A tarnished tradition: Tailgating culture at ASU

ASU's tailgating atmosphere. Photo by Jessica Obert ASU's tailgating atmosphere. Photo by Jessica Obert

It is near the end of the first day of November when the sun is setting over Tempe. Deep maroons and light golds paint the sky as it does the streets. Tonight is game night.

And it isn’t just any game, it is homecoming and as I walk down University Drive, which had been closed. Large clusters of students parade down the streets. Everyone is clad in gold and maroon. Armed with school spirit, many hang around in the parking lots with tents and TV’s set up.

They are grilling some wieners, drinking a few brewskis, playing cornhole and, of course, tossing the old pigskin around. These proud and happy folks are tailgaters. And they are here to celebrate and have a good time before kickoff at 8 p.m. It is now 5 p.m. and they have plenty of time to celebrate.

Go Devils.

Since this is ASU, the alleged land of the party, I am expecting a large swath of alcohol-fueled football fans being loud and having a good time. I expect a risqué student-filled party, but I see a calm family event.

Yet, for a school that is coming into the night’s game holding the number 15 spot, according to the AP Top 25, the energy of the crowd and everyone around me is kind of "meh."

Especially as a student walking around, I feel as though I am in the minority. Where are the students? Am I just the dweeb that is too early to the party? Many of the fans that are tailgating out there are alumni and it turns into a game of "Where’s Waldo?" Only now it's where are the students?

Tyler Tassinari, an economics and finance alumnus from last May, has been tailgating for the last five years.

He and his party are camped out by one of the parking garages right across the street from the stadium. With lawn chairs, food and, of course, a television to watch the pre-game coverage.

Tassinari, a die-hard Sun Devils fan, has been going to every game and is always out tailgating before kickoff. He has observed this year that students have been pushed off-site since the new implementation of ASU rules that bans kegs, beer bongs and drinking games at tailgating events.

“Most of the people out here are alumni,” Tassinari says.

He says he believes that the new rules are just a show, and that there wasn’t really a problem with drinking at tailgating to begin with.

“I think by them doing that, it’s actually pushing students to get drunker off site,” Tassinari says. “They’re not tailgating here anymore where they’re visible. They’re back at the dorms, off campus showing up probably more intoxicated, in my opinion.”

ASU Police spokesman Daniel Macias says that the new policies are in place to discourage the promotion of binge drinking.

“Kegs can allow for people to filter in and drink as they’re underage,” Macias says.

He also says when drinking from a keg it is typically much harder to keep count of how many drinks one has had and they could get very drunk.

But in recent memory there haven’t been high-profile incidents specifically at tailgating events.

The ban on kegs and drinking games isn’t the only thing that has made the energy feel lackluster.

Josh Estes, film and television production graduate student, tailgates for every game. He has observed that fewer students have been going to the games, especially since the construction of Mariana Heights, a State Farm office complex. This has disrupted old tailgating spots at lot 59.

In the name of progress and safety it seems ASU has changed tailgating greatly. There are not many students out and there is not a community vibe. Tailgating outside of the game is just multiple groups of people doing their own thing.

The tents are spread out, no groups are intermingling with others, it had the middle-school-cafeteria vibe of cliques, but everyone is here for the same thing. It feels as though every tailgater is just an island completely unaware of those outside their group.

Everyone here, mostly alumni, is at the game for the same thing, but no one is together. For a school so large and with so much school spirit, it seems that no one really knows one another and they are all just celebrating separately with their families.

Where is the large community? Where is the fun? It is just standing around with people playing cornhole and others watching ESPN. Most people are at home doing the same thing.

When it does get closer to game time the energy picks up a little, but there still aren’t many students around tailgating. At ASU, an age-old tradition becomes an afterthought.

As a student I feel like tailgating is an alumni-only event and something that is only cool in movies or at other schools, not at ASU. Maybe homecoming isn’t a big enough game to tailgate and party before kickoff, or maybe the party is elsewhere.

Reach the writer at jamillar@asu.edu or via Twitter @jesse_millard.

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