Hockey fans become like family at Hurricanes tailgates
Grant Davis and Mark Paul technically aren’t professional tailgaters - there’s no such thing - but if it did exist, the two Carolina Hurricanes fans have it down to a science.
Six hours before the Canes were set to host the New York Islanders in Game 4 of the NHL Playoffs, Davis and Paul pulled into their usual spots, located across the street from PNC Arena, just off to the side of Carter-Finley Stadium.
Doesn’t matter who arrives first, but the parking has to be the same - Davis has his white Ford F250 to the left of a black Dodge Ram 1500 that belongs to Paul. The trucks have to be in that order, just one of their superstitions. The duo didn’t mind admitting they’ve worn the same clothes for Game 4 as Game 3 - washed of course.
Since the 2006 season they have owned the same spots. Davis started tailgating in 2002 and met Paul four seasons later. They were two of the first tailgaters to arrive in the parking area just after 1 p.m. Friday, unloading their trucks (chairs, tables, grills) like they’ve done so many times in the past, usually in less than 10 minutes.
In a few, the grill would fire up, starting off with hotdogs for lunch, but saving room for the Philly cheesesteaks later. Davis, of Garner, said he expected 18-20 people in his group. Their biggest group (in 2006) they estimated about 40 people showed up. Paul added they were willing to feed anyone who strolled over, including the parking lot patrol and even fans of opposing teams.
Asked why make an entire day out of tailgating, Davis didn’t even have to think for long before asking, “Would you rather be at work?”
Paul and Davis hit it off many years ago when Paul saved the tailgating tent that belonged to Davis after a gust of wind almost took it away. Actually, Davis was in the building, and his wife - a petite woman according to Paul - was hanging on for dear life trying to save the tent. Paul came over to lend a hand and a friendship made in tailgating heaven was made.
“We’ve been tailgating every since,” the duo in perfect unison, like they’ve said that line thousands of times before.
When Carolina hosted the NHL All-Game in 2011, Davis and Paul welcomed friends in the parking lot for breakfast, lunch and dinner that Saturday and Sunday. During football season they’ll tailgate for the hockey game on Friday night, the NC State game on Saturday and the hockey game again on Sunday.
Why even go home, right?
“Tell her that,” Paul said pointing to his wife sitting nearby. “We’ve been talking about this.”
Davis even joked they should buy one of the new townhouses being built on Trinity Road, and could use it as their hockey/football home. They’ve been outside through ice storms, extreme heat and single-digit wind chill factors. In those cases of extreme cold they set up shelters, put a heater inside and the show goes on.
The group has gone through the good and the bad of the Carolina Hurricanes. They both became full time season ticket holders before the 2005-06 season and eventually got spots next to each other.
“We wouldn’t know what to do if one of us were out here without the other,” Davis said.
Davis and Paul were united by tailgating. Their stories started in Pennsylvania and both relocated to Wake County years ago. They grew up in towns separated by less than two hours in Pennsylvania, but have become almost inseparable in the Tar Heel state. Their football allegiances are different - Davis likes ECU, Paul likes NC State - but the Canes have brought the duo, and their families together for years.
“You become very close with everybody, even doing this time and outside of hockey,” Paul said. “They come to their children’s weddings and other special events. They become part of your internal family. It’s a good thing. We share the same likes.”
Their kids even grew up together thanks to the big tailgate. Davis’ daughter walked up moments after the chips and dip hit the table. Paul said his daughter was on the way. The event has become a weekly family reunion throughout the years.
“It’s almost like your best friend next door,” Davis said. “Coming out here is like an extension of that. We’ve grown up together.”