Many factors combine to make a fall Saturday a “fall Saturday”.
There’s the game itself, each school’s unique brass bands, and lore – like Penn State’s White Out, Auburn’s Hovering Eagle, or Garth Brooks’ singing before Q4 at Baton Rouge.
But before all of that happens on a fall Saturday, something else happens: the hatchback.
On college campuses across the country, people come down to claim a piece of land and settle there for the day. The barren fields – once lifeless – become neighborhoods where every house has a party and everyone is invited.
I grew up in Georgia. My first exposure to tailgating was at SEC schools such as LSU – places where tailgating is as important a religion as football. Penn State has some awesome hatchbacks too, but I’d be lying if I said it was no different. No worse, just different.
The best part of tailgating isn’t what it is. This is what he represents. This is how you feel. This is the game before the game. I can’t wait to watch football all week. When you wake up on a Saturday and smell all the food jelly in the crisp fall air, you know the kick-off is near.
In a world where things may have seemed hostile, bleak, or even downright apocalyptic over the past couple of years, tailgating offers a refuge.
One of my favorite things that I see as I walk are tents filled with fans from both teams. It creates the feeling of hospitality that you should get at a soccer game.
People get together and have fun, regardless of the color of their shirts. Of course, there is the usual chatter, but that is only part of it.
There are no strangers. If you walk up to someone and ask them what they’re up to, you’ll have a chance to try. Sometimes you don’t even have to ask.
When done right, it can be the best part. Each region of America has its own food. Tailgating should be an opportunity to show it.
When it comes to food, I admit I have a fondness for the South. I’m not going to pretend I enjoy the food in a Penn State hatchback as much as the things I’ve seen them cook in Louisiana or Georgia.
An ideal pre-football menu for me is a barbecue main course, preferably pulled pork. Beans and mac and cheese on the side, maybe a coleslaw or potato salad should pop up. Finally, there is the joker.
The joker can be anything from a classic family recipe to a regional dish. Just make sure it’s bold and different. It should add flavor to the spread.
For some, food is the best part of the hatchback. For others, it may be the cornhole or the drinking games. For me, it’s the people.
As I said before, there are no strangers. Everyone is everyone’s best friend. We are all together because we love football or the culture around it.
More than 100,000 people come to watch these football matches from all over the world. Of course, there are individuals who don’t have much in common, but on this day they do.
You could spend an entire afternoon talking to someone you’ve never met before and maybe never speaking again, but during those few hours you’re best friends.
This camaraderie does not happen in many places, especially in these times. The pandemic took away many of these interactions. As the world becomes more obsessed with the proliferation of technology, people forget about these conversations with strangers. In terms of tailgates, they still exist.
Basically, college football Saturdays present us with something primitive. That’s why I think so many people love them so much and also why a lot of people can’t stand it.
Getting together to eat and drink is something humans have done since humans have existed. Coming together to cheer and yell for your soccer team to beat the other guys is almost the definition of tribal.
I would like to think that most people just want to have fun and get along and feel the excitement every now and then. Fall Saturdays offer this opportunity, although they are rare elsewhere.
It is for this reason, even as the world changes, these pop-up communities known as hatchbacks remain a force. As long as the sun is burning, the grills will also be on a fall Saturday.