Howard is late to the tailgating game, explained Keith Benn, a former vice president of the school’s alumni association. As the Kennett Square, Pa., resident stood near his pot of seafood boil — a pungent, Louisiana-style mixture of boiled red potatoes, corn on the cob, kielbasa, hard-cooked eggs and shrimp — he said that Howard president Sidney A. Ribeau introduced tailgating not long after the administrator took over the school in 2008. The first tailgate party attracted perhaps 12 people, Benn noted, but “it’s been growing every year.”
For the homecoming contest — the only game this season in which Howard is allowing tailgating — more than a dozen pop-up tents were set up, serving fare beyond the standard burgers and dogs grilled in a Weber kettle. Hungry alumni, students or even curious passersby could sample widely from tables stacked with Louisiana gumbo, stuffed jalapenos wrapped in bacon, smoked porgy caught off the Massachusetts coast, fiery jerk chicken, slow-smoked bone-in pork shoulder, barbecued pork ribs rubbed with at least five seasonings, and, in apparent violation of the school’s tailgating rules prohibiting portable fryers, thin fillets of fried whiting and fried turkeys. It was a picnic-eaters’ paradise.
Howard’s pre-game (not to mention mid-game and post-game) smorgasbord has flourished so quickly that it captured the attention of Southern Living, which named the school’s tailgating scene among the South’s 20 best. The magazine’s editors placed Howard’s tailgate among the “style setters,” noting the student body “sports the styles that have earned students mentions on best-dressed lists.” Howard’s fashion sense, alas, didn’t help the school win Southern Living’s vote for best tailgate: Clemson University took top honors, followed by the University of Mississippi in the No. 2 spot.
Perhaps it’s the bias of a reporter focused on food, not fashion, but Howard’s saliva-inducing selection of parking-lot comestibles was more tantalizing than the eye-candy collection of skin-tight leggings, sagging jeans, sideways ball caps, loose-fitting jerseys, T-shirts, leopard-print pants and spiky heels. All you had to do was wander over to the tables near the tent decorated with New Orleans Saints banners and second-line parade parasols: It was virtually an open-air Louisiana kitchen.
Interestingly enough, no one working the Louisiana-themed space was a Howard grad. The tent was, essentially, an extension of the annual (and massive) crawfish boil that Louisiana natives Umekki and Lance Curry host every Memorial Day weekend at the District Yacht Club. The couple was joined by friends and/or fellow Pelican State transplants such as Clinton resident Tony Harkley (who was manning the three-basket fryer filled with peanut oil for that crispy fried fish), Craig Jones of Laurel (who developed the canyon-deep flavors of his seafood-and-sausage gumbo without a lick of roux) and part-time Logan Circle resident Phillip Jones (whose dry-rubbed baby-back ribs were practically served blackened-style, a la Paul Prudhomme, slow-smoked with layers of garlic powder, black pepper, Hungarian sweet paprika, cumin and Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning).