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Michigan State football: What does the perfect tailgate look like?

Heaven? No, this is East Lansing.



Michigan State football
© Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State football tailgates come in all shapes and sizes, but what does my perfect tailgate look like?

Tailgating is a great tradition in East Lansing before Michigan State football games. Here’s my honest take on the experience.

Folks, we’re just eight days away from Michigan State football. That means from the time I’m writing this, we are roughly just 190 hours from the first cornhole boards being set up, the first tents and grills being unloaded, and the first smell of Fireball and light beers being cracked in this great football town.

Tailgating is a storied pastime for all football fans, and the Michigan State tailgate will always feel like home to me.

The coolest thing about East Lansing tailgates is that it feels like everyone knows everyone. I’m convinced I could just walk around campus and be offered 300 plates of food and 300 beers by complete strangers, simply because I’m wearing green and white. It’s awesome, and in my experience, I haven’t seen opposing fans be treated any differently than our own.

Recently, an article was dropped by a Wisconsin football fan from Outkick that highlighted his ideal tailgating experience. He included the things we all look for at college football tailgates in the Midwest. Notably, the desire to pick up all the women you can. Because nothing screams a good football pregame like an awkward first date. He also alluded to the need for great food and drinks. Which I agree with. Nothing fancy, and definitely no hot dogs. Brats are okay because that’s a man’s meal.

Don’t worry, I’m kidding; this is satire.

This guy’s take on a tailgate might be one of the worst ever, so I’m going to share my ideal East Lansing tailgate.

Whether it’s your first year tailgating in East Lansing, or you, your friends, and your family have had the same spot locked up for 25 years, everyone tailgates differently. I’ve seen pizza ovens — which is something we’re trying out this season at my tailgate. I’ve seen a big screen TV built into the side of a camper, and a few lawn chairs around a fire pit. I’ve witnessed the most diverse food and drink spreads, to the simplest. However you want to do it, is perfect, because that is what a tailgate is at the core.

The food

Food is a big thing for me. There’s nothing I love more than digging into some breakfast burritos for a noon game with College GameDay on in the background. Or a simple hot dog, or BBQ on the grill. I personally love the variety, with everything on my plate from mac and cheese, a burger, and a hot dog, to a pulled pork sandwich and brisket. I also love snacks. Chips and dip are king for me, and a perfect way to pad the blanket the beer and fireball gives me. Whether you go into the game or set up the TV and generator, I’ve seen food ranging from tacos and pasta to sliders and BBQ.

Don’t overthink it, eat what will make you happiest.

The drinks

In the article I referenced, the writer is big against cocktails. He wants the cooler loaded with manly light beers and seltzers, but only for the women. Hot take, I love to mix in a peach High Noon, or hard cider for the fall vibes. Coors Lights are great, but I’m a sucker for an IPA or craft beer when things pick up. Again, the best part of a tailgate is the variety you see.

Taking one out of @Sheehan_Sports playbook, when it comes to shots and liquor, I will never turn down some cinnamon whiskey, especially for those cold-weather games. I’ve been known to make some gin and tonics at the tailgate or indulge in some bourbon for the games with more on the line.

I think the 2021 Michigan game saw me drink all of these and more, just to get through the emotional roller coaster. The “take a shot for each Kenneth Walker touchdown” didn’t help either.

Games and activities

Listen, I’m going to be strict here. I think cornhole boards are a must at a tailgate — especially a tailgate in East Lansing. But, if the cornhole board takes up too much room in the car, just bring a football or any other lawn game. Honestly, there’s nothing better than seeing people, kids all the way to adults throwing the football around, doing their best Kirk Cousins impressions.

Personally, I love running the cornhole boards and enjoying the time with friends and family under the tent listening to music while watching the noon games. A little bit of everything. It’s supposed to be an experience.

Other stuff

Unlike our Wisconsin fan from the Outkick article, whatever works for you is what makes the best tailgate.

Music on a speaker is great, but understand that not everyone in your area wants to hear that. I feel as if a good tailgate should have a TV, or two. Even if you are going into the stadium, I still love to track the scores from the games before or help get the juices flowing with College GameDay on the screen. You can bring a grill, or just prepped food in trays, and bags of chips always work. Bring the coolers, a few tables, a few chairs, and a tent, and you’re already set. A firepit is awesome, especially for the cold weather games.

To wrap this up, there is no tailgate blueprint. You can go simple, or go big. Usually, I like to start with a few light beers, or maybe some Irish cream in your coffee for the early mornings.

Truly one of my favorite parts about football season in East Lansing is the tailgating experience. The buzz is in the air, no matter the team’s record that season. The footballs and bags flying around, the smell of food, and drinks, and smoke from a firepit in the air. The “It’s a beautiful day for football” that seems to reach the other side of Grand River. The fact that everyone is all gathered to root for Michigan State football.

It never gets old, so here’s to your tailgate, and the start of tailgate season. Just eight days away.

Writer and content creator for Spartan Shadows since 2022. Die Hard Michigan State fan. I've written articles focused on Basketball, Football, and Soccer at Spartan Shadows.