Congress can take a lesson from North Dakota State tailgating. Forget Congress, the dueling combatants bloviating for a certain presidential nomination could learn some civility from the west lots of the FargoDome. You heard that correctly, and no, I’m not tailgating right now. I’m at home, in my living room, several days removed from one of the greatest tailgates this side of The Grove at Ole Miss or the Vol Navy at Neyland Stadium on the Tennessee River. But before we get to the escalating political situation, let’s set the stage.
The FargoDome has become one of the best tailgating events in all of college football, not just the Football Championship Subdivision. Ask anyone that was at the biggest party in North Dakota since Zip to Zap a few Saturdays ago before NDSU thumped the University of North Dakota. In August, Tailgater Magazine – it’s a real magazine and after making my riches practicing law, I’m retiring early and volunteering to write for that publication, pro bono if need be – ranked NDSU as the 14th best tailgating in college football, the only FCS school to make the list. Yet another reason we belong with the big boys.
We finished ahead of the likes of Clemson, Oklahoma, Penn State, Arizona State, the University of Southern California (aka USC), and even our friends at Texas A&M. The article warns that “any preconceived notions are best left at the door,” before describing the local delicacies. “You won’t find deer, buffalo or moose anywhere else of this list, but it’s typical amongst the Bison.” It’s a cornucopia of goodness. Even our frenemies from Grand Forks walked away impressed with the scope of Bison tailgating. I had a conversation with one midway through the festivities. She told me she always thought Bison fans’ talk of tailgating was overhyped. No more. Chalk up a convert. She mentioned returning for more tailgating later in the year – and it wasn’t because I was that impressive or charming with my stories.
The tailgating atmosphere moves inside the Dome for the game, creating a thunderous environment for opposing teams, and a huge home field advantage for the Bison. “It was dynamite,” said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman of the atmosphere after NDSU’s 34–9 demolition of UND. “It was so fun to come out of the tunnel and see Bison Nation as loud as they were, tailgate lots were great, we had some recruits out there, the student section was dynamite. Bison Nation had a huge hand in that win for us.”
The tailgating lots were epic, they were iconic, as sweeping in their beauty as North Dakota’s majestic Badlands. The scene was a modern day Norman Rockwell painting. There aren’t enough superlatives to paint you a picture, it’s just something you must experience. Every year, as the Bison football team elevates its play and receives accolades for its on-field performance, folks are taking notice of Bison tailgating.
In a recent Huffington Post blog, their food critic – yes, their food critic, not their over-the-top college football fanatic or drink tester – rated NDSU as the fourth best tailgate in America. Her description was poetic. She starts:
“School unity is something that is often palpable, especially when it comes to sports. It is an energy that is hard to encapsulate into a single feeling. The bonds of pride, teamwork, and passion roll into one ball of emotion that explodes fanatically every time your team takes the field. And for colleges that live and breathe that sense of pride, tailgating isn’t just a casual endeavor. It is an art form.”
She’s right, doggonit. Tailgating in the west lots of the Dome is as much a reflection of school unity and Bison Pride as anything else. It’s a homecoming every home game. She goes on to call our tailgating “an experience” and tells readers to “reserve your spot early … things are about to get intense.” SBNation, a popular sports website, summed it up when they wrote how “College GameDay” was coming to Fargo after the Bison beat Kansas State two years ago. “These fans are serious about pregaming.”
Maybe the best part about our tailgating is the civility – and now we get back to Congress and the heated rhetoric in the presidential debate. Bison fans are beyond passionate for the green and yellow, they are fanatic. The only thing that comes above the Bison is their own children and, most of the time, their spouse. And it’s not just the fellas, the ladies are as much into tailgating and the Bison. The amount of time and money our fans devote to their tailgating setup is enough to launch a small startup company. Some, like my good friends at Six Flags Tailgating, who are kind enough to let me DJ their events, actually have their own boosters that pay a yearly fee to tailgate with them (although no fee is required to join and partake).
Despite that passion, Bison fans welcome opposing teams’ fans into the fold with open arms. Even UND and South Dakota State fans. Long gone are the days of staring down one another like Kennedy and Khrushchev. There is no derision, no partisan taunting or name-calling. It’s all about hospitality and no one does it better than Bison fans. Our fans offer food, drink, and fellowship to anyone venturing by. It’s like an AC/DC concert meets a small town church potluck. The worst we subject those who don’t share our passion for the Bison to is playing Thunderstruck every five songs or so – every three songs the closer we get to kickoff.
How classy are Bison fans? The president of the University of Montana, Royce C. Engstrom, was so impressed he wrote a letter to the Fargo Forum last month thanking Bison fans, saying his community was privileged to host such a wonderful group.
“I had the opportunity to talk in-person with quite a few Bison fans, and I talked to many Missoulians who had the pleasure of interacting with you. You represented North Dakota State University with distinction and pride, and everyone here was impressed with your friendliness, your enthusiasm and your love of the game. … We were privileged to host such a wonderful group, … .”
Think about that! Another school’s president took time from his duties to pen a letter to a newspaper outside of his state to thank another team’s fans because he was so impressed. My heart swells with pride at that. Our tailgating and fan base have become a reflection of our university and how we operate – everything is done with Bison Pride.
If we can comport ourselves with that sort of class and earn respect from our opponents despite our differences, there’s no reason someone like, say, Donald Drumpf or Jeb Bush, can’t tip one back with Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders and discuss their differences without diving into the gutter. They should have a presidential debate at tailgating. Forget the expensive suits, the stuffy halls with their fancy carpet and bunting, and get them in front of some real, down-home people. The partisan bickering wouldn’t last long in that sort of environment.
Tailgating is everything that is great about North Dakota State. It’s inclusive and no one is turned away. There is no red carpet to roll out. It’s the least pretentious affair between Minneapolis and Seattle. All are welcome. It’s the strength of the Herd. Pound for pound, we throw one of the best tailgate parties in the country. It’s a sprawling event that has become as big of an NDSU celebration as anything we do, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Everyone up for the kickoff, the march is on!