After watching the Georgia game Saturday, I partook in ‘tailgating’ activities at the local Big 10 ballgame, Illinois hosting Indiana. Since it was a late kickoff, I was able to watch the whole Georgia game and have four hours to help build a tailgate culture on the plains. I will say that the crew I tailgate with here is one of the few that do it right. They show up at daylight, regardless of kickoff time, and do a whole day of party. Oftentimes, the after game party is much better, especially considering the preponderance of 11:30 11:00 CST kickoffs in the Big 10.
Saturday, it was as good as it gets in Champaign. The weather was seasonable (upper 50s) and the one place people take tailgating seriously, the west parking lot, was raucous. The level of sophistication for most tailgates would embarrass the average SEC fan, but it was a good time. For our tailgate, I brought the pork and we grilled steaks. Bourbon, a recent addition due to my affinity for such, was in plentiful supply. The only people drinking beer were the college students. It was great fun.
A parenthetical is needed to give the folks in the SEC an idea of the general lack of tailgate culture in this part of the Big 10. I parked within 400 yards of a major college stadium that was sold out (at 64,000 or so seats) for a night game just four hours before kickoff. Seriously. I didn’t see another soul, other than students with books coming from the library, until I got within 200 yards of the stadium. The first group I saw were people eating sub sandwiches out of the trunk of their car. They were all talking about the upcoming hockey season. Heathens.
We call one of the guys I work with “The Mayor” (he has earned the nickname). The Mayor is one of the reasons I work in this town and is the founder and proprietor of the tailgate. Without him, the tailgate would be a cooler of natty light and a few bags of pork rinds, and these are full grown people. The Mayor was making the rounds to a couple of his buddies’ tailgates when he ran into an old friend that happens to be a bowl rep and dragged him back to our tailgate. This guy is a rep for one of the SEC/Big 10 tie in bowls and is an SEC guy, so we had great fun comparing notes and generally discussing the possibilities of who will end up in his bowl. He has been a bowl rep for a few years, so he has seen the tie ins and the culture change from the mid-November invites to the nearly mathematical certainty of who will go where.
He has a sweet gig, other than having to go to some Big 10 games that aren’t very good. Nothing but football games and parties all fall. His job is marketing the bowl to the schools and the fans, getting them excited about the possibility of spending a week in his city during the Holidays. While that seems very strange to SEC folk, think of what it is like for people here to get to spend several days in Florida/Texas/Arizona/California after the first snowfall. I am guessing the Motor City Bowl reps have a much tougher job than this guy. He spent the afternoon walking the one big tailgate area, talking to fans. He spent an hour with us, eating pork and drinking bourbon. It was good to discuss SEC football in that setting. I am pretty sure The Mayor unofficially accepted a bowl invitation on behalf of the Illini, something he could probably officially make happen. Of course, there is the matter of finishing the right place in the conference.
He took his leave of us so he could get his picture taken with the cheerleaders and dance squad and get to the sky box in time for the prime rib buffet. I definately want to be a bowl rep when I die.