Some do it with white tablecloths and stemware. Admit it. You're out there. (And not just at the Harvard-Yale game.)
Others do it with a portable grill, some ketchup, a few dogs and burgers. Some tote only a bag of chips and a football.
But almost every member of this species -- tailgaters, they are called -- have a cooler, prominently displayed alongside their sport-utility vehicle, inside which there are almost always more than Cokes and Yoo-Hoos. Alcohol and college football have long gone together like John Belushi and the Delta House. Forget that most of the players on the field aren't old enough to drink. The alumni are.
Which brings us to last week, another glorious September Saturday, another game day marked by parking lots filled with hundreds of thousands of tailgaters nationwide. Normal fans gathered for a normal tailgate party outside a normal college football venue, Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., for N.C. State's game against Richmond.
And two people were shot and killed.
Raleigh police said that alcohol may have been a factor in the shooting deaths of Brett Harman and Kevin McCann, for which two brothers have been charged with first-degree murder.
This incident is the extreme. But there seem to be more extremes over the past few years. Campuses nationwide have evaluated their game-day alcohol policies in the wake of riotous celebrations. Many schools have formed task forces to deal with alcohol-fueled fan behavior.
"I would say we put forth a lot of effort in controlling the alcohol consumption," said Rick Amweg, the assistant chief of the Ohio State University police department and the man who oversees the department's game-day operation. Amweg said the 2003 season was the first in which the department aggressively issued citations.
"Some of it escalated into situations that involved assault and offensive behavior," Amweg said. "We had to do something."
Experts say the mixture of the emotion surrounding a game and the dynamics of being in a large group -- combined with alcohol -- can make for an explosive situation. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics says about four in 10 crimes involve alcohol.
"It's a partisan activity where there are people rooting for a team," said Donald Smith, a professor of sociology at Old Dominion University. "That creates a sense of conflict. When we're both partisan and drunk or drinking, it really puts us in our worst behavior."
N.C. State's next home game is a week from today against, of all teams, Ohio State. University leaders are working with city officials to come up with a more stringent system for monitoring behavior in the parking lots around Carter-Finley Stadium. Wolfpack Coach Chuck Amato said he wouldn't address the fans because the stadium is off-campus, and "it'd be like something happening downtown or 10 miles away." He has, however, spoken to his team.
"You have to be careful in what you do," Amato said, "and you never know."
-- Barry Svrluga