Penn State Tailgating Traditions Through The Years
Respecting tailgating traditions is a subject sacred to Penn Staters — after all, football is no joke. The craze for the sport began in 1887 and has thrived here ever since. Today, we all spend our Saturday mornings loading up on buff-chick dip, listening to Zombie Nation, and decking ourselves out in blue, white, and Nittany lion face tattoos, but it wasn’t always this way.
As seriously as we honor our own tailgating traditions, Saturday morning protocol has changed over time. We didn’t always wake up at the crack of dawn and start drinking until we could barely walk straight…well, maybe we did always do that, but the way we’ve gone about our football-loving Saturday morning haze experienced some alterations. Here’s how alumni through the years remember tailgating.
Tailgating in the 1960s, According to a Fraternity Brother
Tailgating was just becoming a regular practice when the ‘60s rolled around. Every football Saturday morning, the fraternity house, as alumnus Richard Ward II describes, would throw a massive party before the game. If the weather was decent enough, about an hour before kick-off, they’d make their way down to the stadium. If not, the party would just continue and they’d skip the game altogether.
Brothers invited dates to meet them at the house and sent pledges to the stadium to reserve their seats three hours ahead of time. Pledges still got the short end of the stick, even fifty-odd years ago. But instead of wearing our typical blue-and-white, the guys would wear a tie and a jacket and the ladies, dresses and heels. Mixing cheap liquor and soda, they’d bring mini-liqueur bottles with them to the game, and sometimes, if they were feeling ballsy, they’d try to hide the bottles inside their date’s dresses to sneak into the game. At this time, tickets were free with tuition, so students saved money and kept that pre-game buzz going.
Tailgating in the 1970s-80s, According to East Halls Alumni
By the ‘70s, tailgating was officially a tradition. The rise of the ever-classic lot reservations with masses of fried and barbecued food, along with bottles upon bottles of alcohol, littered the parking lots surrounding Beaver Stadium. Alumni would come back to visit, and parents of current students would come to scope out just what exactly their son or daughter was doing in the middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania. Alumna Paula Slevin remembers her parents coming up for a couple games throughout the early ‘80s and bringing milk bottles that they’d fill with whisky sours to keep themselves warm.
“The stadium was cold and the festivities at the tailgates made them ‘warmer,’” Slevin said.
Beer and liquor flowed just as freely in the lots back then as they do today, except in those days the price to see a game was much more affordable. Tickets were only $25 or $30, and even then it was easy to ‘cheat’ your way into the game. Instead of getting a “Good Swipe” message on a tiny screen, entrance was determined for students by the stamp you had on your hand.
“A lot of times someone with a stamped hand on the inside would sneak out and get us in for free. They’d press the back of their hand to ours and the stamp would rub off, giving us instant access to the game,” former Brumbaugh resident Ann Dieter said.
Tailgating in the dorms was a frequent occurrence as well. Boys would always host and they’d either sneak a keg into the room or buy a couple cases of beer to pre-game before kick-off. Even then, today’s Penn State Dads were doing their part for the greater good by providing all of their friends with free alcohol. When the time came, they’d fumble their way down Curtin Road to Beaver Stadium, donned in blue and white to watch the Nittany Lions take on that week’s opponent.
Tailgating in the 1990s, According to a Modern Day Penn State Couple
Tailgating in the 90s was much like tailgating in the decades past. Not much had changed, except the quality of the tailgating was definitely better. Fraternities had their parties, lots had their tailgates, and apartments would throw down if the weather was sub-par. Alumnus Richard Ward III remembers his fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, throwing tailgating parties at the house before the game. However, unlike in the ‘60s, barbecue and burgers were included in the pre-game deal. Alumni returned to the house to party with current brothers, and when game time was near, they’d all head down to Beaver Stadium. Entrance was determined by a singular ticket that would get punched upon admittance at every game. Tickets were still cheap then too, running about $35 for the season.
Of course, even if you weren’t associated with Greek life, tailgating with friends in lots before the game was still a go-to. Despite the fact that no one yet knew about the glorious ways of buff-chick dip and walking tacos — essentials of any solid tailgate today — students began to figure out the perfect way to pre-game football.
Penn Staters love their tailgates as much as they love their football. Finding the perfect balance between the two is an art form that has spent decades being perfected. That’s why when we say we tailgate with the best, we mean it, and we know it’s the truth. After all, no one tailgates like Happy Valley.
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About the Author
ESPN’s signature pregame show will return to the iconic Old Main Lawn on Saturday morning.
Gene Rockey — an employee in Copy Services for the past 26 years — will retire this week after more than 30 years of service to Penn State.
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