As summer heat gives way to autumn's chill, many American sports fans have one thing on their minds -- football. Turn on the TV any Saturday or Sunday night from September through January and you're likely to see 22 men pounding each other over a pigskin.
So how do you root your team to victory come game day? Well, put down the beer and get out of the recliner, because the best way to support your favorite football team is to get involved. Tailgating before the game, cheering during the game and making financial donations between games are all great ways to help your team spend less time on their heels and more time in the end zone. Put on your giant foam finger and click through our tips.
Nothing shows your support for a football team like showing up hours -- or even days -- before the game to tailgate. From its humble roots on the back end of a pickup truck, this classic football tradition has become quite a production at many high school, college and professional games. Diehard fans often drive RVs stocked with the latest party gear -- from high-end barbecues to satellite dishes -- to the site. At many stadiums, the tailgating event is almost as entertaining as the game itself.
If you decide to throw a pregame party, a little planning goes a long way. First, familiarize yourself with the stadium's parking facilities and regulations. Tailgating, as well as the consumption of alcohol, may be restricted to designated areas. When packing, remember that portability and efficiency is key; when it's time for kickoff you don't want to be stuck in the parking lot loading a bunch of gear back into the car. All you really need is a portable grill, cooking and eating utensils, and perhaps a folding table for food preparation. Anything else -- campers, party tents and big-screen TVs -- simply enhances the experience.
Any true football fan will know their team's traditions and participate in them enthusiastically. Almost every high school and college team, as well as some professional teams, has a fight song played during timeouts or after touchdowns and other big plays. Learn the words to this song, as well as any choreography that goes with it. If you're cheering for a school you attended, learn the alma mater as well.
Supporting your team involves more than just singing; fans often participate in cheers or other spectacles during football games. Nowhere are these traditions more effective than at college stadiums, where tens of thousands of fans may yell and move in unison in an effort to get their team fired up. A great example of such a custom is the "Hog Call" at the University of Arkansas. At kickoffs and other key times during the game, Razorback fans flood the field with a deafening "Woooooooo. Pig. Sooie!" At University of Wisconsin games, tens of thousands of Badger fans shake the stadium with their bouncing as the loud speakers blast House of Pain's "Jump Around." Traditions like these may seem silly, but you can't be self-conscious when the game is on the line!
Almost every football program, from the smallest high school to the latest Super Bowl champions, has some kind of merchandise you can buy to show your support for the team. Often this gear is no more than a T-shirt, but larger and more profitable programs sell things like license plate frames, luggage and even personal checks. Louisiana State University, a perennial football powerhouse in the popular Southeastern Conference (SEC), offers more than 2,600 items in its official gear shop [source: LSUshop.net]. For some teams, selling this kind of merchandise can be quite profitable; in 2008 the University of Texas brought in more than $17 million via the sale of team merchandise, as well as advertising and sponsorship deals [source: Dexheimer].
No matter what size football program you support, one of the best ways to show your loyalty is by purchasing team merchandise. If you're driving to a game, consider buying some car flags to mount above your windows or a magnet to stick to the door. Some teams try to get their fans to wear the same color on game day, so look into getting a team shirt in that color. And not only will that logo coffee mug give your team a little advertising at your workplace, it will give you bragging rights every time your team wins.
While there's nothing wrong with wearing a nice store-bought hoodie to a game, some fans get creative with homemade body paint, costumes and signs. If you want to take a modest approach, there's often a tailgating booth where you can get your team's logo painted on your cheek. Some fans go all out, though, painting themselves from head to toe in their team's colors and spelling words with the letters on their bare chests, even on frigid winter nights. If you want to be even more creative (or warmer!) on game night, wear a costume that resembles your team mascot, or fashion your own unique outfit. The Oakland Raiders is one team whose fans are notorious for their outlandish costumes, which typically consist of some combination of skulls, chains, and spiked helmets or shoulder pads.
If spirited paint and costumes aren't your thing, try making a creative sign. These posterboard statements have become staples at football games of all levels, from the ubiquitous "John 3:16" sign to those that feature an acrostic of a TV network's call letters. Your sign can be funny, simple or highly-decorated, but remember to make the letters big enough so people around you can see what it says. You could even get a group of friends to hold a series of signs that spell out the name of your school or mascot. Whatever you decide to do, be considerate of those fans behind you who want to watch the game, too!
Unfortunately, all the charcoal grills, body paint and car magnets in the world won't buy jerseys, pay for stadium renovations and fund scholarships. Football can be a very expensive sport, and sometimes ticket and merchandise sales aren't enough to cover a program's operating costs, particularly at smaller universities. In 2008, just 25 of the 119 college teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division 1-A) reported a budget surplus. The other 94 teams operated with an average budget deficit of $9.87 million [source: Moltz]. If donors don't step up to close this budget gap, these schools must take money from their general operating funds to pay for football. For this reason, universities are always appealing to alumni and others in the community for monetary gifts, so donating is an excellent way to support your favorite program.
Donating isn't the only way to support a team financially; you can also buy season tickets. Teams like supporters to buy season tickets because it guarantees that a seat will be paid for all year, whether or not the fan attends all the games. As a thank you to both season ticket holders and donors, teams often provide these supporters with choice seats, reserved parking and other perks on game day.
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- Caple, Jim. "Road Warrior: Best College Tailgating." ESPN Sports Travel. Aug. 19, 2009. (Sept. 21, 2010)http://sports.espn.go.com/travel/columns/story?columnist=caple_jim&id=3037293
- Curtis, Dave and Matt Hayes. "SN 10: Top Game-Day Traditions in College Football." Sporting News. May 25, 2010. (Sept. 21, 2010)http://www.sportingnews.com/ncaa-football/story/2010-05-25/sn10-top-game-day-traditions-college-football
- Dexheimer, Eric. "Does Big-Time College Football Deserve Its Big Tax Breaks." Austin American-Statesman. Dec. 26, 2009. (Sept. 21, 2009)http://www.statesman.com/news/texas/does-big-time-college-football-deserve-its-big-149737.html?printArticle=y
- "LSUshop.net." Official Online Store of LSU Athletics. 2010 (Sept. 25, 2010)http://www.lsushop.net/
- "Making Tailgating Elegant and Easy." ABC Good Morning America. Sept. 1, 2006. (Sept. 21, 2010)http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Summer/story?id=2295925
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- Nevius, C.W. "Are Rowdy Fans Sinking Raiders?" San Francisco Chronicle. Oct. 27, 2005. (Sept. 21, 2010)http://articles.sfgate.com/2005-10-27/bay-area/17396223_1_raider-fans-oakland-raider-parking-lot-raider-nation
- "Tailgating Tips." NFL Video. Sept. 13, 2009. (Sept. 21, 2009)http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-network-gameday/09000d5d8128ff17/Tailgating-tips
- "The Best College Football Traditions." NBC Sports. 2010. (Sept. 21, 2010)http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/32239415/ns/sports-college_football/displaymode/ 1247/?beginSlide=1