By Kyle Kensing
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, September 20, 2004
Baseball may be known as "America's pastime," but it's possible nothing brings sports fans together quite like football and the quintessential pregame activity: the tailgate.
"This is our first year tailgating, and it's wonderful," said political science senior Melissa McGee.
At the UA, football fans converge upon the Mall every Saturday for the campus' official, unofficial kickoff party.
Fans tailgate on the Mall as early as five hours before game time for $55per parking spot.
A sea of red showed up this week as thousands of UA and Wisconsin fans took to the lawn several hours before the players took the field Saturday.
To some, the tailgate is seen as a picnic for sports enthusiasts. And while there is plenty of barbecue to eat and beer to drink at these events, fans say there is so much more to the football tailgate.
McGee said the experience readies fans to support the Wildcats to victory.
"It gets you riled up. The cheerleaders are out here, the Pride (of Arizona marching band is) out here," she said.
A member of the "Flem Squad," a group of fans who support tight end Steve Fleming with "Fleming for Heisman" T-shirts, McGee and other members of the group boast of their 8 a.m. arrival to the campus party.
"And we love Stoops," McGee and political science junior Scott Tallis added about the Wildcats' new head coach.
The arrival of new UA head coach Mike Stoops has brought excitement for UA football to a level unknown in seasons past, and this excitement has carried over into the tailgates.
McGee and Tallis are just a few of the many Arizona fans who began tailgating this season.
Business junior Avery Freeland, education senior Melissa West and 2004 UA graduate Laine Buchanan said the Wisconsin game was their first time participating on campus.
Freeland and West said their first time tailgating won't be their last, and Buchanan added that it's an experience unique to college life.
"As an alum, I think I appreciate it more, because I know I'll never have this experience again," Buchanan said.
"I think it's great to see everyone just come together and hang out," West said.
The enthusiasm shown by Wildcat fans was equaled by a surprising turnout of Badger supporters.
The largest Wisconsin tailgate at Saturday's game was the "Badger Huddle," hosted by the W Club, Wisconsin's Alumni Association. For $5, UW fans could enjoy beer and bratwurst on a piece of prime tailgate real estate, adjacent to the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre.
According to one member of the W Club, an estimated 10,000 Badgers had made the trip from various places around the country to Tucson.
Among the Badger ranks was Mike Inglehart, a Wisconsin graduate and religious UW football fan who made the trip to Arizona from Madison, where the UW campus is located.
"I've been all over the country following the team, especially to some of the warmer weather places," he said.
According to Inglehart, Wisconsin's fan base is unrivaled.
"We're one of the few teams that'll have 10,000 at an away game every time. It's definitely something I've never seen anywhere else," he said.
Inglehart said the tailgate environment at the UA was great for both Wildcat and Badger fans.
"In Madison, police block off a few streets around the city, but there's nothing like this," he said.
Mike Dieters was another Badger who made the trek from Wisconsin. Dieters' daughter, Kate, is a psychology senior at the UA.
"It's tough," he said of his alma mater playing his daughter's school. "But you always bleed Badger red and white."
Dieters said that no matter where he's been with the UW football team, the Badger fans follow.
"I've seen up to 35,000 (Wisconsin) fans at some road games," he said.
He added that while Wisconsin had some of the best fans, UA had the best tailgating event he had seen, with tailgate spots available on campus so close to the stadium.
"In Madison, people tailgate at their cars and at bars. There's nothing like this," he said.