Tips, traditions and advice from a Michigan insider on the best ways to tailgate at a Wolverines game this college football season. 

By Jon Tayler
August 23, 2018

Robert Elgin, 69, graduated from Michigan in 1970 and has been tailgating for decades. He retired and moved to Ann Arbor 10 years ago, and says he and his wife still have the same tickets that his wife’s parents had when they began the tailgating tradition back when the stadium was built. Below, he offers up some advice for new tailgaters to the Ann Arbor scene.

Where on or near the Michigan campus do you tailgate? Where do you park? I tailgate in the athletic parking lot right next to the Stadium.  It is know as the Blue Lot. 

What time do you arrive to set up your tailgate? Do you have a spot reserved?: A member of our group arrives shortly after 6:00 a.m. to ensure that our spaces are saved.  There are not assigned spaces.  However, the ability to acquire a blue lot pass is no easy feat and there is generally a good understanding of who owns what turf.

For someone who doesn’t have a reservation, what time would you recommend arriving to claim a spot?: The University only grants enough passes so that everyone has a spot. Hard core tailgaters will generally arrive 3 to 4 hours prior to a noon game and 6 to 7 hours prior to a 3:30 game. The other individuals either are not tailgating or are just tailgating by themselves and they accept any open space.  My group is composed of 6 cars and game days are generally 12+ hour days.  Night games are 14+ hours days.

What’s your tailgate setup? (RV, car, tent, etc.): Multiple tents,  side curtains, rain gutters, multiple heaters, large grill, bar with a very wide selection of everything,  lots of seating although only a portion is used, multiple eats prior to the meal, full meals, deserts etc. 

How should you dress?: Anything short of multiple Michigan items is considered a breach of protocol and will be brought to the offenders attention for the entirety of the tailgate.  Personalized clothing signed by a former or current player is an excellent start.  Jerseys with your name on the back is also considered kosher.  You cannot have too much Michigan stuff in or around your tailgate. It is expected that you have a least one new item every year and multiple new items are the norm.  We all have flags flying and there are Michigan banners hung between the flag poles with the tailgater’s name on the banner.  I have a complete hard case of all the lucky charms for home football games.  There are different cases for away games.  Hockey, basketball and baseball have their own cases.

What’s the food situation like at Michigan tailgates? What are the best things to eat there? Should you bring your own food, or are there places to get food while tailgating?: I am not certain how open other tailgates are but we invite lots of people to join our tailgate.  It is generally an open house.  Opposing fans are generally asked to stop by for drinks and/or food.  However, unknown OSU fans are encouraged to keep on walking by.  Our group generally has a wide selection of food.  A lot of our food requires so much preparation that the food is brought pre cooked and is heated up at the tailgate.  Items like Swedish meatballs, pulled pork, etc require more time.

What should you bring with you to make your tailgate the best possible experience? A hearty appetite, a strong desire to participate in multiple conversations, know something about football or have the courage to ask someone about Michigan football, be prepared to meet multiple new people and strike up a conversation with them, laugh heartily and enjoy the game.

What are the must-see things at a Michigan tailgate? A newbie should always walk around the parking lot to see what other people are doing.  You will see everything from a small table with a couple of donuts to a tent that is loaded with chafing dishes.  The most important thing is to get engaged with all the people that are attending not just our tailgate but all of those close to us.  It is a joyous event with drink, food and conversations covering virtually every topic with the exception of politics.

What general advice/tips would you have for someone attending a Michigan tailgate for the first time?You should not have preconceived notions of what it is going to be like.  Relax, loosen up, forget about work or anything other problems in your life and have the time of your live.  A dear friend of mine came to a ND game, his love, and he asked me what we could possibly do for 12 hours.  By the end of the day he had become a convert of our tailgate.

What in your mind makes a Michigan tailgate a must-attend event? It is an experience that I have not seen duplicated in other venues.  The setting, the excitement, the camaraderie, the game and the post game analysis is an event that is truly one of a kind.

Is there anything else a visitor should know about tailgating at Michigan? Expect a lot of excess.  Huge displays of Michigan stuff, tons of food and beverage, lots of activity and many friendly people unless you are from the school down south.  Additionally Michigan has a very proud history of fielding very good teams.  Because we have had some rocky seasons recently and appear to be on the mend, the old spirit of having high expectations has returned.  The fans are proud of our University and its ability to excel in many things from scholastic standing to being very competitive in a large number of athletic teams.  The Victors is not just some song to sign, but rather a rallying cry for all Michigan fans to sing together and to cheer their team to victory and this is personified at a football tailgate.

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