As everyone knows, tailgating is never an acceptable practice on our open streets and highways, but in the confines of the parking lots at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on game day, it can be loads of fun—and sometimes even pure magic. While not on a scale of schools ten times its size, there’s still nothing quite like tailgating at Navy Football games.
Four home contests on the schedule for October and November--most notably, the contest against Navy archrival Air Force (Oct. 5) -- offer an equal number of opportunities to take in the pregame (and postgame) pageantry unfolding outside the gates of the stadium proper.
Even though the easterly “Gold” parking lot of the stadium is traditionally where fans from the visiting team congregate, it really doesn’t matter which “side” of the stadium you choose. The Gold side has its own luster for Navy boosters, giving a glimpse into the psyche of the opposing team’s fans.
The art of pre- and postgame festivities runs the gamut: from sandwiches (easily available at the strategically located Graul’s Market across Rowe Boulevard) and a cooler full of beverages; small “smoky joe” charcoal grills—cooking everything from poultry and brats to filet mignon and king salmon; tables covered with linen tablecloths accented with full silver services, chafing dishes to keep the crab dip hot, candelabra, and fresh flowers; and elaborate tented areas on the lot perimeter, some of which have been known to include fully catered bar and barbeque food setups and big-screen TVs for those opting for nontraditional ways to watch the game.
One great tent story involves two Academy classes, separated by 40 years. When Rodney Luck and Mike Binnix, two members of the Class of 1988, realized in the early 2000s that their class had no real traditional tailgater, they lobbied the Academy athletic association to let them partner with the Class of 1948 for one of the coveted outer-perimeter sites.
It had been a hard-won spot (before the association started assigning tent sites and charging a fee) on the Gold side of the stadium along Taylor Avenue. At the time, ‘48 still had seven or eight classmates attending each game (usually a group of 15 people or so), and they welcomed ’88 to join them. Roger Carlquist, ‘48’s organizer, was the last of the class still coming to games into the 2017 football season, but Roger passed away in May 2018 at age 92. Now, the Class of ’88 has formally taken responsibility for the spot that ’48 had occupied for more than 50 years.
By nearly all accounts, the class of 1985 still stands out for the most elaborate and quirky setups in Navy tailgating history. Not only did it feature a full-blown “tiki bar,” it also was legendary for providing live Irish rock-band entertainment (think U-2 with kilts), visits from the Navy cheerleaders and glee club, and a guest-supplied buffet table of everything from hors d’oeuvres to fancy homemade desserts. The ’85 setup even made the local newspaper in 2012, having broken its own record for serving all comers—before, during, and after home games falling closest to Thanksgiving—a deep-fried turkey dinner (a whopping total of 57 whole birds that year). As the day wore on, experiments were also known to yield deep-fried apple pies, and nearly anything else that wouldn’t fall apart in the fryers.
Alas, the class has discontinued this tradition, opting to tone down the festivities for various reasons after their heyday. Rumor has it, however, that the class is considering resuscitating the fried turkey tailgate tradition for the November 23 home game against the Southern Methodist University Mustangs. So be on the alert for smells of frying poultry (and pies) wafting through the air that afternoon.