Tales from the gate

The stories of UND’s perennial Potato Bowl tailgaters

Students drink and bounce in the bed of a pickup at Tailgate Village prior to Saturdays Potato Bowl football game.

Nick Nelson

Students drink and bounce in the bed of a pickup at Tailgate Village prior to Saturday’s Potato Bowl football game.

Jacob Notermann, Staff Writer

The smell of charcoal. Ear-deafening music. Food, food and food. There is no better way to start a Saturday.

Tailgating is one of the most institutional traditions for football. While players are in the stadium stretching their limbs, fans are in the parking lot stretching their bellies. Both parties are preparing for game day.

Some fans are more “professional” than others at tailgating. In the Alerus Center parking lot, attractions include pickups with cases of buns, buses covered in Hawk (and other) decals and even the occasional camper trailer converted into a walk up burger bar. Everyone has their own tradition in this parking lot.

UND alumnus John Roach has been tailgating at the games since 1990, stretching back to when the team played at Memorial Stadium. His UND football tradition started on the field, playing on the team in the early ’80s.

“We were one of the first at Memorial Stadium,” Roach said. “Everybody tailgated over by the old hockey arena. We’d be there under the overpass if the weather was bad.”

Winning or losing. Summer or snow. Roach and many others bare the conditions and set up shop to celebrate the team on Saturdays.

“I just think Saturdays out here is the happiest place on Earth,” Roach said. “Friends, family, food, a few beers. It’s just a wonderful place.”

Chris Douthit is an associate principal for Red River High School and another UND alumnus. He thinks of himself more as a seasonal tailgater.

Like Roach, Douthit started tailgating in the early ’90s. He remembers a time when he and his friends parked a truck in the Memorial Stadium parking lot on a Thursday, just to ensure they’d have a spot come Saturday morning.

“If you got a spot, you got a spot,” Douthit said. “If you didn’t, you didn’t”

Much like attendance inside the stadium, the performance of the team can impact the size of the crowd outside.

“There’s a bunch of hard-cores like us that really get into it and are here every week,” Roach said. “When the team is going better, there’s a lot more people and excitement in the whole place.”

When in the parking lot, it is difficult to miss the various companies and organizations setting up booths and games to engage with the fans. Even student organizations represent themselves at the games.

UND’s Association of Residence Halls held a tailgating event on behalf of the hall governments.

Michael Kelsch is the president of ARH. He said having a spot at tailgating dedicated to an organization helps get their name out and contribute to the fun of game day.

“It’s for students who are not yet 21 who want to have a good time,” Kelsch said. “They can come and play our games or get free food. It’s for students who want to have tailgating fun and be safe about it.”

The heart of tailgating is in the spirit of contribution. The fans contribute to the gameday experience. The alumni and organizations contribute to pregame. But everyone will say the spirit of tailgating is for the team.

“The motivation is just to be here and enjoy the people,” Douthit said. “Our main purpose here is to cheer the team. Everything else is secondary.”

He said his favorite part of game day is walking out of the stadium with a team victory.

“We love North Dakota football,” Douthit said. “It’s nice to have good food, comradery and just be a good fan for the team. It’s a nice way to spend a day.”

Jacob Notermann is a staff writer for Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]