Northwestern football season is in full swing. And for the most loyal of Wildcat fans, that means tailgating.
“I look forward to being in the parking lot as soon as it opens,” says Chicagoan Marilyn Zilka (WCAS75), who has been tailgating with a tight group of friends ever since her time as a student. “I think the atmosphere is very festive. We’re all so passionate about Northwestern and football.”
Tailgating has rich traditions at Northwestern dating back to the 1950s, when fraternities, sororities and other student groups would put out spreads for the student body each week in the east lot of Dyche Stadium (now Ryan Field). During the early 1990s, when fraternities and sororities fired up their grills an hour and a half before game time, the “infamous pregame, during-game, and after-game tailgating” was an essential part of Northwestern fanhood, according to the Daily Northwestern.
“Tailgating was an integral part of the college experience for us,” says Jay Sharman (C95). “While the team wasn’t good in the early ’90s, the tailgating was phenomenal. Fraternities and sororities would host tailgates open to the entire University. It became the one place where a good percentage of the campus would socialize and relax in a fun environment.”
Fewer students attend tailgates today, thanks in part, Sharman says, to a change in the alcohol policy in the ’90s that resulted in a shift toward a more alumni-dominated scene. Sharman, who lives in Lake Bluff, Ill., runs the Northwestern football–focused blog “Lake the Posts” and still attends every home game with his wife and kids. He enjoys seeing his classmates in the Ryan Field lots. His tailgates, featuring everything from burgers to shrimp, typically attract 15 to 30 people on a given weekend.
With the Wildcats slated for multiple night games, most notably the Oct. 5 Homecoming matchup with Ohio State, expect tailgating festivities to increase accordingly.
“Night games do a lot of great things,” says Sharman. “They boost attendance. The tailgating experience is fantastic, because you’ve got a longer time to get ready for it. It adds to the game-day experience for both alumni and students, invoking a sense of pride across the board.”
The football team has high hopes of building on last year’s Gator Bowl title. But win or lose, the Wildcats’ loyal supporters will be fired up for another year of tailgating.
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Ever wonder about those strange designations we use throughout Northwestern to identify alumni of the various schools of the University? See the complete list.