What makes tailgating more than a rolling chuck wagon? In Oklahoma, it's akin to a rite of passage for our college football-obsessed citizens.

Modern tailgating is serious business. Whether a small gathering or a multi-tent circus of cultish proportions, tailgating gets more sophisticated each year, thanks to new technology and accoutrements.

Tailgating enthusiasts like Brian McGarry, who played football at the University of Oklahoma in the early '90s, hosted his first season of tailgating last year. From the scorching initial games in September to the frigid temps in November, he faithfully pitched his camp in a field close to the stadium. To get his coveted spot, he staked it out the day before and then returned the morning of the game to set it up.

Of course, Sooners know a thing or two about staking claims, but McGarry believes the extra effort is worth it. A premium spot allows the kids to play football in the open field and visitors to swing by for a drink or full meal before they head in to the stadium. Thanks to a satellite dish and flat-screen television, the pep squad can watch multiple games, depending on how early they arrive at the tailgate. Don't have a ticket for the game? No problem. Many fans save the cash and just watch the televised games at the shaded tailgates.

"Tailgating has become a favorite family tradition," McGarry said. "The smell of burgers on the grill, spontaneous chants of 'Boomer Sooner,' throwing the football with my kids. There's just no place like the OU campus on game day."

A top-notch tailgate takes careful planning and forethought, not to mention a trailer to carry the contents. McGarry's trailer holds four tents, a gas grill and plenty of chairs, tables, media and games, in addition to the food and drinks.

At the Big Red Shop/The Bedlam Zone, OU and Oklahoma State canopy tents run $272. Employee Jeff Leatherwood also recommended branding those dogs with "Sooners" or "Cowboys." The branding irons are $24.95 each.

No tailgate is complete without a flag, and stitched ones at the store cost $54.95 for a 3-by-5 version or $46 for a 2-by-3 one. Leatherwood also recommended the car magnets, metal tubs, mounted bottle openers and logoed beach balls and footballs. The Big Red Shop is located at 5104 N. MacArthur. Its sister store, The Bedlam Zone, operates at 3601 S. Broadway in Edmond.

Over in Cowboy country, Christi Woodworth takes part in a three-tent tailgate. She's recommends DigiDrink, a portable wet bar and bartender that holds up to eight ingredients and mixes the drinks for you by remote control. Another nice touch? Lights from Eskimo Joe's.

Big sellers at Everything Barbeque, 13833 N. May, are smokers and portable grills. Owner Christy Grigsby said the Cookshack electric smokers start at $590 and let you smoke the ribs or brisket overnight and then go to "warm mode" in the morning and pull the food out when it's time to eat. The least expensive grill is the Weber Go-Anywhere model, starting at $47.50. The Weber Q series grills vary in size, making them convenient to haul around on game day.

"These are handy to just place on the back of a pickup bed or a concrete picnic table, but you can also get a stationary cart or rolling cart to bring it up to cooking height," Grigsby said. "The Weber Q starts at $163 and is available in gas, charcoal or electric."

Want your grill to show its pride? Team Grill provides university-branded models, complete with a collapsible stand with wheels for $499.

Something fun? Try the Lime Bomber, which lets drinkers add the lime without the mess. It retails for $16.99.
Some tailgaters go a step further with a theme based on the opposing team. Longtime Sooner fan Lee Hayward said his tailored menu has included Buffalo burgers (Colorado), Corn on the Cobb with all the trimmings (Nebraska) and Jayhawk chicken (Kansas). He even places an OU chalkboard on an easel at the start of the food line to list all the goodies.

Hayward lists other essentials: covered containers to keep out the flies, heaters when it's cold outside and good tables for food flow. But most important?

"Location," he said. "The Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band comes by our tents about an hour before kickoff, which adds to the excitement."

Kyle and Kristi Johnson, whose tailgate at the corner of Brooks Street and Jenkins Avenue in Norman can include up to 40 people, added a second flat-screen TV for this year's parties.

Another must? A generator to operate the goods.

"And if you run out of food and beverage, you have failed," said Kristi Johnson.

Added Hayward: "All this is nothing without good friends. So, alert your friends each home game week with a reminder e-mail, tell them the time of the tailgate, and give them the menu to look forward to, and wait for the fun to begin." "Malena Lott

first photo/Shannon Cornman
second photo/Adam Kemp
third photo/Shannon Cornman
fourth photo/Adam Kemp

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