Tailgating experience takes many forms at Huskie Stadium


Northern Star File Photo

Fans tailgate before the NIU-Wyoming football game at Huskie Stadium on Sept. 11, 2021.

By Skyler Kisellus, Sports Editor

DeKALB — As the Huskie football team prepares to do battle, fans partake in their favorite tailgating traditions and show off their Huskie pride.

On game days, NIU offers several areas for fans to engage in tailgating traditions. The student tailgate area is located in the southwest corner of the East Lawn adjacent to the stadium. The university also has parking lots at the NIU Convocation Center and the NIU Soccer and Track & Field Complex.

In the hours leading up to kickoff, tailgaters can be found playing bags, grilling meat and drinking beer, among other things. Among the hundreds of fans that come to campus before a home game, the one thing that brings them all together is Northern Illinois University, but not everyone has a direct connection to NIU.

“Everybody here has some kind of affiliation to the Huskies,”  Lakeview resident Ed Johnson said about his tailgating group. “A lot of our group is not even alumni. They just love being here so much. They are honorary Huskies.”

A number of fans kick off festivities as soon as the parking lots are opened, with some even arriving before then. Though it may seem straightforward, preparing for a tailgate can be an elaborate process.

“Gameday experience starts a month ahead of time when we start planning with our family,” Naperville resident Patrick Hansen said. “It’s a planning event.”

The spectrum of fans celebrating at a home game can range from the casual Huskie fan to the family of the players.

“My grandson’s playing,” Sauk Village resident Alexis Abatzis said. Abatzis is the grandmother of redshirt senior running back Clint Ratkovich. “It’s always fun to get together with the family and friends of my grandson.”

Tailgating also offers fans the opportunity to express themselves and their Huskie pride in their own way. While some setups can be as simple as a gathering around a vehicle, others may include features such as a stereo system, an array of food, and even an inflatable of Staley Da Bear.

While the fans are brought together by their Huskie pride, they differ in their favorite aspects of the tailgating experience. Some enjoy playing bags and serving as the tailgate DJ, while others find that making the ordeal a family affair takes the cake.

As electric as the experience may be, some say that earning a tally in the win column triumphs the other aspects of gameday.

“(Victory is) the best part,” Madison resident Shepherd Groves said. “It always puts a smile on your face when you walk away with a win.”

Meanwhile, others regard tailgating as the highlight of their gameday experience. 

“It’s just real joy,” freshman marketing major Hayes Rynell said. “It comes over you, and you’re like, ‘we’re tailgating this weekend? I can’t wait.’”

Whether you’re wearing red and black or representing the opposing team in enemy territory, tailgating sets the tone for the rest of the day and represents true fandom at its best.

“It’s all about the experience,” Rockford resident Michael Ostrowski said. “Whether you got hors d’oeuvres or a full meal. Just the camaraderie and the people. The whole experience is fantastic.” 

The next opportunity for fans to tailgate on campus will be at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 16, when the Huskies take on the Bowling Green State University Falcons.