The History of Tailgating
Expert Advice

Though its origins might be debatable, tailgating is certainly now a national pastime.  In some parts of the world tailgating implies risky driving habits.  However, in the U.S., it’s all about having a good time.  The tailgate parties, are all about socializing with fellow sports fans.  It’s about families, friends, and strangers all coming together to enjoy the festive atmosphere of the game – typically NFL or college football – over cold drinks and food hot off the grill. But how did this tailgating culture begin?


No one seems to be able to agree on when exactly tailgating started becoming a thing. Some experts claim that tailgating began at the very first college football game on November 6, 1869, between Rutgers and Princeton. However, that was long before cars existed, and archives that could confirm this are inconclusive. Other experts point to when cars were present at the first NFL game on October 3,1920 between the Dayton Triangles and the Columbus Panhandles.  Again, there’s no definitive proof for this theory.

Does tailgating need to have motor vehicles involved? Apparently not, according to The American Tailgaters Association (ATA). The ATA believes tailgating began in 1861 when the Confederacy went up against Union soldiers in the First Battle of Bull Run. According to the ATA, civilians set up picnics close to the first big battle of the American Civil War with booze, bread, and blankets.

Maybe that’s not so hard to believe when we consider that, throughout history, we’ve enjoyed watching fierce sports. From gladiators in Rome to the NFL of today, we celebrate dangerous games precisely because they’re exhilarating. People all over the world have indulged in pre-match (and post-match) rituals for centuries, for a whole variety of popular sports. If a sport has fans, it likely has parties.


In South Africa, for example, rugby supporters congregate in parking lots before a match, just like we do for football games in America. They grill meat and down copious amounts of beer, just like us. There’s no local name for this behavior though, it’s just an organic tradition. Tailgating is the universal phenomenon of sports bringing people together.

Perhaps tailgating shouldn’t be thought of as an event, and instead should be regarded as a natural form of behavior. Human beings are social creatures after all; we’ve been gathering en masse and making merry since time immemorial. It’s pretty tough to stop organic culture like that, and perhaps that’s why the NFL has had trouble trying to curb tailgating’s growth.

When the NFL decided to ban tailgating for the Super Bowl in 2007, football fans weren’t too happy about it. Despite that decision, tailgating is still allowed at every NFL stadium. Just not the Super Bowl itself. Of course, the NFL can’t do anything about college football tailgating, hockey, or baseball tailgating. Tailgate parties are so popular they’ve cemented themselves in sports culture, uniting all creeds in pride, passion, and camaraderie.


Tailgating has gone as far as infiltrating pop culture media, featured in television shows as well as commercials. The Simpsons, for example, made an entire episode dedicated to tailgating culture. Homer Simpson goes as far as saying he doesn’t care about getting tickets, he just wanted to have a good time tailgating – a sentiment that may hit home for some.

Whether it’s a barbecue or a braai, juicy meats or healthy salads; tailgating culture is definitely here to stay. There’s no price tag for the festive atmosphere so unique to these informal parties, regardless of whether you’ve got tickets to the game.


Tailgating isn’t without its controversies, but at the end of the day it’s simply a social gathering we can all enjoy. As with any party, it all comes down to enjoying yourself responsibly; being able to have a good time without overindulging. Tailgating has ingrained itself in our culture, and although the world might not know it yet, tailgate parties are already a global phenomenon.