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Hands down, a Rose Bowl tailgate party is hard to beat

A sojourn through the arroyo on game day turns up plenty of hospitality — and a challenging drinking game.

Chris Erskine

January 3, 2013

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As with many of the arts, there is a protocol for doing the proper kegstand, a heels-over-head staple of tailgate parties and bowl games across the land.

It should be attempted only by the fittest and most deviant among us. A helmet would be wise, though I've never seen one worn.

Tried my first kegstand the other day at the Rose Bowl. It was a grand game, held as always in an arroyo in west Pasadena. Or as Wisconsin Badgers fans now refer to the place, Les Miserables.

Imagine paying for three straight disappointments, the way they have. How many cows must you milk, how much butter must you churn, only to have your heart broken like that?

Then again, if you've ever been to Pasadena, you know a visit is worth every sacrifice. There's the Cheesecake Factory and that new joint, Kings Row. A couple of nice libraries.

That's about all that comes to mind. But next year, there's the 100th Rose Bowl, followed by the very last Bowl Championship Series title game a week later. Can you just imagine Pasadena then? Brings to mind Paris after they evicted the Nazis and everybody started French kissing.

Anyway, back to the tailgating. We're wandering the south end of the Rose Bowl, which just doesn't get the kind of ink the grassier north end does, and that's a shame, for there is a lot going on. In Lot H, foodie Adam Richman is hosting a taste-off in front of Stanford and Wisconsin fans. (I was a judge.)

The bratwurst win, of course, over rib-eye tacos served up on Stanford's behalf. I think organizers were at a loss to come up with food that represented Stanford. When I mentioned "hubris and a $75 bottle of pinot," one of the PR types got sort of pained, as if appendicitis had suddenly set in. So much for an honest thought.

From there, my buddies and I added five college punks to the entourage. Three of them were visiting from back East, so we wanted for them the quintessential Rose Bowl experience. As you know, I believe alcohol should be reserved for cough syrup and wedding toasts, but it seemed rather mean-spirited to deprive the college kids of an authentic New Year's Day tradition.

Across the arroyo we headed.

This is my favorite part of college football, this social free-for-all, this culture of friendship and inclusion that allows you to crash almost any tailgate party you'd like, with complete strangers — soon to be complete friends — offering food and beverage and conversation. It is America's autumnal Mardi Gras.

"Happy New Year!" we say as we drop in on an extremely understanding group of Stanford fans near the RV section, where they paid $300 just to park.

We do not come entirely empty-handed. My buddy Eugene is lugging a thermos of really rich bloody Marys — cooked up in our kitchen and perhaps the finest achievement of mankind — and Charlie is carrying plastic cups. I'm the platoon leader. Except in this case my comrades don't have my back the way a real platoon would. At the first sign of unpleasantness, they would all run.

But the Stanford folks could not have been nicer, warmly welcoming the kids from the East Coast and letting us hang with them after we explain we have nowhere else to go.

Nearby is a group of Wisconsin fans, who are using a beer keg like a jungle gym. This is where the headstand, or, in the vernacular of the sport, the "kegstand" takes place.

"Hey, anybody wanna do a kegstand?" their leader calls over, and of course I do, because I don't want to be rude and pretend that doing a kegstand is beneath me. Basically, nothing is beneath me except a $20 pair of Keds.

So, up I go, two dudes grabbing my legs so that I am sort of over the keg, though more horizontal than head-first vertical.

Enriching the kegstand experience is that you have to drink from the keg as you do this. As I said, I shun alcohol except during illness or religious ceremony, but this tasted pretty good — one of the light domestics with a pretty good chill on it.

Then my buddy Eugene did his first kegstand as well. The kids, all of whom were 21, refused. Which I think showed excellent sense.

Then we wandered around some more — through a VIP tent and finally into the stadium, the rosiest Rose Bowl ever, a red sea.

The game itself was good, even great at times.

Poor Badgers. Wished for them a better outcome, for their fans are truly gracious, wonderful guests, coming all this way, most by snowmobile.

I'd like to think they'll be back again soon, but the specter of Urban Meyer now hangs over them like Sweet William's Ghost.

Probably, that's when Les Mis really sets in.

"It is on December nights ... that we most think of the sun," goes the play.

And so goes Wisconsin.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes