tales from the tailgate

Reviewed by James W. Pipkin, University of Houston

7 June 2012       archive

I must confess that I've never tailgated, but I'm a fan of college football and have seen games at such exciting venues as LSU's "Death Valley," the Los Angeles Coliseum, Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, "The Swamp" at the University of Florida (but in my undergraduate years Steve Spurrier was still playing quarterback for the Gators and hadn't yet dubbed the stadium), the home fields of both UT-Austin and Texas A&M, as well as less densely and tensely packed stadiums such as Harvard's. It was with considerable admiration, therefore, that I learned that Stephen Koreivo had accomplished the Herculean task of seeing games featuring all 120 (as of his book's publication in 2011; since then South Alabama, Texas State, UT-San Antonio, and the University of Massachusetts have announced they will move up to this division) college teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division 1-A.

Koreivo's love for college football began long before his numerous weekend trips to see games evolved into his plan to see every FBS team play. According to his blog-like accounts in his self-published book, Tales from the Tailgate: From the Fan Who's Seen 'Em All, the "adventure" took from 1979 to 2007, with an extension to 2009 to see Western Kentucky in its first year of competition in the FBS, and comprised seeing 402 games. To fully appreciate Koreivo's passion for college football, it is necessary to note that he saw many other college games during this period, but they didn't count in his calculations because they featured teams that he had already seen play, particularly his favorites Penn State, Army, Navy, Rutgers, Syracuse, and Maryland.

As a purist, Koreivo imposed exacting standards for accomplishing his task: he could not be late for the game, and he must stay for the entire game. He failed to meet these standards only twice: with Penn State leading Louisiana Tech 43-7 at halftime on September 9, 2000, discretion overruled passion, and he, "a despondent wife, a seven year-old girl, and a five year-old boy on a hot, stifling, sun-blazed afternoon" left for the hotel swimming pool, and in 2006 he left the Tulsa at SMU afternoon game four minutes early to make the drive to Denton, Texas for that night's Florida Atlantic-North Texas State game.

What Koreivo calls "The Goal" didn't become his focus until 2000. By that time he had seen almost half the teams in the FBS, and he had been able to limit his travel by buying mini-season tickets to Penn State games, a season package to the Meadowlands' college football schedule, and, later, tickets to the Meadowlands' Kickoff Classic series, and by concentrating most of his travel to sites within an eight-hour drive from his New Jersey home. He had also wisely decided not to try to attend games at all the campuses of the FBS schools; seeing more than 100 different teams was challenge enough. By my count, though, he has seen home games at 35 college campuses, no mean feat. Later, frequent flyer miles allowed him to fly to some games, and he controlled the costs by almost always buying tickets outside the stadium from fans with extras and usually sitting in the end zone.

I inferred from some of Koreivo's comments that the book's entries were taken from the weekly game reviews that he wrote for his website: www.collegefootballfan.com. The book has an individual entry for each game he saw, and the entries have a common format: the introduction establishes the context—usually something about the two teams' records that year and something about the friends he will be tailgating with; a recap primarily of the scoring plays; brief comments about the game, the two teams, and his family and friends in attendance; and a concluding section called "Extra Point," a final comment about a wide variety of subjects.

Some entries are a pleasant memory jog for long-time sports fans. Koreivo sometimes identifies players in the game who went on to be successful in the NFL or traces the career moves of that day's coaches. He also saw 15 Heisman Trophy winners play, including Hershel Walker, Mike Rozier, and Bo Jackson, and great coaches such as Bear Bryant, Joe Paterno, and Bobby Bowden. Koreivo has a good grasp of football history, reminding the reader that the first college game was played between Rutgers and Princeton, that Miami of Ohio is "the cradle of coaches," and that the first homecoming game was at University of Illinois in 1910. And he offers random tidbits such as appreciating a Jessica Simpson concert at Franklin Field in Philadelphia even though he had never heard of her, catching a glimpse of TV's "Superman" Dean Cain at his alma mater Princeton, and drinking at a New Jersey bar that was the inspiration for the background in a Bruce Springsteen video.

What keeps the book from being a resource for the academic study of sports is that the narratives are primarily personal—details about the people he tailgated with, the travel logistics, the parking problems, the football fans he met, and other anecdotes of this sort. A recurring thread focuses on his wife, "the self-proclaimed 'St. Laurie,'" who tolerates and sometimes enjoys her husband's passionate quest. An early entry points out his surprise when he discovers that Auburn students wear blazers and ties or short, stylish dresses with low-cut tops to the games and that this Southern tradition is very different from his experiences in the East, but this comment about some of the cultural distinctions of football as spectacle is atypical. The book offers no specifics about the issues found, for example, in Edwin H. Cady's The Big Game or analysis of subjects that comprise the field of sports studies. Koreivo's achievement lies in his feat rather than the book about it, but the book is a good example of one of Allen Guttmann's theses in From Ritual to Record that one essence of modern sports is the quest for records. Tales from the Tailgate is one of the many forms of contemporary self writing, "the literature of the first person," and Koreivo's book fulfills one of the functions of the genre: memorialization. It also provides a record of authentication for Koreivo and his family and friends.

Koreivo, Stephen J. Tales from the Tailgate: From the Fan Who's Seen 'Em All. Bloomington, IND: AuthorHouse, 2011. xxi+203 pp. $18.95 cloth.

Copyright © 2012 by James W. Pipkin

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