By Jim Schultz
Tailgating vs. Medieval-Gating
Decked out in bright red sweatshirts, my wife and I followed the streams of maize and blue to “ The hole that Yost dug, Crisler paid for, Canham carpeted and Schembeckler filled up” (Bob Ufer, lead U of M radio announcer 1978) . Coach Schembeckler was no longer part of the University of Michigan football program, but a young Redhawk quarterback named Roethslisberger was starting for the unranked school from Oxford, Ohio and the football stadium had yet another sellout with 109,676 in attendance.
Devoid of our normal green and white Michigan State garb, we still were in enemy territory - hemmed in by maize and blue. Our son had chosen Miami of Ohio and we could not turn down lower deck seats on the 40 yard line in the Big House. With the stadium finally in sight, without making eye contact, we walked through a gauntlet of maize and blue tailgating tents in our red sweatshirts. Then, in the distance we saw several red flags and the tops of two red tents!
Our pace quickened! Our aim became true. We pushed through the maize and blue to the solid red of Miami of Ohio. Then it happened, like it must have happened 600 years ago at jousting tournaments. About 50 yards away, we could clearly see the two red tents filled with people dressed in red sweatshirts of all shape and sizes. They saw us! They waved! We waved back with smiles on our faces. As we entered the bright red tent, two strangers dressed in red, we were hugged, fed and toasted with beverages!
I vaguely remember the game. I have shadowy images of being surrounded by 100,000 fans. With an occasional fan screaming, “One of our player’s is a true freshman”. But we both still remember that moment when we saw the red tent and the spirit of comradery we got from total strangers.
Tailgating is more than tailgating – it is part of a medieval-gating tradition. Modern tailgating is a link to our medieval past of jousting tournaments complete with flags, colored tents, music, armored heroes and ladies dressed for the occasion. The medieval joust of two armored men on horses charging each other with lances has been replaced by two teams of eleven men charging each other. Both events took place in short bursts of time – it is said that the average football player is actually in action 11 minutes a game. In both events the real essence of the event is not the just the participants, but the synergy of the crowd of all social strata - not just sitting in the stands - but celebrating their heroes’ competition with their own tailgating competition.
From the 11th to 16th centuries medieval jousting began as a form actual warfare and then evolved as mock warfare. At the beginning It was often an organized excuse for brutal gang fight. However, as chivalry became the norm, the joust became more regulated and could safely be integrated into medieval society. For example, in the 14th century, a barrier know as a “tilt” was introduced to separate the armored knights riding full speed at each other. Along with rules allowing the joust to be part of civil tournaments within a town, equipment changes made the event safer. Jousting in the 1100s took place with deadly weapons of war and wearing only chain mail for protection. But by the 1400s most knights jousted with blunt tipped lances in beautifully crafted plate armor. These changes allowed medieval-gating surrounding the tournament jousts. The Chronicles of Froissart describes a 1390s tournament held in the market-place of the town with forty knights as contestants: “The knights jousted for the prize of a clasp of precious stones, taken off from the bosom of the Duchess of Burgundy. “
On November 6, 1869, Rutgers University faced Princeton University in the first intercollegiate football game. Spectators showed up before the game to enjoy food and each other’s company. It is also one of the first sporting events in America where fans and players wore identifying colors and headwear. The first western team to travel east was the 1881 Michigan team, which played at Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Within a few decades the sport attracted fans by the thousands, despite the game’s increasing brutality that saw eighteen deaths by 1805. In place of Chivalry, Teddy Roosevelt met with college officials and the beginning of the present rules of play were adapted. These rule changes, plus improved equipment, provided a welcome environment for safe tailgating outside the newly built stadiums. As for the term tailgating, one popular theory is that Green Bay Packers fans coined the term tailgating in 1918. Fans parked their pick-up trucks around the stadium and lowered their tailgates to accommodate a pre-game celebration of eating and drinking. Whatever the origin, the term tailgating spread to college football stadiums throughout the nation. Now the sign of a truly successful college football program is a pre-game tailgating tradition that unites students, townspeople and alumni.
Like the jousts of 600 years ago surrounded by tents, royalty and townspeople, no college football game is complete without tents with school colors, food that could be literally be served from a pick-up tailgate and specially build box seats for major donors. We fans of today connect with our would be the knights as they race full speed on a playing field towards a rival, braced not for blow by a lance, but for a cross body block or a gang tackle. In both tailgating and medieval-gating, all activities are punctuated by music, framed by teams of ladies dressed for the occasion and enhanced by traditional foods that often turn the event into a feast for the palette and the eye.
Watching a college football game on a flat screen at home is entertainment and allows us to celebrate “our guys”. But tailgating on a college football Saturday allows us to be an integral part of the all-important pre-game ritual and provides a one of a kind motivation for the players before the kick-off. College tailgating is further legitimized the national TV Networks that cover pre-game events. These shows allow us to celebrate our culture’s warriors within the context of our medieval heritage via a flat screen and a couch. No matter what our race, creed or color, for a moment in time we have a chance to unite behind “our guys” through tailgating.
Rene Anjou 1460: This jousting tournament painting attributed to Rene Anjou (1390) features all the attunements of modern tailgating: flags and tents representing their heroes’ colors, townspeople as fans cheering and booing, nobles refereeing and knights in orderly combatant.
Anjou Updated By Cecil Doughty: The painting is a modern interpretation of Rene Adjou’s 1460 jousting tournament painting by Cecil Doughty. This painting gives us a firsthand look of the townspeople as fans.
Jeff Joseph's Spartan Stadium: Jeff Joseph’s painting of a present day Michigan State University Saturday afternoon football game from the point of view of a tailgating reveals all the characteristics of Mediaeval – gating 700 years ago.