For Keith Miller, the best part of tailgating is giving out food to strangers and listening to “dad music.”
“I’ve got a huge grill that barely fits in my SUV that I bring to games, and I always share the hot dogs and hamburgers that I make with people passing by,” Miller said. “And I like the classic songs. You know, songs like ‘Come On Eileen.’”
Miller, a senior information science major, said he usually is the person to host the tailgates in his friend group since he owns a car. Now he can continue the family tradition.
“My parents would host at games, and I saw how much fun they were having with their friends and wanted to do stuff like that with mine someday,” he said. “And then last year I finally brought my car to campus, and was like, ‘I can do this now.’”
Although Miller does enjoy getting to spread grilled goodness among Pitt football fans while rocking out to Dexys Midnight Runners, he said tailgating at Pitt is really about getting to show off school pride.
“Day to day, you can wear a T-shirt or something, but at tailgates you get to park outside the stadium and sing ‘Sweet Caroline’ together and stuff,” he said.
Tailgating at Heinz Field is a pregame pastime that hundreds of Pitt students participate in before they file into the stadium to cheer the Panthers on. Many, like Miller, see it as a way to start showing off pride for their school hours before the main event begins. Some do it to catch up with friends before screaming themselves hoarse in the stands.
Senior education major April Wismer falls into the latter category. She first got into tailgating when she transferred to Pitt as a sophomore and joined club field hockey, whose members would tailgate at every home game.
“I just loved the social aspect of it,” she said. “It brought a lot of my friends from different groups into the same place, and even now, I can just hop around tents at games and hang out with all of them.”
Junior psychology major Kayla Nitka said she also got into tailgating through club field hockey. During her first year at Pitt, she and her roommate would go to every home game and meet up with the rest of the team in the parking lot.
“I really liked being able to get together with all of them,” she said. “I like how you’re there with your friends and the rest of the school, celebrating the same thing.”
Nitka said what she enjoys most about tailgating is how she and her friends try to wear as much Pitt gear as possible when they tailgate. They also like to play cornhole and eat hot dogs and buffalo chicken dip. Her favorite tailgate memory was during a game last year around Halloween when lots of attendees arrived in costume.
“My one friend dressed up like Jackie Moon,” she said. “It was freezing out and he was wearing short-shorts. It was hilarious.”
Some students are now veteran tailgaters — like Senior economics major Mike Chew, who is entering his third year tailgating. He’s always been into sports, but said he never tailgated before he came to Pitt and got really into it.
“I’ve been lucky. I know a lot of people with cars,” he said. “We do the usual stuff, just play good music and grill, play KanJam.”
Chew said he’ll be one of the students heading to Penn State Saturday to meet up with friends at a tailgate. Afterwards, Chew plans to watch the game from the safety of a bar outside the stadium in an effort to avoid fallout from the ensuing rivalry.
“One of my friends goes to Penn State and he had an extra ticket for the student section,” Chew said, “but he said he didn’t want me going in there since it would probably be a pretty hostile environment for me.”
Likewise, Wismer and Nitka both said they’ll be going to the Penn State game to tailgate and then to a bar afterwards to watch the game. Miller said he’ll be going to a bar in the North Shore with his parents and will watch it from there.
“It’d be cool to go, but it’s kind of expensive and farther away,” he said.
Penn State’s allotment of 21,000 student tickets sold out in just 89 minutes this year. The university’s other season ticket packages sold out for the first time since 2008, with more than 9,000 new season tickets sold in addition to a 95 percent renewal rate by existing season ticket holders.
For Pitt students without tickets who are still hoping to make it to the game, the Pitt Program Council is holding a cornhole tournament Sept. 9 with a grand prize of two tickets plus bus transportation.
The event — called Tailgate After Dark — will take place on the William Pitt Union lawn from 10 p.m. to midnight and will also feature food, activities and Tee decorating.
According to Joe Rood, marketing director of Pitt athletics, 100 lucky students will already be heading to the game with free tickets in hand courtesy of an online contest sponsored by the athletic department. The department awarded two tickets to 10 winners per week for five weeks starting in early August.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t allow them to bring 10,000 plus so everybody could go,” Rood said. “Penn State wouldn’t have liked that.”
Wismer said she would love to keep tailgating after she leaves Pitt.
“Tailgating is a great way to get in touch with a lot of people and celebrate something you all care about, and I would love to keep coming back here to celebrate as an alumni with other alumni,” she said.
Miller said tailgating is something he does not plan on giving up on anytime soon either.
“I’m hoping to tailgate at Pitt games as long as I stay in the city,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll keep tailgating for the rest of my life.”