(This story was published in 2005).
By: Todd Heustess
Editor's note: College football writer Todd Heustess will make tailgate pilgrimages to at least five college football games this season and write about his experiences. He would love to be joined by other Outsports readers. His trips are sponsored by Be Gay Tours.)
In choosing games to go to for the Outsports Tailgate Tour, sometimes I picked a location just based on the venue, somewhere I’ve always wanted to see a game, like Austin or Boulder.
Sometimes it’s the game that attracts my attention like Florida-Tennessee earlier this year or Miami-Tennessee in 2003. In the case of the Cal-USC game on Nov. 12 in Berkeley, it was the promise of a big game that attracted me as these two teams had played classic games the last two years: Cal’s thrilling victory in 2003 and SC’s nailbiter last year at the Coliseum.
Earlier this year both Cal and SC were unbeaten and it was looking like this year’s game in Berkeley would be another showdown. Alas, reality set in and while SC was (and is) still unbeaten and # 1 in the polls, Cal had struggled and brought a 6-3 record into the contest. I was still excited and hopeful though, that I would get a great tailgate experience and a competitive game. Well, the tailgate experience was a lot of fun.
Nick Osano, a Cal alum who did graduate work at SC is an avid Outsports reader and he contacted me a few weeks ago about organizing a tailgate party for Outsports readers and other gay fans who might be attending the game. While Nick would seemingly have torn allegiances, he’s 100% Bear. He and I contacted some of the LGBT groups at Berkeley and in the Bay area to let them know I was coming. The Outsports connection brought over 40 people to the tailgate party organized by Nick. Some were SC fans, some were Cal. There were lesbians and straight couples as well. It was a great mix
I brought Nilton Neves, the West Coast Promotions Manager for Be Gay Tours to the game. Nilton, from Brazil, is also a Cal alum and runs an import/export company in San Francisco. Nilton had never been to a college football game. He’s an avid soccer fan and will be going to Germany for the World Cup and he’s been to one San Francisco Giants game but had never developed any interest in American football.
He could not believe that people would be up at 8 a.m. to start the tailgate party for a game that started at 12:30 pm. As we crossed over the Bay Bridge Saturday morning, I explained college football, the tailgating experience, and the significance of the Cal-SC game.
We arrived in Berkeley at 9 a.m. and the first thing we noticed was that the early tailgate scene was 90% USC fans. We found Nick and his group (which included his parents) at the parking lot of the Bancroft hotel already in full tailgate mode. We mixed some Bloody Mary’s and started to walk around, taking in the scene.
The Cal campus is in the middle of Berkeley and Memorial Stadium is pretty much on campus. Until you actually walk up to the stadium you don’t really see it from the street level though; it’s a little hidden in the hills around the campus.
The tailgate scene was dominated by SC fans until about 10:30 but then the Cal students woke up and the party really started. Our tailgate party at the Bancroft was conveniently located just a block or two from the fraternity houses. Nilton and I took a walk and decided to check out the pre-game fraternity party scene.
We ended up at one house that had quite a party going on. I met Jeff the President (and his mother) and explained that I was a writer for Outsports writing about the tailgate scene in Berkeley. Jeff said it was cool and he was sure the guys and girls would talk to me and wouldn’t mind photos being taken.
He just asked that I not use the fraternity name in the article, not because I was writing for a gay sports site (my original assumption) but because there would be pictures of the brothers drinking and that would violate the polices of the fraternity’s national office.
We talked to many of the brothers and some of their girlfriends who said that the SC game was definitely the biggest game tailgate-wise, especially since there were so many SC fans there. They were fascinated that Nilton and I were gay and that I wrote for a gay sports site.
In the interest of journalistic integrity I ended up playing a drinking game called “Flipper” which I had never heard of. I didn’t really understand it then but it involved drinking beer very fast from a cup, and flipping it. I called on my own fraternal collegiate experience to give me the strength to make it through Flipper and in the end my team won the second round of the game.
After hanging out and flirting with all the cute frat boys, it was time to go to the game, so we rejoined Nick’s tailgate group and headed to the game. Memorial Stadium is quite majestic and beautiful from the outside, especially east side of the stadium which is where “Tightwad Hill” is, a place where people without tickets (or money) can lie on the hill and enjoy the game.
Once I got inside the stadium I was shocked at how old and dilapidated the stadium was. Many of the seats in our section were not actually seats but wooden bleachers that were rotted and falling apart. I thought the Orange Bowl lacked amenities until I got to Memorial Stadium, with its crowded bathrooms, smelly Porta-johns (inside the stadium) and small, crowded concessions. The Cal fans assured me that the stadium would be undergoing renovations soon.
While the stadium has definitely seen better days, the setting was dramatic and the atmosphere electric. This felt like a “big game.” The crumbling stadium was packed with nearly 73,000 fans (at least 20,000 to 25,000 were SC fans) and another 1,000 or so on Tightwad Hill. It was loud and raucous, and I was thrilled to be there. Then the game started. Early on two things were apparent: Cal doesn’t have a good quarterback and USC has too many weapons. The Trojans took control of the game early, took advantage of four interceptions and the inability of Cal to throw the ball and coasted to a 35-10 win.
It didn’t matter because it was a wonderful college football experience and while I was at the game I found out that my Alma Mata (the real USC, South Carolina Gamecocks) had just beaten Florida 30-22. The Cal and SC fans were duly impressed and they loved when I started yelling “Go Cocks!”
One final note: After seeing both SC and Texas play in person, I would have to give a slight edge to Texas if the two teams win out and play in the Rose Bowl. Texas can match SC’s offensive firepower and seems to have a better defense. We’ll see. Now it’s time for the bowls!