As the sport gained popularity, it inspired families to celebrate.
Part of the U.S. landscape for more than 100 years, football has gained more than a toehold in American culture at large and in Appalachian cities and towns. Appalachians cheer for teams from youth leagues, like the Tri-State Football League based in West Virginia, to the professional level, like the Carolina Panthers, Tennessee Titans or Atlanta Falcons.
Appalachian families today organize their activities on Thanksgiving Day around football games. But while pro football has rabid fans from coast to coast, it’s the local games that attract scores of families. In fact, tailgating found in pro football parking lots began on college campuses, as the college game preceded the professional game in popularity. So with this in mind, let’s take a look at the Appalachian family traditions surrounding the sport.
An activity that has inspired many books (especially cookbooks), tailgating is a social bonding experience akin to age-old community events such as corn shucking and hog killing. Fans arrive at the stadium parking lot hours early to eat, drink and get ready for the game. Tailgating involves the whole family and occurs at nearly every level of football.
Although its origins may stretch back before football, tailgating has become a cultural phenomenon, especially at the college level. Some families plan for months to host tailgating parties that rival anything else throughout the year, including the Thanksgiving Day feast. Others have taken the activity to gourmet heights, renting RVs and tents while hiring catering firms to feed the family and friends of the football fans.
Tailgating parties help build community spirit, supplanting the front porch or contra dance party. And since alumni of Appalachian colleges and universities become dedicated fans of their alma mater’s football teams, the schools encourage it. Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, for example, actually holds a Tailgate of the Game contest for the home games of the Mountaineers.
Thanksgiving and Football
The Thanksgiving holiday and football games go together like corn mazes and pumpkin patches. In some quarters, the professional games offer post-meal television entertainment for the entire clan. In fact, the mealtime itself often is arranged to allow the family fans time to settle in front of the television for the games.
For other families, the holiday highlight involves the local college game, especially if a family member or friend attended that institution. Braving cold weather, the family attends the game to cheer on its sons and local teams. The sport has become as much a part of the day’s festivities as turkey and mashed potatoes.
Other Football Traditions
Sometimes, special games or events capture the country’s attention even when families have no personal stake in the outcome. For example, the annual Army-Navy game blends patriotism and college football into a spectacle that inspires every American. And Appalachian families are proud of their military heritage.
But the sport has integrated itself into other family traditions as well. For example, some families play friendly games of touch football at every reunion. Other families instill pride in the local team. American football may not be recognized as the country’s official “pastime,” but it plays an integral part of American and Appalachian culture in the early fall and well into the winter.