GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV)- It’s become a game day ritual… whether you have tickets to the game or not. Nothing drums up excitement for the Packers game, quite like tailgating.
Few would argue that Packers fans have perfected the art of this weekly ritual.
“You’re one of the only professional teams that does tailgating at the level that you do,” said Dr. Tonya Williams Bradford, from the University of California – Irvine, Merage School of Business.
But where did this time-honored tradition all begin?
One theory is that the Green Bay Packers actually coined the term “tailgating” in 1919, and that’s when the term began to be used and associated with modern-day American football. Packers fans would park their pickup trucks around the field and sit on the bed.
“So if you were coming in from out of town and you were parking and you needed to have a place to eat, you ate out of your car,” explained local historian Mary Jane Herber with the Brown County Library. “There were just farm fields surrounding the stadium back then.”
Others argue tailgating began more at the collegiate level. Some even say the concept of tailgating, if not the name, goes back much further than any level of football…
“That’s the first recorded account, during the civil war,” Bradford said.
…and makes a clash on the gridiron look like child’s play
“People would pack up and make meals and go out where scrimmages were going to happen and watch them, which is kind of grueling if you think about it,” Bradford said.
Bradford is somewhat of a tailgating aficionado.
“I have studied tailgating and I gained the pounds to prove it,” she chuckled.
Bradford and a colleague recently researched the origins of tailgating and the role it plays today.
“That notion of community is quite fascinating,” Bradford said. “It really is a religious experience.”
No one knows that notion of community quite like someone who’s lived it.
“We came to Green Bay in ’57 and when the new stadium opened up, my husband was still playing with the packers,” said Carol Jean Temp, wife of former Green Bay Packers Player, Jim Temp.
As a player’s wife, Temp remembers the heyday of the Green Bay Packer social scene that spread far beyond the parking lots.
“The parties were in homes. They were lovely, you know the crystal, the china,” Temp reflected. People were all dressed up. It was just an exciting time.”
Local historian Mary Jane Herber with the Brown County Library says the way Packers fans celebrated in that bygone era was a reflection of societal norms at the time.
“People did dress then,” Herber explained.
And dress up, they did.
“The women wore fur coats and men wore topcoats and hats, so it was a more elegant feeling at that time,” Temp shared.
While walking through the parking lot to Lambeau Field in heels and stockings brings a whole new meaning to the term “die-hard Packers fan,” the real question is, “How did they stay warm dressed like that at the Frozen Tundra?” As it turns out, they didn’t really have to.
“They would head out west to San Francisco and Los Angeles in December most of the time because it was warmer and they didn’t play in Green Bay,” Herber explained.
Herber says it wasn’t until the late 1960’s that the Packers started playing the full season in Green Bay…. and, well, we all know what happened then. It’s affectionately called the Ice Bowl.
“Those ladies from Dallas that came with their high heels made it through about 10 minutes of the game and they were done,” Herber recalled.
While tailgating has come a long way since its humble beginnings on the battlefield or from the back of a Buick, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed.
“I think about one thing that really warms my heart is that I’m seeing teams starting to share that love back to their fans,” Bradford said. “They recognize the lengths their fans will go to come out and support them.”
“Our fans, I mean, look around. It’s unbelievable how much green and gold is out here,” said Packers QB Aaron Rodgers at a recent game in Kansas City. “Our fans were so loud and they showed up and we love ’em.”
“I just feel there’s a certain pride in Green Bay,” offered Temp. “We have a fabulous coach and team. It’s really special right now as it has been in the past.”
Cue the tailgaters….. “Go Pack Go!”