All of the inside scoop on Virginia's biggest day of Steeplechase racing -- the Virginia Gold Cup. Hey, 50,000 of your closest friends can't be wrong! Do you have your tickets yet?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tailgaiting 101

You know there has to be a story behind this. It couldn’t just be as simple as somebody showed up one day with a picnic basket and a jug of wine and the tailgate was born. Nope. Not so fast.
Actually, according to, tailgating dates back to the very first college football game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869, when fans traveled to the game by carriage, grilling sausages and burgers at the "tail end" of the horse.

Today tailgating is a part of most athletic events, especially college football. Now the folks at Yale say it all began there in 1904. Their story says there was a train made up of private railcars that brought fans to a Yale game. The train stopped at the station and the fans had to walk the distance to the stadium. When they arrived at the stadium, they were hungry and thirsty. So the idea was born to bring along a picnic hamper of food for the next game. And so Tailgating was born. This story has been verified as absolute truth hundreds of times by…well, you know, Yale.

And so folks showed up to eat before and after the game. Then some genius invented lights. Sweet move for the tailgaters! The towering electric lamps and night football games brought about the practice of hosting all day football parties at fans’ homes where they would congregate and leisurely hop from house-to-house as the evening kickoff approached. 

Night games were a critical social development since they allowed for men and women to dress up. Women commonly wore their best dresses adorned with team-colored corsages while men frequently donned coats, ties and the now-forgotten, but once-popular derbies and fedoras. Is any of this starting to remind you of the Gold Cup?

These festive pre-game jaunts continued unabated for 40 years or more until daytime college football on television pre-empted the house parties that were previously the norm. The alternative to not house partying was simple to the legions of football fans that had been weaned on pre-game football parties: Take the party to the stadium!

Now when people started steeplechasing out in the middle of a field on a sunny day it only made sense to have a picnic. Since one needed a car to reach said field and since the card of eight races or so made time for lunch and a snack, the tailgate was a natural fit.

We like to think of the Gold Cup as the biggest tailgate in Virginia. Maybe in the U.S., but we’d get some argument from the Gators and Bulldogs who say the Florida-
Georgia football game in Jacksonville is the world’s largest. 

Ok, their fans show up and start the party on Wednesday for a Saturday game. 

They win.

But the Gold Cup is still a great tailgate and here’s a few ways to go about it.

BASIC TAILGATE: The main beauty of the tailgate is that it comes in all shapes and sizes. The starter model is the basic tailgate. All you need is a car, a bucket of chicken and a cooler. Chairs and a boom box are optional. Food, drink, transportation. 


MODERATELY SOPHISTICATED: The moderately sophisticated tailgate is the trickiest. You want it to look really nice, but not too nice so people won’t think you are trying too hard to be cool. Basically, some simple decorations will do. 

A nice table cloth and some pretty flowers are a must. But the critical element is good food. Don’t forget the staples – ham biscuits, deviled eggs, fried chicken and some type of sweets. Try not to be tempted to utilize a theme.

SOPHISTICATED: This is where you pull out all the stops. You literally decorate the tailgate utilizing a theme. You plan the props, the decorations, the flowers and the food to the nth degree. You labor over this for weeks. A labor of love, of course. You have the finest booze, fancy champagne, imported beer, fancy hors d'oeuvres, catered lunch – the works. Then you enter the Tailgate contest and win a great prize! Finally, there’s the:

FREELOADER: Just show up looking good and wearing your best smile. Amble up, linger, and hopefully since we are still in the South per se, some polite host, hostess or guest will offer you something thinking you know the other host, hostess or guest(s). 

There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of good ‘ole Southern hospitality. You will get a chance to return the favor next year, unless you become a professional freeloader. 
Of course, there are about 1,000 variations on these four themes, so come on out and get your tailgate on!

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