Winning the pre-game
Southern Living considers U.Va. tailgates “Style Setters”
Food, family and football. In just three words, we can sum up a quintessential U.Va. tradition – tailgating. Tailgating is a display of all things Southern, from the tables piled high with delicious fried chicken and homemade food to the generations of families and friends who loyally gather hours before kickoff in preparation for the game. Sometimes even more important than the game itself, tailgating embodies a love for U.Va. football, win or lose.
A couple of months ago Southern Living magazine announced its first annual “The South’s Best Tailgate” competition to celebrate one of the South’s most celebrated pastimes, with U.Va. as one of its contenders.
“The competition gave us the opportunity to spotlight the spirited traditions and over-the-top pageantry that make tailgating in the South one of a kind,” said Caroline McKenzie, assistant features editor at Southern Living.
A panel of editors took on the job of narrowing down the numerous Southern schools to a group of 20. After choosing the 20 schools, the editors identified the four most important aspects of a Southern tailgate and selected five schools for each of the categories. The schools were separated into: “Style Setters,” “Traditionalists,” “Most Spirited” and “Powerhouses.”
U.Va. was placed into the category of “Style Setters,” along with the University of Mississippi, Hampden-Sydney College, Howard University and Southern Methodist University. According to Southern Living, these schools “showcase their true splendor in the grass.”
“The schools in this category put a stylish spin on tailgating details both big and small, whether that be a fabulously decorated tailgate tent or chic game day attire,” McKenzie said.
Obviously, U.Va. is (in)famous for its “stylish spin” with families, faculty, and students continuing to uphold the tradition of dressing up for football games with “girls in pearls, guys in ties.” But many families and students have come up with their own personal traditions throughout their years of tailgating.
“One of my favorite aspects of tailgating is decorating the table with different U.Va. and seasonal decorations,” fourth-year College student Courtney Sims said. “My favorite is when Halloween time comes around. My family carves the ‘V’ and sabers into a pumpkin, and uses it as the centerpiece of the table at the tailgate. We also do a lot of pumpkin dishes like pumpkin dip and drink Blue Moon pumpkin ale.”
Many tailgating traditions revolve around food. Families will pass down recipes or continue making the same dishes season after season. Food is integral to third-year Commerce student Bobby Roane’s family tailgates, but they have a slightly different take on it.
“We try to make the food match the game we’re playing,” Roane said. “For example, we had gumbo and pralines for the Louisiana Tech game.”
Tailgates also allow fans an opportunity to play some games of their own before the real competition starts.
“One tradition that my family has is that we always play cornhole at our tailgates,” Sims said. “It’s great, because a lot of other fans that are tailgating ask to play with us. It’s sort of a way of bonding with other fans and allows everyone to have a good time together.”
Food and games are inevitably an essential part of tailgating, as families and friends are quick to gather around delicious homemade dishes and enjoy a chance at a little friendly rivalry. To many families, there is also a sense of pride associated with the tradition. Tailgating spots are sometimes passed down for generations, although they have to be purchased annually.
Third-year College student Kathleen O’Rourke’s parents’ friends purchased a space shortly after their graduation that has been in her close family and friend circle since then, O’Rourke said.
“There hasn’t been a single year without at least one son or daughter of one of the tailgaters enrolled at U.Va. since 2003,” she said. “And I’m sure most of us will end up buying our own spots at some stage in our lives, so I think it’s safe to say that this is one of those U.Va. traditions that will never die.”
Rather than putting all of the emphasis on winning, tailgating at U.Va. takes a more relaxed approach.
“For me, it was never for the love of the game — it was more about celebrating the change of season and having another excuse to don a bow tie,” said Lindsay Bierman, Editor-in Chief of Southern Living magazine and an Architecture Graduate School alum. “I’ve tagged along with friends to Alabama or Auburn games but, believe me, it’s like tailgating on a different planet down here. The fans are in it to WIN, and it changes the whole vibe. It actually stresses me out!”
Whether it’s through food, drinks, or a tailgate spot that continues to be kept in the family, students at U.Va. are committed to carrying out and continuing the traditions that have been passed down to them.
Even students who have been tailgating for as long as they can remember discovered that their opinions and feelings about tailgating have changed with time.
“When I was younger, it was all about seeing Cavman riding out on his horse and seeing the cheerleaders and dance team, and eating some of my mom’s delicious food,” Sims said. “But as I have gotten older I have grown to love the simpler aspects of tailgating, like hanging out with friends and family, and enjoying the company of the ones that I love. One thing has not changed though: I still love to eat my mom’s delicious food.”
Southern Living magazine will announce the winner of “The South’s Best Tailgate” Oct. 15.
*Apple Pie-Bourbon Sweet Tea Recipe
3/4 cup sweetened tea
3 tablespoons Apple Pie-Infused Bourbon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Garnishes: apple slice, cinnamon stick
Combine sweetened tea, Apple Pie-Infused Bourbon, and fresh lemon juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Cover with lid; shake vigorously until thoroughly chilled. Strain into a 10-oz. glass filled with ice. Top with club soda. Garnish, if desired.*