Tigers fans go back to tailgating while mask mandate is in effect

Published: Sep. 4, 2021 at 9:00 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tiger football and tailgating were back in Memphis Saturday. For the first time since 2019 regular season games are open to tailgaters. Last year the pandemic, which continues to surge in the Mid-South, prevented tailgaters from celebrating.

At the home opener Saturday, the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium could also fill to capacity for the first time since the pandemic began.

Fans were happy to be back for what they say is a chance to feel a little normal. They said they’re ready to follow the health directives in place to get back to cheering on the Tigers.

“We missed it all last year. All we talked about during the year and the pandemic was we want to get the boys back together,” Tigers fan Cody Garbuzinski said.

“Going out there and kicking the soccer ball and throwing the football with the kids and talking to the people next door it’s almost like we reconnected from 2019,” Tigers fan Chris Kirk said.

Like in 2019, the grills were hot, friends were together and the energy of Tiger Football was all around the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

But masks and thoughts of an ever present pandemic brought some fans back down to the reality of 2021.

“To be back after a year of the pandemic, I know we’re still in it but there are safety measures, and it feels really good,” Tigers fan Sonya Bryson said.

In accordance with the current Shelby County Health Directive masks have to be worn while inside the indoor facilities of the Liberty Bowl. University of Memphis staff also encourage them while outdoors where social distancing is hard.

Those are a few protocols many fans here are willing to abide by.

“We’re going to wear our masks. We’re fully vaccinated but want to take that extra level of precaution,” Bryson said.

“We got our tigers mask. It’s just the way it is,” Kirk said.

Tailgaters were only feet away from the Pipkin Building where vaccinations have been administered for months. Shelby County is now averaging more than 1,700 shots administered a day. On Saturday though the county had more than 7,600 active COVID-19 cases.

“If everybody does their part and gets vaccinated we’ll be able to do what we did before,” U of M Freshman Elizabeth McDaniel said.

For students like McDaniel, the opportunity to feel like a normal college experience is possible brought them out.

“Going into my Freshman year of college I wasn’t expecting to do these things because of COVID but being able to do it I feel really lucky,” McDaniel said.

“I haven’t been back in over a year I’m so excited to be at a football game. I’m so excited,” U of M student MaKayla Griffin said.

Tigers fans are trying to get back to where they left off, though much has changed in the world since then.

“Obviously everyone has their masks and things like that, but the energy and the culture it’s still that same welcoming, hospitality like I’m used to,” Griffin said.

To find a list of vaccination locations in Shelby County click here.

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