Friday, October 22, 2004

Tailgating draws lots of fans

Pre-game picnics behind the SUV: It's 'the new American back yard'

By Chuck Martin
Enquirer staff writer

Left to right: Ray Hilvert, Kelsey Powers, 11, Lisa Wersel and her mother Sue Hilvert, all of Mason enjoy tailgate festivities before Moeller played Elder in Friday night football.
(Jeff Swinger/The Enquirer)

Serious tailgaters must have serious tailgating gear - and a spacious vehicle with picnic-friendly features. Here are a few:

Thermos Fire and Ice Grill/Cooler ($269.99): This portable combo features a 10-gallon cooler positioned under a powerful gas grill. (Available at Home Depot and other stores.)

Daiquiri Wacker Gas-Powered Blender ($299.99): No ice cubes are safe with this 2 horsepower machine, which makes frozen drinks in seconds.(

Tailgating Pros Inflatable chair ($40): Made of thick, durable PVC with a leather-like finish. A portable electric pump that runs off the vehicle's cigarette lighter costs $15. (

Buick Rendezvous ($37,000): This seven-passenger SUV offers plenty of room, rear DVD system, satellite radio and remote control. Other picks: Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Avalanche, Dodge Durango, GMC Envoy and Honda CR-V.

At a grassy field near Lockland Stadium on a recent Friday night, two hours before Elder High School plays rival Moeller, the air is heavy with the scent of charcoal lighter fluid and the slap-slap-slap of cornhole bags against wood. It's time to tailgate.

Kids are flinging footballs and dads sound like air traffic controllers on cell phones, talking buddies into parking spaces reserved especially for them. Lisa Wersel of Mason and her mostly Moeller alumni family are wolfing sandwiches and dipping homemade salsa around a table set up behind their Toyota Sequoia SUV. They could've eaten at home or met at a restaurant, but for nearly 20 years, they prefer the food, fellowship - even the flies - of the tailgate party.

"This is all part of the experience," Wersel explains.

For some, tailgating is the experience - more important than the game itself. Sue Sieber discovered tailgating four years ago, after her daughter began attending Miami University. She enjoys watching football, but admits to skipping the game to stay in the parking lot and party with friends.

"Who doesn't like to tailgate?" Sieber wonders.

Evidently, once they discover the joys of a pre-game picnic, few Americans can resist it. Hundreds, if not thousands, of tailgaters will flock to Paul Brown Stadium Monday before the Bengals game against Denver. A survey this year by Weber-Stephens Products Co. shows that 21 percent of Americans - about 47 million people - say they will tailgate this fall. High schools, colleges, professional sports franchises - including NASCAR - and merchants who sell special grills and other gear, all say tailgating is on the rise.

It has become so popular at University of Cincinnati home football games, the university offers inflatable games, giveaways and music in the "Bearcat Kids' Zone"- for children who come early with their tailgating parents.

UC sports historian Kevin Grace traces the roots of tailgating to college alumni gatherings in the 1950s and '60s. It has become a sports cultural phenomenon in the last decade, he says.

There could be several reasons for the uptick in tailgating. It's fun, and usually more convenient - and less expensive - to eat in the parking lot than a restaurant.

But Joe Cahn, the self-proclaimed "Commissioner of Tailgating," believes there is a deeper societal reason for the rise. He calls the stadium parking lot "the new American back yard."

"We've put up our privacy fences, we don't trust our neighbors with our keys and we don't walk the neighborhood anymore," says Cahn. "But we have more in common in the parking lot. We share the love of the team and our community in the parking lot."

The code of the tailgater, Cahn says, is to walk the lot, say hello to old and new friends, and taste as much food as possible.

"We're all so busy," says Jason Boberschmidt of Mount Washington, who has been tailgating at Bengals home games for a decade. "This is eight days a year (Bengals' home games) we know we all can get together."

Grace also believes more fans are tailgating because it offers a festive atmosphere without the intensity of the competition.

"Kicked back in a lawn chair with a pot of chili," Grace says, "you stay more mellow, you don't try to analyze every play. It's a chance to enjoy football without the emotional drain of the loss."

Few understand that sentiment more than long-suffering Bengals fans. "The games then didn't have much to offer," Boberschmidt says. "If you took out the tailgating, I don't know how much fun it would've been."

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