“UTAH BY 5…TRUST ME”…”GO UTES.” That is my war cry to start the Ute football season. I hear people say they love Utah for a variety of reasons, changing seasons is one of those reasons. But there are only two seasons for Ute fans: Football season and the off season. And Football season means tailgating season and a sea of red and white.
It wasn’t always this way. When I came to work for KALL Radio in 1971 the Utes were hard pressed to fill the old stadium except when BYU came to town and, back then the colors in the stadium were more like the American flag, red, white, and lots of blue.
I am proud to claim the Ute tailgating tradition as my brainchild. I came here excited to work for KALL, the home of U of U sports. Being from the Bay Area, home of the Stanford/Cal rivalry, football was more than just a game. Tailgating under the eucalyptus trees in Palo Alto by Stanford’s rickety old 90,000-seat wooden stadium got it’s name from the days of station wagons and their tailgates which made perfect serving tables for great spreads. I never figured out what was the bigger draw, the game or the Stanford Marching Band. They looked like a group sobriety test staggering all over the field each playing a tune known only to them. Meanwhile, the U had a great marching band but a football team that some seasons resembled the Stanford band while tumbleweeds blew through the less than full lots outside the stadium where tailgate partying should have been going on. So I met with the athletic department and proposed that we crank things up a notch and start a new tradition.
They gave us some space in the west lot. I promoted the idea on my show and we sold tailgate passes that first season for $5, a buck a game. We had about 100 people that first season and it didn’t take long for the Ute fans to get into the swing of things. Demand for more passes skyrocketed. We outgrew our space. We also earned some disapproving sideways glances from some game goers because, along with great food a few brew skies were quaffed. After a couple of new locations, we ended up with our own lot where we are today by the VA Hospital.
Nowadays, unless you inherit a pass from a family member, you are just out of luck. It’s the best block party in the state. There is something for everybody—there’s the kiddie train giving rides around the lot, face painting, jugglers, magicians, of course the wonderful U of U Marching Band and Cheerleaders come up to stir the fans up with their signature “Hey Baby”. And because I’m the ultimate freeloader, I can tell you that the food is incredible…..you name it, steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, sausages, tacos and enough dip to fill a baptismal pool. We’ve even had fully operating hot tubs and no shortage of partiers willing to take the plunge.
It is no surprise that Utah Tailgaters are among the best and most creative in the world. It’s part of our heritage with the first Utah tailgaters being the pioneers. I am sure that when they stopped pulling their handcarts they’d break for some jerky, salt pork and maybe some funeral potatoes. Although, I don’t think they had any green Jell-O, much less Jell-O shots. And, in all the documentaries about the Mormon Migration, I’M sure I’ve never seen any refrigerators or satellite dishes on their handcarts.
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