Flags flew, the smell of barbecue wafted freely and enthusiasm for the Mean Green filled the air among the tailgates surrounding Apogee Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
David Ray, 39, along with fraternity brothers, friends and family set up his custom trailer and smoker at their customary tailgating spot before Saturday’s football game between the University of North Texas and Louisiana Tech University.
Ray arrived with his trailer at 7 a.m. in order to get things ready for the rest of the crew to arrive.
His custom 1,000-pound smoker already was spreading the smell of post oak and barbecue throughout the area by early afternoon.
The right rig for the perfect ribs
Ray remembers frying fish and smoking meat with his brother and family friends from a young age.
“We’ve always cooked,” Ray said.
He got involved in competition barbecuing around six months ago and is preparing for his second competition next week.
Ray started looking for his own tailgating trailer in February with his brother, a competition barbecuer of two years. He made his selection but it still had a lot of work to be done before it was battle-ready.
The trailer was made by Freedom Trailers, but the smoker came from SLE Equipment, a company based in Nashville. Ray had additional modifications done by local workers to add the finishing touches.
The final product is a unique contraption fit for an aspiring pitmaster. It fits the 1,000-pound, 250-gallon smoker, contains a prep area, half-bathroom and a flat-screen TV. With everything folded away, the trailer even fits a golf cart.
At maximum capacity, the smoker is meant to hold 30 racks of ribs.
Where does the time go?
Rob McKinney is one of Ray’s fraternity brothers and frequent tailgaters. McKinney claims they started tailgating right around the time it was officially allowed in 1999, and they’ve been at it ever since.
Nearly 10 years of tailgating has provided a lot of changes for the Kappa Sigma brothers. Many have families, they’ve diversified their tailgating community and, of course, the toys get better with age.
“We’ve all reproduced, so it’s like the next generation of little fans,” McKinney said. “A lot of the kids know the fight song better than alumni.”
The generational appeal of the tailgate was apparent on Saturday. Ray and McKinney both have UNT alumni in their family, and each had their young children in tow.
Love for UNT already was a family affair with an uncle and father as alumni, but Ray found his wife through the football program.
Actually, he met his current in-laws before his wife. He ran into Jim and Diane Grandey, both of whom are UNT alumni, at football games while he was a student.
He didn’t meet their daughter and his future wife, Kim, until several years later.
“It was weird,” Kim Ray said. She isn’t a UNT alumna, but she “married into it.”
Regardless, the couple have passed their love of football onto their children, Cade and Ryann. The family occasionally will travel to Lubbock to see her alma mater, Texas Tech, play and to see her brother-in-law.
The tailgates give their kids a chance to get out and play with others in an environment where nearly everybody seems to be an aunt or uncle.
Countdown to kickoff
UNT fans went into Saturday’s game with four straight wins behind them, and the enthusiasm was visible. Tailgaters packed the area.
They stood by while Ray and his fellow cooks put the finishing touches on ribs, brisket, tenderloin and liver sausage. They whetted their appetites with cookies, chips and juice boxes.
Beer flowed, footballs flew and laughter mixed with barbecue to create an atmosphere only game day can create.
As far as tailgates are concerned, “You cannot find a better city [than Denton],” McKinney said. “It’s really just a big hodgepodge of everything.”
Fans were hopeful for a fifth victory, something that didn’t come with the evening’s match against Louisiana Tech.
Jim Grandey, Kim Ray’s father and a UNT alumnus, was excited for what the string of wins meant for the rest of the season.
“It’s fun to talk about,” he said. “We haven’t been able to talk about that kind of success in a long time.”
Regardless, Grandey wasn’t ready to bet it all on the impending game.
“There’s still a lot of football to be played,” he said.His hopeful optimism was a common theme among UNT fans, and the record-breaking attendance was proof of that.
Despite the close loss, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect the well of passion present at Saturday’s tailgate to return in two weeks when the Mean Green face off against the University of Southern Mississippi.