For the first three decades of their lives, former NFL football players Keith Sims’ and Matt Light’s only exposure to tailgating was through the windows of their cars or buses as they made their ways to their locker rooms. Game days, from the time they were in high school, were high-stakes work days, and both had had distinguished college careers, played 11 seasons in the NFL, and were elected to the Pro Bowl three times.
But it was after retirement, that the two found they had a new passion in common: tailgating in their RVs.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow! This is great!,” said Sims, who played offensive guard for the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins until 2000. “Tailgating parties are one of the friendliest places I know – good food and fellowship.”
Offensive tackle Light, who retired from the New England Patriots in 2012 with three Super Bowl Championship rings, was equally enthusiastic. “Tailgating is a cool way of saying ‘we’re going to eat well with all of our buddies,’” he said. “And nothing screams ‘awesome tailgate’ like an RV!’”
Light, Sims, and their families are now die-hard RV tailgating fans, attending Iowa State and Miami games in Sims’ case, and Purdue and Patriots games in Light’s case. The two also remain competitors, exchanging challenges and boasts about each other’s tailgate spreads in a recent Facebook Live conversation for Go RVing.
“You’re a competitive person if you’re an athlete,” said Sims, who recently competed in Camping World’s Great American Cookoff. “Grilling and BBQ’ing are definitely a competition. Wings, steaks… bring it on!”
Sim’s equipment of choice for indoor and outdoor cooking are a pellet smoker and a Blackstone flat grill.
“Food is always competitive,” echoes Light, who favors a Big Green Egg and a propane powered personal pizza oven. “Especially where there’s a local specialty like lobster boils and clambakes in the Northeast, steak and BBQ in the Midwest, or crawfish boils in the South.”
“We go big on the food and the presentation!” he added, saying it’s easy to cook gourmet foods with all the accessories the RV industry has invented.
When Sims and Light aren’t raving about the food they prepare and share when tailgating with their RVs, they’re promoting the comfort their “home away from home” provides at the football games.
“Depending on the stadiums and the rules in each state, we get to the parking lots as early as we can,” said Sims, noting that some college stadiums offer full RV hook-ups and allow campers to set up the night before a game. “We have the benefit of having all of our own stuff, a bathroom we don’t have to share and all the comforts of home.”
Sims lists among his must-haves for tailgating enough propane for his cooking appliances, a comfortable camping chair to watch pre- and post-game shows on his outdoor TV, and a football for playing catch. While he loves taking his wife and children to games, he sometimes hosts “Game Day Greatness” tailgates with his buddies, when he can “just be a guy, not a dad or a husband.”
Sims also likes visiting other RVers’ tailgate parties; he went to four different ones at a recent Miami game, where the RV lot was full and he had fun seeing old friends and making new ones. “I love bonding with the fans,” he said, adding with a laugh, “but not so much with fans of the opposing team!”
Light agrees about the convenience of RVs. “Everything is better when you have all of your creature comforts,” he says. Light also enjoys tailgating with his family, friends, and former teammates, some of whom also have RVs. Checking out each other’s rigs is part of the entertainment at tailgates, he acknowledges and often people want to peek inside his. Light especially enjoys going to Purdue games where his favorite RV belongs to THOR Industries’ Bob Martin’s and is fully decorated in the school’s colors.
Light and his wife, Susie, plan strategically for their tailgate parties, setting up early and either establishing a wide perimeter if they plan on hanging out after the game or scoping out an easy get-away spot if they have to leave early. Claiming cornhole was invented in Ohio, they travel with two sets and get their parties rocking with games, food, country or old school rap music, and a fully stocked cooler.
Light prides himself on the efficiency of his tailgates: he doesn’t like to leave things out when he goes into the stadium to watch the game or to return to a mess in the parking lot after the game. So, he is always sure to enlist a few buddies in cleaning up and putting everything away before the start of the game.
Both Sims and Light have come to love the RV lifestyle and the community of people it attracts, but their journeys here began at very different starting points.
It was at his wife, Tia’s, urging that Sims purchased their first RV seven years ago. Neither had ever done any camping or were particularly “outdoorsy,” but Tia wanted to homeschool their three younger sons and to travel to historic destinations that would bring their education to life. But at 6’3” and 245 lbs, Sims worried the camper would be too small. Fortunately, a unit with a king-size bed proved sufficient and he found an added benefit for his football-battered back and knees: the ability to easily stretch out and ice up while on road trips.
Today, his wife far prefers the RV to hotel rooms and Sims hates not having his RV on the road with him. Together, they started a website called Soulful RV Family, which encapsulates their faith and family values. Their goal is to encourage others – particularly minorities – to try RVing. They are also contributors to Go RVing, offering advice to its vast readership on such topics as Meal Planning Tips to Save Time, Money and Stress.
The Soulful RV Family travels year-round, exploring beaches and state parks in Georgia, where they are based, but also taking longer trips to destinations like Mt. Rushmore and Arcadia Park. The only thing holding them back now is, ironically, their son’s football schedule.
Light, on the other hand, got the RVing bug after a lifetime of enjoying the great outdoors. Now, his family of six travels frequently in their RV, often visiting sites and campgrounds between their home in Foxborough, Massachusetts to the summer camp they’ve built for at-risk children near Greenville, Ohio. Their nonprofit, The Light Foundation, helps kids to develop the skills to become responsible, ethical, and accountable leaders. Over 7,500 people visit their 500-acre rural property annually for programs, retreats, performances, outdoor sports and games, and building projects.
Light, himself, does a lot of building, including erecting an awning from his barn to protect his RV and installing electrical hookups throughout his properties. He shares his tips for thinking like an RVer in a series of videos for Go RVing’s First Timer’s RV Tool Kit.
You can find both Light and Sims at college and NFL games this fall, tailgating with their families and former teammates from the comfort of their RVs. Both will be rooting for their teams – and their enthusiastically prepared meals – to be winners!