Black Candabra Hero with bright orange GameDay design

From the Gridiron to the Grill: The Origins of Football Tailgating

When it comes to football, there's nothing quite like the thrill of game day. The sound of the crowd, the smell of the freshly cut grass, and the taste of a perfectly grilled burger – these are the things that make football season special. And at the heart of this game day experience is tailgating. But where did this beloved tradition of pre-game partying come from, and how did it become an essential part of both college and pro football culture? Join us on a journey through the history of football tailgating, from its humble beginnings to the extravagant celebrations we know today.

The Birth of Tailgating

The term "tailgating" itself has a simple origin: it refers to the practice of fans gathering in the parking lots and fields outside stadiums, often sitting on the tailgates of their cars while enjoying food and drinks before a game. While tailgating as we know it today has become a vibrant and diverse activity, its roots can be traced back to college football in the early 20th century.

College Football: The Pioneers

College football has long been the breeding ground for football traditions, and tailgating is no exception. In the early 20th century, fans would converge on college campuses to support their teams. These early tailgates were more modest affairs, with fans bringing picnic baskets filled with sandwiches, homemade treats, and a few cold beverages. The idea was simple: enjoy good food and good company before cheering on your team.

The Pro Football Connection

As professional football gained popularity in the mid-20th century, tailgating followed suit. The first official NFL tailgate party is often credited to Green Bay Packers fans, who, in their fervor for the team, started tailgating in the parking lot of Lambeau Field. This tradition began in the 1950s and quickly spread to other NFL stadiums. The Packers' iconic "Lambeau Leap" isn't the only thing that put them on the map!

A Modern Tailgating Renaissance

In the latter half of the 20th century, tailgating continued to evolve and grow. What once consisted of sandwiches and a cooler full of drinks transformed into elaborate feasts featuring grills, smokers, and even deep fryers. The tailgating experience became as competitive as the games themselves, with fans vying to outdo each other in the realms of food, drink, and entertainment.

Today, football tailgating is a spectacle in its own right. Tailgaters arrive hours (sometimes even days) before kick-off, equipped with massive RVs, tents, and elaborate setups that resemble mini outdoor kitchens. Grilled meats, gourmet sides, and craft beers are the norm, and some fans even bring flat-screen TVs to catch the early games.

The Tailgating Spirit

What makes football tailgating truly special, though, is the sense of camaraderie and community it fosters. Strangers become friends over shared burgers and stories of past games. It's a place where rivalries are set aside, if only for a few hours, as fans from opposing teams come together to celebrate their love of the game.

Tailgating Tips

Before we wrap up this journey through the history of football tailgating, here are some tips for those looking to join in on the fun:

  • Arrive early to secure a good spot.
  • Plan your menu and pack accordingly.
  • Bring games, music, and other forms of entertainment.
  • Make sure you have several Candabra Heroes for you and your friends.
  • Be a good neighbor – share your food and make new friends.
  • Clean up after yourself – leave no trace.



Football tailgating, whether at a college or pro game, is more than just a prelude to kickoff; it's a cherished tradition that brings fans together in celebration of the sport they love. From its humble beginnings on college campuses to the grand spectacles we witness today, tailgating has become an integral part of football culture. So, as you prepare to fire up the grill and join the tailgate party, remember the rich history and the sense of community that make this tradition truly special. Cheers to football and the joy of tailgating!

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