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Play by Play | By Khary McGhee

11/01/2008 06:05PM ● Published by Anonymous

Kenny Godwin's Saturdays usually begin on Fridays. First, there’s a trip to the market. Then, the Fayetteville building contractor preps his pig cooker and a platform that serves as a makeshift patio. And finally he loads everything for the early-morning trip to Carter-Finley Stadium at North Carolina State University. When he rolls into his usual spot, right next to his brothers-in-law, everything is decked out in the Wolfpack’s signature red and white.

It’s time to tailgate.

Godwin wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, he began hosting his pre-game festivities in an effort to combine his love of N.C. State football with his love for family.

"I guess it started about 20 years ago when my son started going to State," Godwin said. "You go to the games to support your team. Tailgating is just a good way to get together and have a good time with your family and friends before the game." But given the equipment that tailgaters haul out to college and professional football stadiums each weekend, it's safe to say that tailgating nowadays isn't just a simple gathering of friends. Over the years, Godwin has seen tailgating accoutrements become more elaborate and technologically advanced. In fact, he was a bit of a tailgating innovator himself.

"I remember the first time I saw one of those (canopies) that you see everywhere now," Godwin said, referring to the colorful picnic canopies commonplace at tailgates. "Back then I saw one, and I said to myself, 'I got to get me one of those.' I had to call California to order it." These days canopies are just the tip of the iceberg. It's not uncommon to see meat smokers, tricked-out campers and televisions equipped with satellite feeds in stadium parking lots before kickoff.

"It's like an arms race," said Eric Rivenbark, a Fayetteville banker who tailgates with his family at East Carolina home football games. "There's a little bit of people trying to outdo each other."

That's especially the case at football hotbeds deeper in the Southeast, Rivenbark said. He's traveled to the University of South Carolina, Auburn University and the University of Alabama to see the Pirates play, and he said those fans take tailgating to a new level.

"Their fans get it," Rivenbark said. "It's kind of like 'Pimp My Ride' with some of the things you see with the campers and stuff. You see big-screen TVs and the big grills attached to the hitches.”

Things are a tad less serious for fans of North Carolina's football teams. But local fans definitely try to enjoy some of the finer comforts of tailgating.

"It's a progression," said Rivenbark, who marks his family's tailgate outside East Carolina's Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium with a raised Pirate flag. "Over time you try to add a better grill, more comfortable seating. You add things that enhance your tailgate. We don't do anything too crazy."

Neither does David Baskett, a veteran tailgater who is bringing skills learned tailgating at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill football games to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. UNCP is a college football newbie; the school resuscitated its football program after 50 years without one.

Baskett's son, Taylor, is the kicker for the Braves football team, and the entire family drives down from Fayetteville to join friends for pre-game tailgates outside UNCP's Grace P. Johnson Stadium. The school's tailgate might not be as elaborate as the bigger schools in the state, but David Baskett thinks UNCP holds it own.

"They've done a great job of creating a really nice environment," he said. "There's a good crowd that comes out. It’s a good atmosphere for fans, for students, and I think it helps with recruits to the program.“

UNCP holds a tailgating advantage that his alma mater doesn't have — space. When it comes to tailgating, parking lots are prime real estate in Chapel Hill, and the closer to Kenan Stadium the better. "It can be a good atmosphere up at Carolina," David Baskett said. "You have 'Tar Heel Town' and the 'Old Well walk' where the players walk through campus with the band playing and all.

"But because of the parking situation it can be difficult to have the kind of atmosphere that you have at other places. You can wind up parking two miles away from the stadium."

While the tailgate might be a big deal for fans, most would agree that it doesn't take precedence over the actual games. But for some fans, the tailgate serves as a salve for the hurt suffered by supporting a bad football team.

"In years that we weren't very good when John Thompson was coach and we won three games in two years, tailgating helped make things easier," Rivenbark said. "I go into every game thinking that we can win. But those years were a reality check for us. But you still looked forward to the tailgate."

Godwin agreed that the games will always be the focus for tailgaters. "You start the day with your friends and family, and then you get to enjoy the game," Godwin said. "Tailgating is fun, but I look forward to the games."

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