TV tailgating? Fans watch game outside stadium

Seniors, (L-R)Lindsay Flatter of Summerville and Griffin Childs of Atlanta, say they prefer to watch the game from the parking lot.  "I don't like going into the student section.  I think it's more fun to sit out here with our friends," says Childs.
Seniors, (L-R)Lindsay Flatter of Summerville and Griffin Childs of Atlanta, say they prefer to watch the game from the parking lot. "I don't like going into the student section. I think it's more fun to sit out here with our friends," says Childs. The State

The loudest roar of the night reverberated from Williams-Brice Stadium, and the veteran TV tailgaters a block away thought they knew what to expect.

"That's got to be a touchdown," one of them said.

Several seconds later, the 13 people sprawled around a 42-inch screen (and its backup 22-inch little brother) learned USC wide receiver Moe Brown had made it only to the Mississippi 9-yard-line before being tripped, ending a 69-yard reception.

Steve Cohen simply shook his head and flipped another hamburger patty on the grill.

The broadcast delay - it seemed to be about seven seconds - is about the only negative about TV tailgating, in Cohen's opinion.

"I've been in (Williams-Brice) for three games in the past 10 years. I like it better out here," said Cohen, who listens to radio broadcasts when the games aren't televised. "It's all about the socialization. Our motto is 'Once invited, always invited.'"

His T-shirt read: "I'd rather be tailgating." The sentiment would be more accurate if it added "than in the stadium."

The trend began years ago with the advent of the Cockabooses and then the tailgating condos, where fans pay a fortune for a place where some of them can watch games on TV while others go into the stadium.

In recent years, the practice has filtered down to the parking lots around the stadium, where the tech-savvy set up satellite dishes powered by portable generators. Large, flat-screen televisions make it easier to accommodate a crowd. Cohen even hooks up a surround-sound speaker.

"We used to do it off a power converter in a vehicle, but we need too much power now," Cohen said. "We grew out of the converter to the generator."

His setup included four long tables, a slow cooker, a grill and multiple coolers spread under awnings behind five parking spaces in the ETV lot. At the start of the second half of the Mississippi game, the Cohen crowd numbered 13, including a security guard catching a glimpse of the game and a hot dog snack.

"It's generally three groups," Cohen said. "People who don't have tickets. People who don't want to have the tickets, like me. And people who aren't allowed in."

That would include those extremely drunk before the game or those who leave the stadium at halftime. Because the game against Mississippi was competitive, the TV tailgating crowd didn't grow much after the half.


It's easy to find the TV tailgaters. Just look for the satellite dishes and listen for the generators. For the Mississippi game, there were three TV parties in the ETV lot and four in the State Fairgrounds lot.

Each had its own vibe. Cohen's felt like a big backyard cookout. Will McLaurin's setup seemed more like a bunch of folks in a crowded dorm room.

"I got on the Internet and bought a dish, brought the (satellite) receiver from my bedroom. My buddy had a generator, and my brother brought the TV," McLaurin said.

McLaurin actually went into the stadium to watch the game, but he left friends around the TV, which was perched in the bed of a black Chevy Z71 pickup. USC students Griffin Childs, a senior from Atlanta, and Lindsay Flatter, a senior from Summerville, said they prefer the parking lot view.

"The student section's too crowded," said Childs, leaning back in a collapsible chair. "I get claustrophobic."

"And somebody always throws up," added Flatter.


A few rows away in the fairgrounds lot, another gathering had the feel of a low-key sports bar. A group of 10 friends who grew up in the Chapin area drank beer, talked about old times and dissected football strategy.

"We started years ago with rabbit ears and a bad TV," said Nathan Christmus. "We get new pieces each year."

Now they have a 32-inch flat screen, a satellite dish and a 1,000-watt Husky inverter connected to battery of a black Nissan truck. They have to crank the truck briefly every 30 minutes to keep the battery from dying.

"It's much better out here," said Elizabeth Christmus. "Everybody can talk, and you're not sitting with people you don't know."

They're old pros at guessing what the stadium cheers mean before the plays show up on the TV - correctly predicting a sack and a holding call in the first five minutes.

"Out here, we get to dip a toe into the atmosphere without diving into the stadium," Nathan Christmus said.


If the Chapin group was like the bar from "Cheers," the party about 50 yards away resembled an all-night rave club. The pulsing bass from a stereo system easily drowned out the generator noise.

"We have another spot in Cocks Corner (parking area), but they don't like the loud music," said Jay Ruzensky of Columbia, the mastermind behind the setup. "Here we can play the music and nobody cares."

A few people paid close attention to the game on the 42-inch wide screen. But most of the action centered around a beer pong table with a lighted surface that pulsed to the beat of the music. Ruzensky created the table and hopes to patent it.

Participants aimed a ping-pong ball at half-filled cups of beer, and opponents had to drink the beer when a ball landed in the cup. The cups seldom stayed on the table long.

And for those worried about their liquor-based drinks getting warm, there was a contraption called a liquor luge - a sloped block of ice with swirling lanes melted in it. Just pour your drink in one end, and put a cup (or your mouth) at the other end of the luge lane. Voila, the drink is chilled.

"I want to be known as the spot to be when everybody else is in the game," Ruzensky said.

Gary Roberson built a special contraption to baffle the generator and make it easier to hear the TV. Watching the game with the Roberson crowd, you feel like you're in their living room.

Roberson just joined the TV tailgate scene this season. He switched his television provider to DirecTV so he could get the portable dish setup. Family members are still learning the nuances of leveling and pointing the satellite dish.

"We had a practice run in my daughter's backyard for the N.C. State game," Roberson said. "Everybody pulled their vehicles into her yard and set up just like we were here."

Roberson has season tickets, but he would rather watch in the parking lot on a beautiful, cloud-free night when the satellite reception is good.

The 42-inch screen fit snugly in the rear opening of a Chrysler Pacifica SUV. Family and friends in lawn chairs formed a semicircle around the TV. Because Roberson's TV was five parking spots inside one of the fairgrounds' pedestrian gates, passers-by formed a layer of stand-up viewers.

"We're making some friends," Roberson said.

About that time, someone in the family offered a beer to Brandon Nessler, a USC senior from Central who didn't know the Robersons.

"All my friends are in the game, but somehow I was the one who didn't end up with a ticket," Nessler said. "So I'm just wandering around watching TV in the parking lot."

Reach Holleman at (803) 771-8366.