Becoming a Tailgating Pro

Becoming a Tailgating Pro

Aug 30, 2021 | NOCO Food & Drink

By Dan England

Even now, at 49, Leif Tiley is probably the first to pull into the Colorado State University parking lot before a football game. Tiley and his group of 20 or so began tailgating in 1995, when he was still in school and Sonny Lubick yanked the team out of decades of hibernation. Tiley and his fraternity brothers decided they had earned some school support. “We would basically get up, go to a liquor store, buy a case of beer and go to the game,” Tiley says. “Sometimes if one had parents visiting, we’d crash their tailgate and get food that way.” Things are a bit more sophisticated now. Soon after he graduated, he began to meet with many of the same group and go to the game. Then he formed a Facebook group, Best CSU Ram Tailgate Group, in 2012. He began to plan out meals with them, rather than scrounge off parents’ plates. Tiley missed tailgating more than anything during last year’s pandemic. “We don’t all live in Fort Collins anymore,” Tiley says. “We’d never see each other if we didn’t get together with tailgating,” Now that he’s as much of an expert as anyone else, Tiley and others have a few tips to make your tailgate a winner.

Why DIY?

Caterers, bakers and restaurants have thrived off tailgating for years. But there are companies who will do everything for you now instead of just prepare the food. Many universities, including CSU, have partnered with Tailgate Guys, a national company that sells tailgating packages. Other companies offer the same service in various capacities. That means everything, from cleanup to a custom menu to inflatables, if you want them, along with TVs, drinks (for kids and adults) and any extras you can think of. Universities also offer their own tailgates. All you have to do is show up. The Coors Light Ram Walk tailgate at Colorado State University offers free live music, food and a bar, all next to where the team walks before it enters the stadium. “It’s for people who don’t do their own tailgate but still want to have fun before the game,” says Patrick Krza, director of community engagement and fan experience for CSU’s athletic department. Fans will set up community tailgates as well. 

Steve Allen, 69, a longtime fan at the University of Northern Colorado, sets up three hours before a game with a pop-up canopy, tables and plenty of chairs, along with a life-sized bear dressed in UNC gear who will “travel” on a golf cart and say hi to the kids, and a cornhole game. He has a core of five friends who attend every game and a revolving door of others, maybe even some strangers. “Anyone is welcome to come,” Allen says, “and we have friends and family stopping by all the time.” UNC also sets up activities, including inflatables and cornhole (which apparently has replaced frisbee or football tossing as the tailgating game of choice), in its official tailgating section sponsored by Pepsi. Tailgating is allowed anywhere, including the official section, but UNC wants to cater to everyone. “We do that to provide to fans who aren’t hardcore tailgaters and don’t want to go through the trouble,” says David Sabolcik, senior associate athletics director at UNC. “We have food vendors, and they can just enjoy the environment.”

Bougie or basic?

If you do prefer to cook yourself, you can get as fancy as you like. Tiley says he has “tried-and-true” cheese dips (the one with Worcester sauce is a unique treat) and probably had “any dip you can imagine” at one point, including a favorite with buffalo chicken. They usually also bring monkey bread and homemade breakfast sandwiches for the early games. “We have our favorites,” Tiley says, “but we all like to experiment.” They change things up every game with themes that match CSU’s opponent, including a hot dog contest. He searches tailgate ideas and clicks on ads that surround his Facebook group a bit too much. During hunting season, all kinds of chili show up. They have unofficial (or sometimes official) competitions to see who makes the best dish and will host a rib contest with dozens of unique sauces.“If we see something unique,” Tiley says, “we will try it.”Allen, however, prefers the basics, even if they vary from week to week as he coordinates with his five friends. He will grill burgers and brats one week and bring entrees and side dishes another week. He also sometimes makes beef and bean burritos wrapped in foil that people can stick in their pockets and take into the game. “Occasionally we will come up with a new idea,” he said, “but it’s pretty basic stuff. We pretty much bring what we think everyone will like.”

Where to go

Krza believes, as does many who work in CSU’s athletic department, that moving the stadium downtown was the best move for the university, and in many ways Fort Collins as well. But he also has fond memories of Hughes Stadium.The stadium, nestled inthe foothills, represented the way the state’s cities built a civilization in the middle of mountains. But more than that, it was an easy place to tailgate before the game. You just drove up and parked your car. The downtown stadium hascaused some angst among fans, Krza says, but that’s because there are many lots, not just one, and they all represent different tailgating experiences.

The University of Colorado has had a similar system for years. “But that’s one of the beauties of it as well,” Krza says. “You can pick and choose. We actually have a lot more area now for people to enjoy.”

The lots do require research, however, before you know which one you need to get to, and they’re scattered, instead of the centralized location of Hughes. But CSU still offers a general area for fans to hang out. In Hughes it was Rams Town. Now it’s the Ram Walk.

There are three lots that are tailgate friendly and others that aren’t. The friendly lots are Moby, the Library lot (even for RVs) and the Lory Student Center lot, Patrick says.

Occasionally facilities will move areas around, whether they expand or build a new parking lot, and it’s best to attend public meetings or just ask the public information person about plans for the tailgating areas. If you don’t like new arrangements, you can say so. Allen said UNC moved things around, and he didn’t like the new setup. “We went back and forth for a while,” Allen says. “We had to make some phone calls here and there, but they responded very well. We are really happy now.”

UNC hosts the Pepsi UNC Bears Fan Fest that opens three hours prior to every home game. You can tailgate in any space, but in the fan fest lot, you get three spaces in an official tailgating area, Sabolcik says. Fan Fest has been around for many years. “You can create that atmosphere,” he said, “instead of that one parking space you buy.”



Marty Cowan, a chef consultant based in Fort Collins, offered up her White Bean Dip for your next tailgating party. The recipe is a crowd-pleaser: delicious, versatile and plant-based for those with special diets. Cowan recently released her first cookbook, “Table to Trail.“ Find out more at

The roasted garlic and red chili oil add smoky depth of flavor to this tasty, creamy dip. Serve it with toasted pita bread, tortilla chips or crackers–easy for a tailgate! The dip is also a delicious spread on a bagel, in a veggie wrap or used as a base for avocado toast.

PREP TIME: 1 hour

TOTAL TIME: 1 hour, 30 minutes

MAKES: 2 cups


The red chili oil, toasted cumin seeds and roasted garlic can all be made ahead to help save on time.


1 can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Roasted garlic (see recipe)

2 Tbs. tahini

¼ cup olive oil

½ of a fresh squeezed lemon

2 tsp. toasted cumin seeds (see recipe) OR use ground cumin

½ tsp. salt

Red chili oil (see recipe)

Pita chips (see recipe)

Herb sprig for garnish (oregano,rosemary, cilantro – any variety,optional)


Place the beans, roasted garlic (squeeze from the bottom to remove the garlic from the skin/outer layers), tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin and salt in the food processor.

Blend until creamy and smooth. Taste, and add salt if needed.

After plating, drizzle with the red chili oil – the more you add, the spicier it gets!

If packing it up for the tailgate, add the red chili oil beforehand so it’s ready for dipping.

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