stadium.
That's not to say, mind you, that any of those options is objectively "better" than the other; just as there are true Hawkeye fans who drop five figures to tailgate in the shadow of the press box before taking their 40-yard-line seats, there are also equally true Hawkeye fans who pay double digits to drink Bud Light in an outlying lot before hoofing it to the Vine in Coralville to watch on the big screen.
And further, parking lots are not static designations of castes of fandom; some of our favorite fellow fans exist on opposite ends of the financial spectrum of Iowa tailgaters and ticket-holders, and we suspect that we're like most of you in that sense. So what's the best way to enjoy the company of these fellow Hawkeye fans, regardless of their financial investment in the UI and the social perks that come with? Well, step one would be by joining thousands upon thousands of Hawkeye fans of all classes, creeds, and colors, walking down en masse Melrose on a Saturday morning.