COLLEGE STATION – High noon, across from Kyle Field on the day before a home game is a lot like an Old West land rush. Eager participants wait at the ready to claim their territory, except instead of horses and side-arms, these contestants come equipped with tents, coolers and lawn chairs.
When the siren sounds, Texas A&M fans stampede into prime tailgating turf, pumped up for an Aggie victory. And as the national spotlight shines on the university, the 12th Man’s spirit and dedication has caught the attention of editors at Tailgater Magazine, who’ve declared Aggie fans the No. 1 tailgaters in all of college football.
As the Aggies prepare to take on the University of Alabama tomorrow in the season’s most anticipated game, Tailgater Magazine’s editor-in-chief, Lee Hurley, reflects on why the 12th Man tops college football fandom.
“Texas A&M has all the buzz right now and for good reason,” he says. “A new and significant entry into the SEC, they beat Alabama last year and could beat them again this year. They’re ranked in the top 10 and there’s an incredible new stadium expansion in progress. And the school administration understands the value of tailgating. The 12th Man is a unique and incredibly devoted student body − they are nice fans and it’s a great campus.”
And the last three reasons?
“Johnny Manziel, Johnny Manziel and Johnny Manziel,” Hurley laughs.
“We’re so honored to have been chosen as the No. 1 tailgating destination in college football,” states Neil Peltier, Texas A&M’s assistant director of tailgating operations. “I can’t say I’m surprised; we have the most talked about team in the country right now. And there’s no other school that can rival our fans’ dedication to their team.”
Kyle Field is sold out tomorrow as the Aggies will meet Alabama for the first time since last season’s upset victory in Tuscaloosa over the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide, 29-24. Tailgaters began setting up their spots mid-week for Saturday’s game.
As for the nationwide hype surrounding the Texas A&M/Alabama matchup, Shane Hinckley, interim vice president for Marketing & Communications at Texas A&M, says fans should expect this level of excitement from here on out. “We will have games like this every year going forward in the SEC,” he says. “It’s our expectation that this weekend’s great tailgating experience will be the norm for Texas A&M football.”
Tailgater Lee Manning, an agricultural leadership and development major, Texas A&M class of 2016, believes it’s the fans that have made Aggie tailgating so special. “Texas A&M has the best, most organized fan base − the 12th Man − and we’re loyal to the team no matter what.”
Taylor Trcka, class of 2015, an environmental studies major, comes to the land rush to secure her spot and says it’s the fellowship that sets Aggie tailgating apart. “There’s just something about this school and the camaraderie that makes everyone come together and support the university that we all love.”
Her friend Lauren DeLuca, class of 2015, a marketing major, agrees, saying “Our fans and our students are so school-spirited and so I feel like when people come to games at Kyle Field, it’s an experience they’ll never get anywhere else.”
Former students John Ratcliffe, class of 1962, and his friend, Stephanie Roberts, class of 1997, both from Houston, say they’ve seen Aggie tailgating increase over the years. “Now it’s like mass hysteria,” says Roberts.
As Texas A&M tailgating has grown, so has the popularity of Aggie tailgating merchandise, up 22% in licensing dollars over last year, Hinckley notes, adding, “Tailgating and its related products have become a very big business.”
He points to retailers such as Barnes and Noble at Texas A&M and Academy that carry officially licensed tents, chairs, coolers, tailgating games, and many other accessories to help Aggie fans Maroon-Out their tailgate.