Red, white and fun all over: Wolfpack fans have a tailgate party

aweigl@newsobserver.comSeptember 10, 2013 

N.C. State fans Don Annas and Will Autry have been members of the Wolfpack Club long enough that they could move their tailgating spot to a prime location closer to the stadium.

But the men refuse to be moved.

They like their spot just inside the entrance to Gate A. They get to watch the parade of students who tailgate at the fairgrounds walk past on the way to Carter-Finley Stadium. Their tailgate is well-known among the students for its mannequin dressed up as a wolf sitting on top of a red van. At the sight of the wolf, students point and chant the traditional “Wolf!” “Pack!” call and response.

Besides, many years ago Annas’ twin sons, David and Darrell, went to the trouble of sneaking two truckloads full of red gravel past some state troopers to decorate the parking spaces. (The red gravel makes it possible to clearly see their spot on Google Earth.)

The tailgating group was started in the mid-1980s by the boyfriend of Don Annas’ daughter. It was a mix of the young man’s college and high school friends. (Autry was one of those.) Don, 68, and his wife, Linda, 67, became the group’s unofficial parents.

“We gave them food to keep them from drinking too much,” Don Annas explained. “Everything was eaten on the buffet.”

Now more than 20 years later, those young men travel from Gastonia, Salisbury and Garner to bring their families to the tailgate.

“Now they don’t eat as much,” Annas said. “And they don’t drink as much.”

But they are serious about their food. The group always does a burger night, a seafood buffet with oysters and a chili cook-off near the end of the season. The last, Autry said, “is probably the most anticipated meal of the year.”

More than a dozen folks make chili for the contest, vying to have their name etched on a plaque as this year’s winner. The judges also hand out awards for the best hot dog chili and the chili most like spaghetti. To be a judge, Annas said, “You can’t have made the chili. You can’t be sleeping with the one who made the chili.”

To everyone’s surprise, Don Annas’ daughter, Tina, who does not like to cook, has won the chili cook-offs four times. (She refused to share her recipe.)

The group also has another tradition: most everyone comes out to eat again at halftime. N.C. State is one of the few universities that allow fans to leave the stadium and return for the second half – to the consternation of its new football coach, who after the season’s opener begged fans to come back for the second half. And these days, Don and Linda Annas usually stay behind to prepare the halftime meal.

For Don Annas, a Saturday tailgate doesn’t start when the tents are up, the N.C. State flags are flying or the wolf is perched on top of the van. It starts when he gets the first serving of Ashley Currin’s blueberry cobbler. (Currin of Salisbury picks the blueberries off 40-year-old bushes owned by another N.C. State fan who only lets other Wolfpack fans pick the berries.)

Ashley and Madison Currin’s son is among the next generation who will hopefully carry on this tailgating tradition. The couple, who met at N.C. State, have made sure their son’s initials reflect their collegiate allegiance. His name is Parker Anthony Currin.

Weigl: 919-829-4848; Twitter: @andreaweigl

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