Of U-Hauls and BBQ

At the Yale-Princeton game last Saturday, alumni from the past 65 years flocked to the Yale Bowl to cheer on the football team in its last home game. Before kick-off, blue-clad alumni popped open their trunks and gathered around tables laden with traditional tailgating fare. Across the field, current students participated in their own tailgate, drinking spiked hot chocolate and cider served out of the back of U-Haul trucks.

The spirit of Yale tailgating has stayed basically the same for over 50 years. The game-day atmosphere makes many of the alums feel at home as they join in the festivities that has, on the whole, not changed since their years at Yale.

But some older alumni said that tailgating seemed to be more popular when they were in college.

Bill Owens ’45, who has gone to “60-something” years of Yale football games — everywhere except for Hawaii — said that in recent years, he has noticed that the number of people who attend tailgates seems to be declining.

But George Spaeth ’54 said the attendance problem was not a product of different attitudes towards tailgating, but in the changed nature of Yale football itself.

“[When I was a student,] every sport, including football, was much more amateur,” he said. “It’s gotten much more industrial and much less fun.”

Spaeth added that tailgating has also been altered over the years. When his daughter — a member of the women’s hockey and lacrosse teams — was at Yale, he said the whole family would come to tailgate and bring a picnic of cold sandwiches with them. Now barbecuing has become a tailgating staple, making pre-game snacking far fancier than before.

Another advancement in tailgating technology was the advent of the U-Haul truck. Caroline Hendel ’83 and Laura Reilly ’83, roommates during their time at Yale who met up with a group of friends at Saturday’s game, said that the trailers allow students to bring more supplies to prolong the tailgate past kick-off.

“We always went to the game,” Hendel said. “We never stayed outside and tailgated.”

Reilly added that the more recent tendency to continue tailgating after the start of the game probably developed once the drinks and the party could no longer be brought into the stadium.

But even though technology has changed and tailgating has become more elaborate, some things never change.

Matt Walton SOM ’78, who started tailgating at Yale 59 years ago because his parents were both faculty members, noted that the only thing that has changed since then is the music.

“They used to play jazz and swing, and now they play hip-hop,” he said. “But the pageant is still the pageant.”

As to what Yalies can expect this weekend, one alum offered insight from experience. It seems that Harvard’s hatred of fun has some historical precedent.

“Harvard is terrible at tailgating,” Hendel said.

Even alumni say the tailgates are always better when The Game is here at Yale, but many students do not seem worried. The last home game may have passed, but Yalies and their tailgating paraphernalia will be out in full force in Cambridge.

As one student put it, “the real game is tailgating.”

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