Thea Digiammerino

Tailgating Tradition Started at Yale

The 136th meeting between Yale and Harvard football is just two days away. And with a tradition simply called “The Game,” it’s no surprise more than a football rivalry has history at Yale. Before The Game, it’s “the tailgate” and that’s been around almost as long as the annual Ivy League showdown.

“Not only did football start at Yale with Walter Camp… but also the custom of tailgating,” said Judy Schiff, Yale Library’s chief research archivist. She’s traced tailgating roots back to a new York Times article from a Yale football game that was published in 1906.

“Now we're talking about before the Yale Bowl,’ said Schiff. The Yale Bowl wasn’t built until 1914. “[The New York Times] reported that thousands of people, maybe upwards of 6,000 people appeared in what seemed to be countless black automobiles.”

And those people brought food. Schiff says it was a mix of people taking the train from New York City meeting with others who had the latest invention on the road: automobiles. The tailgate started before cars even had tailgates.

“The terms is defined even in the 19th century about wagons and so forth, but you don't see it connected with being a food service place,” said Schiff. That wasn’t until the 1930s.

And the rest was history. History that no one at today’s tailgates is surprised has roots at Yale.

“I see the community spirit that’s here today so I can believe that even 100 years ago,’ said Michael Tomasko of Bridgeport.

“People coming together, socializing,” said John Tomasko of Seymour. “It’s a wonderful experience.”

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