Meet Tailgate Gruden: How a group of Clemson fans turned a forgotten bobblehead into a pregame fixture By Josh Schafer
For a little more than a year, Jon Gruden has attended every Clemson tailgate.
Well, sort of.
When Syracuse traveled to Clemson on Saturday, Scott Bagwell held his usual tailgate in Lot 3, outside of Littlejohn Coliseum where the Tigers play basketball. The pregame event — one held by Bagwell and his family in the same spot for more than 50 years — featured orange and purple canopies, fried chicken sandwiches, dozens of koozies and a beverage selection equivalent to that of a small bar. Out in front of the site, presented for all to see, stood Tailgate Gruden, a 4-foot tall bobblehead version of the first-year Oakland Raiders coach.
“I don’t mind (Tailgate Gruden),” said Paula, Bagwell’s wife. “It’s just … a few too many beers and he ended up with us, which he shouldn’t have.”
On Sept. 16, 2017, Bagwell and his crew of tailgaters invaded a bar parking lot outside of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Before an 8 p.m. start between the Tigers and Cardinals, Bagwell headed to the bathroom in the bar, which he nor any of his tailgating partners could recall the name of.
In the corner of the room, between the bar and the bathroom, stood the yard-gnome version of the 2003 Super Bowl-winning coach dressed in Corona Extra gear as part of an ad campaign. Bagwell grinned. He asked the owner if he could bring Gruden out to his tailgate for photos. The owner obliged.
“Just bring him back,” the owner said while walking him out to Bagwell’s crew.
When the Clemson crew returned to their tailgating spot after the 47-21 Tiger victory, the bar was locked. Bagwell and his brother-in-law Marty Osborn, among other tailgaters, threw Gruden in the trunk and headed back to South Carolina.