I've noticed in online discussions I've stumbled upon in recent weeks that opposing fans seem to think there isn't any good tailgating at UNC football. In fact, I believe the word "nonexistent" was tossed around - or more accurately, words that mean"nonexistent" but have fewer syllables. Which rather surprised me, as I've never lacked for pregame tailgating, first at Ramshead Lot in the '90's and then later at Bell Tower, with always the alumni food at Tar Heel Town and its predecessors. I can't make it to Kenan without somebody stopping me and offering food, so what the hell are these people talking about?
And then it occurred to me, what I see is not what visiting fans see. I grabbed some Google Maps images of the stadiums of some of the more traditional ACC football schools:
That's Clemson Memorial, Doak Campbell, Byrd, and as clearly labelled Carter-Finley Stadiums as seen from the skies. (I'd have thrown Lane Stadium in there as well, but Google's satellites apparently, like the rest of us, have better things to do than visit Blacksburg. From the blurry images I can make out, the following holds for them as well.) And they all have one thing in common - acres and acres of parking. As a visiting fan, you can't help but find tailgating. Hell, you need food just to make it across the expanses of blacktop. But in Chapel Hill:
...not so much. There's the Bell Tower lot, now gone to make room for the MCC, and Stadium Drive, but everything else is grill-free parking garages and an actual university. If you don't know where things are, you're not going to find them on your walk to the game.
Now don't get me wrong, this is a good thing for Chapel Hill. I'll take the campus setting of Kenan over the happiness of visiting football fans on six Saturdays a year every single time. And there's a reason all the summaries of ACC stadiums toss the word picturesque around when the reach Carolina's listing. But somewhere along the line everybody internalized that the "college football experience" is the SEC rows upon rows of trucks (now SUV's, with the way oil prices are headed, soon oversized bicycles with incongruously large bumpers to be festooned with magnets) in a parking lot or field is the only way to do things. I've done that, in Clemson and Tallahassee and Raleigh and Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, and had good times doing it, but I wouldn't trade it for the early morning walk up Franklin Street and the slow meander past Davis Library to wherever my buddies happen to grilling. Our tailgate culture is just fine, thank you, tucked away amongst the pine trees; that you can't necessarily find it is a feature, not a bug.