Commentary

The assault on tailgating

You can take my ticket, but you can't take away my tailgate!

Updated: October 21, 2009, 7:38 AM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN The Magazine

Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesOutside Soldier Field in Chicago, Bears fans are being forced out of the parking lot after kickoff.
This column appears in the Nov. 2 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

Of all the gates -- Watergate, Monicagate, Spygate -- there is only one gate this country can be proud of: the tailgate.

A parking-lot spiral, a cheese brat whispering sweet nitrates and a decent ticket in your pocket. Buddy, that's more American than deficits. So why is America trying to kill tailgating?

Look around: Outside Soldier Field -- home of the Chicago Bears -- fans are getting kicked out of the parking lot once the game starts. Heresy! A lot of Bears fans can't afford tickets ($245 for a nosebleed), but they love pulling into the south lot (for which they pay $46), opening up the camper van, putting one satellite dish on the tailgate and one on the roof and living and dying for their Bears. Tailgaiting is a tradition that's been in place for 90 years, and now it's forbidden? Why don't they just clean our Weber grills with the American flag!

In Arizona, the Cardinals did the same thing. And this coming off a Super Bowl year! These are Cards fans who stuck with a toothless team through a barren 21-year wasteland until it finally made the Super Bowl last season. Now they're getting the bum's rush? Blasphemy! And the Cards have banned postgame tailgating, too. So waiting in lawn chairs by your car with your friends while the traffic clears is now forbidden. Get in line and waste gas like everybody else!

Grab a spatula and rise up!

This crap is going on everywhere. In Dallas, the Cowboys moved tailgaters to the far back outreaches of their lots. What are we, contagious? This kills one of the most fun tailgating traditions of all: mooching. Get an outlying parking spot and wander through tailgaters on the way to your gate. If you're not offered a brew, a burger or a brownie in the first 100 yards, you need to try smiling.

But it's in the state of Michigan that tailgating is dying the fastest. Imagine! The state where the first tailgate came off the assembly line!

What they're doing at Central Michigan should be investigated by Congress. Tailgategate. The geniuses there banned external sound systems. What? Think about our lives. It's just us at the computer. Just us and our CrackBerries. Tailgating is one of the few experiences we have together. We listen to the game together. We sing Queen together. On one set of speakers!

Worse, CMU isn't letting any cars leave the parking lot until the third quarter. Reduces congestion, the school says. Isn't that kidnapping?

Terrified mom: "Please let me go! My baby's climbed out onto the roof of my house!"

Cop: "Sorry, ma'am. Still 1:48 left in the half."

At Western Michigan, tailgating is permitted to begin no earlier than three hours before the game and must end at kickoff. Hell, I know guys who need that much time to set up their radar ranges -- forget moving the Barcalounger out of the truck.

Not only that, but vehicles that take up two parking spots aren't allowed at WMU either. No Winnebagos? No Airstreams? What is this, Sweden?

The bosses will tell you it has to do with curbing alcohol-fueled rowdies inside the stadium. But a guy can sit in a bar 100 yards away and drink enough to drown a Carnival cruise ship, and they don't stop that. If it's drinking you want to stop, have a guy with a Breathalyzer at every gate. If a fan blows more than .08, he doesn't get to enter.

These are families getting screwed here.

If you've ever loved the smell of chili and exhaust together, if you've ever worn a beer helmet, if you've ever made a diving catch onto the hood of a Buick, grab a spatula and rise up! Lock yourself in your Explorer! Grill up liver and send it to the university dean until he relents just from the smell!

Because if you let them take your Winnebagos now, they will take your cornhole game next. If you let them take your sound systems now, they will take your football-field green shag next. If you let them take your tailgate party now, they will take your political party next.

It's already working at CMU. The students were so torqued off at these jackbooted rules that they formed a committee, protested to officials and got the idiotic speakers rule reversed. Solidarity!

I saw the wimps and the lawyers and the insurance companies kill dodgeball and diving boards, but I never thought they'd get tailgating.

Over my cold, dead kielbasa.


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