(The story was published in 2006).

By: Todd Heustess

The 2006 Outsports Tailgate Tour got off to a great start Sept. 16 in Columbus, Ohio, where I saw the No. 1 team in the country dispatch intrastate rival Cincinnati, 37-7. More importantly, I was drinking from a keg at 9 a.m. with a couple hundred of my newest friends while proudly flying a rainbow flag at a school-sanctioned tailgate party.

Tailgating in Columbus starts early and ends late, with the major emphasis on beer. There’s food of course (lots of brats and hot dogs) but Buckeye fans like their beer, domestic and imported, lagers and lite and consume it by the gallon before and after the game. An ungodly noon start did not deter the masses as the parking lots around the stadium and campus were packed and partying by 8 am.

Ohio State and Ohio Stadium have always held a special allure for me. As long as I’ve followed college football, I’ve wanted to go to a game at the giant horseshoe on the banks of the Oletangy River. At the 2002 Outback Bowl in Tampa, where Ohio State played my alma mater South Carolina I met a number of Buckeye fans while tailgating at 7 a.m. (for an 11 a.m. game) and enjoyed their stories of game day traditions and festivities for OSU home games.

Last spring, I was contacted by Tim Leonard, the Membership Chair of the OSU GLBT Alumni Society (www.osuglbt.org) who had read some of my tailgate stories on Outsports and he invited me to come to Columbus for the annual tailgate party sponsored by the GLBT Alumni society. Their annual party was set the Sept. 16 game against Cincinnati, so I booked my ticket and headed to O-H-I-O.

The OSU GLBT Alumni Society is one of the most active alumni groups at OSU and they are very sports-minded. According to Jack Miner, the board president, they have one large-scale tailgate per year in Columbus, sponsor game watching parties throughout the year (all sports, not just football) and they sponsor an away-game trip as well, this year’s away trip being the Northwestern game in Chicago.

The tailgate party I attended was the fifth annual party sponsored by the Alumni party and it was their biggest yet, with more than 200 people attending, a performance by the Capitol Pride Band, many tables of great food, and of course a keg, which was tapped out by 10:30 a.m. The crowd was mixed, way more women than I have seen at previous Tailgate Tour stops, probably 65% men to 35% women and the age range was pretty wide, going from 6 to 70.

There were also a handful of straights there, friends of GLBT Alumni. Some of the attendees brought their children (there were gay and straight parents there) and there were a couple of current OSU students. Mostly it was guys and gals ages 25-40, all out, and all big-time sports fans, very knowledgeable about college football. The Columbus AIDS Walk was that morning and many of the tailgaters who arrived to the party after 10 had participated in the Walk and walkers that raised more than $500 getting Tailgate Party and game tickets.

I asked Jack why the group didn’t sponsor a tailgate at every game, since it appeared to me that they would easily have a great turnout given the passion and dedication the group shows towards football. Jack explained to me that the University had cracked down on tailgating the last few years, really enforcing open container laws in the tailgate areas around the stadium.

In order for anyone or a group to have a keg or serve liquor at a tailgate party on campus they need permits, alcohol and event permits from the school and police. In addition, the GLBT Alumni Society annual tailgate party includes tickets to the game, a hot commodity at a school where there is no public sales of football tickets and years-long waiting lists for season tickets. The school gives each alumni group a block of tickets to one game per year and the Cincinnati game was the game for 2006. From what Alumni Society members told me, OSU also has an active student GLBT presence as well, but unfortunately classes had not started at OSU when I was there so the student presence was greatly reduced.

I also asked Jack if they had ever had any problems with having such a visible gay-attended Tailgate Party, since the rainbow flag was prominently displayed on top of their tent. It reminded me of the Alums and fans in Austin who get together for Texas games and fly their rainbow Bevo flag deep in the heart of Texas. Jack said that they have never had a problem at home or away games when they have tailgated together as a group.

I was paying close attention to the recognition and reactions of the other fans as they walked by and I don’t think anyone really even paid attention to the group until the Capitol Pride Band starting playing the OSU fight song and other traditional game day songs and then everyone just got caught up in the spirit of the moment. The older fans didn’t seem to pick up on anything, while the younger ones did (especially those that looked like current students) and didn’t seem fazed at all. As with the tailgate party in Austin I was on the lookout for hecklers and problem makers and nothing happened. The OSU group blended in to the game day atmosphere as easily as the Texas crew did.

Ohio Stadium was every bit as impressive as I imagined it would be, though it’s not really a horseshoe any more. The renovations to the stadium that were completed in 2002 added permanent sections to the South end zone, effectively closing the horseshoe while increasing the (official) capacity to just under 102,000 making it the fourth-largest college stadium in the country. The historic façade reminded me of the L.A. Coliseum or the old Soldier Field in Chicago. The game itself was tight in the first half, with OSU pulling away in the second half, looking every bit the top team in the nation. The defense was especially impressive holding Cincy to minus-4 yards in rushing.

After the game we wandered around taking in the post-game scene. What surprised me was that two hours after the game, very few people had left to go home, the tailgating was still in full swing. The early start partly explained this but people I talked to said that unless it was a night game, OSU fans generally view the post-game tailgate as, if nor more important than the pre-game tailgate. What also surprised me was the number of kegs I saw in cars and SUVs. It seemed like every other car had a keg in or next to it and at almost every stop someone insisted on handing me a cup of freshly tapped beer. I’m still having visions of the rivers of beer flowing through Columbus and my veins. Columbus rocks and Go Bucks!