Chris Fulmer’s dad worked hard every day in the grocery business, but come fall weekends, he’d take young Chris and his brothers to see the University of South Carolina Gamecocks play on the gridiron.
Back then, tailgating meant opening up the tailgate, setting out a few chairs and enjoying a little socializing and take-out before the game.
Today, Fulmer is a founding member of the Ultimate Tailgaters, a group of 30 or so die-hard Gamecock fans who travel to every home and away game.
“It’s my hobby and my passion,” said Fulmer, who has seen every home game since 1970, and every away game since 1984. (One away game happened to coincide with his oldest brother’s wedding. “I haven’t talked to him since,” joked Fulmer.)
Their season kicks off the weekend before the first game, with a golf tournament and dinner meeting where the group maps out meals for every game. Once football season starts, prep work for the weekend’s tailgating starts the Wednesday before. The day of, it takes an hour to an hour and a half to set up the three tents, TV, sound system, grills, and all the Gamecock paraphernalia a die-hard fan would want.
“Every little thing adds a little extra to the atmosphere,” Fulmer said.
Google the word “tailgating,” and you’ll realize that it has become big business, with dozens of sites offering tips, recipes, college-themed gear and more.
“It’s an all-day occasion,” said Stephanie Tudor, who like Fulmer was introduced to tailgating by her parents. For the past several years, the Georgia fan has joined her family and friends for a parking lot pre-game and post-game party, including karaoke, cornhole and plenty of food and drink.
“That’s what everybody looks forward to every weekend,” she said. “We’re counting down the days and counting down the hours.”
Ronnie Greer, another founding member of the Ultimate Tailgaters, takes his love of the Gamecocks even further. Football weekends will find him decked out in Gamecock colors, but he wears his team pride all during the week, too. When asked just how much Gamecock gear he has, he said with a laugh, “Enough that I can go to work every day and have something different to wear. I wear something Carolina every day … People know that whether our team wins or loses, on Monday, I’ll be there with my Carolina stuff on.”
Engineer Gary Bennett wears his Georgia red and black with pride every day, too.
“There’s not a lot of engineers that are Bulldog fans,” he said, because most engineers in the state graduated from Georgia Tech. “(But) I’ve been a Georgia fan since birth.”
As a member of the Calling the Dawgs tailgating club, home game weekends find Bennett in Athens early on Saturday morning at the group’s usual tailgating spot on East Stadium Street, setting up tents, chairs, coolers, food and music for as many as 100 people between his group and another Augusta group that tailgates nearby.
“We’ll go as far as to make T-shirts,” Bennett said. “We go all out. It’s a big production.”
But whether your tailgating event is big or small, there are a number of must-haves that these extreme tailgaters advise for any event.
“A chair, a tent and a cooler,” Bennett said. “You gotta have those three things. Then you’re ready to rock and roll.”
Pick a regular tailgating spot, Greer said, to make sure your friends can find you.
“Really, really good food,” said Tudor. “Good music, and a really cute dress – anything red and black and silver, from your jewelry to your shoes to your outfit, to your fingernails and stickers on faces.”
Be organized, said Fulmer, who has also competed in the National Collegiate Tailgating Championships, and make sure to keep hot foods hot and cool foods cool.
“The more organized you are and the more planning you do, the better your tailgate will be,” Fulmer said.
But above all else, remember that tailgating is all about kicking back, having fun and enjoying the camaraderie of fellow fans – even those rooting for the other team.
“When we see people from other teams, we invite them over and share food and have gotten to know them. That’s what it’s all about, having fun and fellowship and friendship,” Fulmer said.
“That’s why we’re such good tailgaters,” he added with a laugh. “The early Holtz years, that was rough. We had to learn how to tailgate to have a good time.”