HELENA – On Saturday morning, grills fired up again in the parking lot outside Carroll College’s Nelson Stadium. Hundreds of fans gathered there for the first tailgate of the season, ahead of the Saints football team’s opening home game against Montana Western.
Mick Robinson said his family and friends have been tailgating in the same spot since Nelson Stadium was built in 2000.
“We usually have maybe 50 people on a game day show up at the tailgate,” he said.
Robinson comes from a family with long-running ties to Carroll. He, his brother and his nephew all played football there. He said returning for a tailgate is a great way to kick off the fall season.
“It’s nice to get that first game going,” he said. “Football season’s pretty interesting here in Helena – high school as well as Carroll College – so it’s a nice time of year.”
Shane Larson and Justin Wigen both played on Carroll’s first national championship football team in 2003. Larson has been tailgating at Carroll since he graduated, and Wigen has been coming to the tailgates since he moved back to Helena in 2011.
“There were tailgates when we played,” said Larson. “It’s just a way to give back and keep up with the team and the Carroll community.
“Once a Saint, always a Saint,” Wigen said. “So you always support the group behind you, just like the group ahead of us supported us when we were playing.”
Of course, food and drink are big parts of the tailgate. But most say what’s more important is who they’re sharing them with.
“It’s getting together with friends and family,” said Robinson. “It’s just a nice little social gathering.”
“You play with your buddies out on the field, and then you move on in life, you get married, you have kids, and now you come to the tailgates and your kids play together,” said Wigen. “It’s just full circle, it’s great.”
It’s that tradition that keeps many of the tailgaters coming back, week after week and year after year.
“Win or lose, we will be here,” Robinson said.