It’s 11 a.m. on Saturday morning and junior John Burke has been
drinking for well over three hours.
Don’t misunderstand. Burke is by no means an alcoholic. He is,
by his standards anyways, nothing more than a Michigan football
“We have one of the best football teams in the country,” Burke
says from a large tailgate party held on 1008 Oakland St. “So we
have to celebrate every Saturday before the game by tailgating. We
even sing ‘Hail to the Victors’ before we leave here. It’s almost
like a religion.”
Across town, standing next to a 1972 Winnebago parked at Pioneer
High School, season- ticket holder Dean Rose couldn’t agree
All morning, Rose and his four friends from northern Michigan
have been standing over their grill, that at some point during the
morning will be full of sweet corn, deep fried turkey, ribs and
They arrived in their RV early Friday afternoon and have been
tailgating essentially for nearly 24 hours prior to the game.
These die hard Wolverine fans haven’t missed a football game in
Michigan Stadium in years. More importantly, they haven’t missed a
good tailgate party either.
“Without tailgating, the day’s not the same,” Rose said. “Simple
It may cost Rose and his buddies $105 to park at Pioneer – a
stark increase from $40 last year – but nothing can stop them from
spending an entire Saturday morning around the grill. As Rose puts
it, “You don’t drive seven hours just to come to the game.”
Whether it’s a student like Burke or just fans like Rose from
Traverse City who park their RV at the Pioneer lot, Football
Saturday, to many fans in Ann Arbor, starts well before
At Beta Theta Pi, fraternity President Ryan Cole says the
fraternity probably spends close to $1,000 a week just on the
tailgate party alone.
Two weeks ago, Beta set up a dunk tank and slip-and-slide in its
front yard, and last week, it had a massive Bounce House where
students could jump around in an air-pumped machine. This week,
Cole says, they will have gladiator jousting.
“Tailgating is my favorite part of the time at Michigan,” said
Cole. “Watching people walk by our house and sing the fight song
along the way is awesome.”
Some students have been known to tailgate so hard that they miss
the game altogether. But LSA sophomore Lauren Smylie tries hard to
show support for her school on Saturday afternoons at the Big
House. “I definitely like the tailgating better than the game,” she
said. “But I always make it to the game.”
While some pre-gamers prefer to stick to the traditional
tailgating fare of hamburgers and hot dogs, tailgating in Ann Arbor
has evolved rapidly into a massive culinary event.
Just a few winnebago’s down from Rose at Pioneer, season-ticket
holder Tom Kroll and his friends have been grilling exotic dishes
since well before 9 a.m. Looking at the food spread out over the
grill it is easy to see that this is no mere burger and frank
“We’ve got stuffed mushrooms here,” says Kroll, pointing to one
part of his grill, “and we’ve got Mexican pinwheels over here.
(Years ago) it started with bratwursts, and it’s pretty much
evolved to this.”
Fellow season ticket holder Rick Zavitz, who has had the same
seats in the Big House for 31 years, even has his wife cook him the
same special breakfast every Saturday morning at his tailgate
“It’s sort of like an egg and sausage and cheese sandwich,”
Zavitz said. “I have it before every game. It’s a rule.”
While tailgating is one way for fans to experience an array of
foods, it’s also a way for fraternity houses to get freshmen
“(Tailgating here) is how I ended up rushing here,” said Cole,
who, expecting a big crowd, ordered fifteen 30 packs of beer and “a
couple of handles.”
“Tailgating before the game is just such a great way for
freshmen to see the house,” Cole said.
While Cole smiles as he watches students jumping around in the
Bounce House, other students, like Burke, are already coming up
with ways to make this Saturday’s tailgate party, before the Notre
Dame game, even that much more special.
“Oh yeah,” says Burke. “Next week, at the tailgate here, we’re
going to have apple sauce wrestling.”