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Tailgating redefined

Tailgating redefined

Nicholas Youngblood

How to keep the party going

The in-person enjoyment of live sports may be in dire straits this fall—canceled or postponed seasons; stands without fans—but that doesn’t mean the time-honored tradition of tailgating has to end.

Small, socially-distanced celebrations of your favorite team, whether it’s hockey or soccer on the big screen or college reruns, can give you and yours a sense of normalcy to a season unlike any other before it. Terry Russell, 74, and a seasoned veteran of the Ohio State football scene, has offered some advice for throwing the perfect tailgate for whatever sports are left standing .

“We just love it,” Russell said of the traditional tailgating that comes with the change of seasons and back-to-school scent of pencils and backpacks. “It was everything we ever wanted to do. We’d start on Wednesday getting ready for it every week.”

Russell has been cheering on the Buckeyes at the Shoe since he was 11-years-old. About 30 years ago, he and his wife bought a short school bus and converted it into a party wagon, complete with a bar, television, and mini museum of Ohio State memories. The bus attracted crowds of over 100 and became a mainstay at every game for decades. If anybody knows what makes a tailgate unforgettable, it’s him.

“Being an Ohio State fan, the advantage is we win a lot,” he said of the fact that a strong tailgating game starts with the right team. “Losing when you’re tailgating isn’t as much fun to come back and party afterwards.”

The best tailgate though, regardless of the team, is going to include good food, and lots of it, Russell said. 

“If we had leftovers, so be it,” he said. “We always get enough, because the worst thing would be if we didn’t have enough.”

Wings and White Castle are always popular and easy on the wallet, Russell said, but later in the year, when the weather gets cold, he said nothing beats a big pot of chili.

Perhaps one of Russell’s favorite tailgating rituals around food is the roasting of the opposing team’s mascot, be it a bird on a spit or a makeshift “wolverine.”

And of course, no tailgate is complete without beer. Russell warns you have to know your audience in regards to beer and liquor and provide plenty of options—especially water and non-alcoholic options.

More than the food, or the beer, or even the blowout games, Russell seems to remember the good friends and strong traditions he formed along the way. Before each game, attendees at his mobile party station circle up and sing Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American” to honor the nation’s veterans. He has made bonds across the country, earning him a spot to park his bus at any stadium.

Above all, Russell said he wants fans to stay safe this season. Even if the Buckeyes had gone ahead with their football season, he was already planning on scaling back his get-togethers from hundreds of attendees to roughly 10. He said he would have enforced social distancing and followed all the pandemic health mandates to keep his beloved guests safe.

“I do ask people to be careful,” Russell said. “Nobody loves it [tailgating] more than me and my group. But it’s a different world we live in now. Have to be a little more careful.”

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