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Trojan Tailgating Gets a Little Too Comfy

September 26, 2002|MARK SACHS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a half-hour until kickoff, and for me and my party of USC football fans, the inevitable could be put off no longer: It was time for the tailgate party to end. Sure, the game's the thing. But dining and dallying among several thousand of your like-minded friends is a sublime way to let the anticipation build.

In my group's early years, leaving Exposition Park and following the thundering herd of Cardinal-and-Gold-clad faithful into the Coliseum was a snap: Toss the fast-food trash, fold up the blankets and head for the game.

But as the seasons went by, the trappings became more elaborate. Picnic baskets and lawn chairs appeared. Then came folding tables, real dishes and even a portable grill for the tri-tip. After some games, the tailgate feast turned out to be more memorable than the final score. But on this particular Saturday afternoon, the gradual evolution for these fans had taken a prodigious leap into luxury, or more specifically, into a 30-foot, fully equipped RV.

In the great tailgating hierarchy, we had finally arrived. (For one day, at any rate--the RV was rented.) But for one member of our party, leaving the comfort of his plush new surroundings was almost painful to consider. Finally, looking down at his end-zone ticket and then back again at the gleaming RV, he came to a decision: "I think I'm going to watch the game here," he told the rest of us, motioning to the TV set inside the vehicle. "I'll see you all after the game." Another blissed-out victim of the seductive charms of tailgating, Coliseum-style.

Although powers-that-be in the pro football world would have you believe that the classic stadium and its environs should be plowed under to make way for a sprawling new venue, Trojan fans know better. The Coliseum's open-end, peristyle design allows the very history of the grand old place to pour out toward Figueroa Street, flooding the adjacent green expanse of Exposition Park with a sense of tradition and permanence few stadiums can match.

When you see tailgaters from across the country setting up their spread on concrete parking lots, or on frozen tundra, or in the shadow of a grotesquely anonymous new stadium, you can only smile. They may never know what they're missing.

But beware the upward spiral of the tailgating evolution. You just might find yourself on the inside looking out.

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