When it comes to tailgates, Yale may not measure up to big state schools in number of people, amount of alcohol consumed or overall rowdiness, but the tailgate tradition does form an integral part of the University’s long football history. In fact, in addition to inventing football, Yale even has a claim to inventing the tailgate.
Legend has it that hungry fans at a 1904 Yale game felt a need for refreshment and initiated the tradition, according to Tailgating.com, a Web site devoted entirely to recreational tailgating. Unfortunately for Yale, a rival claim from Rutgers and Princeton universities asserts tailgating was actually born at their first game, in 1869.
The jury may still be out on which claim is valid, but there is no doubt that the tradition remains firmly in place at Yale, even amid controversy over Harvard’s decisions to implement restrictions on tailgating at this year’s Game. Many students regularly attend tailgates for home games, and student groups organizing tailgates range from fraternities and residential colleges to the Yale International Relations Association.
As a result, a wide spectrum of Yalies end up at the events.
“It’s strange because you sort of see all the social groups at our school,” said Christine Kim ’07, co-coordinator of tailgates for Morse College. “You’re all out on the field together, and you can kind of see the divisions of our school. It definitely looks very different looking at the SAE tailgate or the ADPhi tailgate or a college tailgate.”
Residential colleges frequently organize tailgates by having students sign up to transfer one of their meals from the dining hall. Dining hall staff provide the college with grills, burgers, buns, condiments, drinks and various other items. College activities council members usually arrive to prepare for the event several hours before the game, often setting up in a rented U-Haul truck.
More “boisterous” tailgates are often thrown by fraternities. Alpha Delta Phi, for example, is proud of its reputation for being a lively group on the field.
“I think we try to have a little more fun than a lot of the other places,” ADPhi President Daniel Brillman ’06 said. “We’re probably the most noticeable, but that’s why you see the biggest crowd around us — It’s always in good fun.”
Those who frequent football games are often quick to recall a variety of tailgate-related stories, ranging from the often-heard anecdotes about people being thoroughly inebriated in the early morning hours to more bizarre sightings. One fraternity member recalled seeing a student tackle and knock over a porta-potty, while another student mentioned seeing someone in a giant Dunkin’ Donuts costume on the field.
Lucinda McRoberts ’07 said such behavior was to be expected given that students can start drinking at 8:30 a.m. for most games.
“Crazy stuff is bound to happen when you start drinking that early,” she said.
While students said most tailgates are just about having fun, there are other draws as well; there can even be a charitable aspect to tailgating. Pi Beta Phi sorority organizes an annual event called Pi Phights, in which people pay a dollar to throw a pie at a sorority sister’s face. Proceeds from the event go to the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital.
Traditionally, sororities less frequently organize tailgates, but that may change this year. Jennifer Bloom ’06, social chair of Pi Beta Phi, said her organization has usually put together small tailgates, but they are trying to draw more people this year.
YIRA initiated an annual tailgate tradition last fall.
“It’s just a cool way to see people who we normally see dressed up in business suits and discussing international affairs in a different light,” Jason Fischer ’06, secretary-general of the Yale Model United Nations conference, said. “We try to have a lot of social events in which we get our members to interact with each other and do things that are fun. If you do that, you’re more likely to work within the more pertinent aspects of our organization.”
From the point of view of football players, tailgates serve as a good way to draw spectators, though some of the partiers may not actually make it to the game, Chris Barry ’07 said.
“I think it’s good that you get people out there,” Barry, a linebacker on the football team, said. “Personally, I would like for more people to actually come to the game.”
Often, the tailgates become destinations in and of themselves.
“A lot of people don’t even make it into the game, not because they’re so drunk, but because tailgating’s so fun,” Dave Levy ’07 said.