At 10:30 a.m. Saturday, North Carolina legislators were sipping on ice-cold cans of Old Tuffy beer, toasting to the historic moment of buying alcohol inside Carter-Finley Stadium at N.C. State University.
“It’s the first time that beer has actually been sold in our college stadiums,” said N.C. House Majority Leader John Bell. “It just so happened the first North Carolina game is North Carolina State versus East Carolina so it’s a great in-state rivalry.”
Bell helped craft the bill to allow alcohol sales at collegiate athletic events that became state law this summer. He said it’s been the most popular bill he’s worked on.
“It provides a really friendly fan environment,” Bell said. “We need to make sure that every college football game in North Carolina is packed and this just adds to the fan expectation.”
NC State was one of seven schools in the University of North Carolina System that took advantage of the law and will be selling alcohol on game days this year.
“It needed to happen 15 years ago,” said Justin Hefner, a 25-year-old graduate student. “It’s awesome because we actually get to enjoy a beverage inside the game, regardless of the price.
“We are super excited. I’m glad they finally passed the legislation,” Hefner said. “Let’s keep it going forever.”
Despite the excitement leading up to the day, fans didn’t flood into the stadium to buy beer or hard seltzer as soon it opened. There were no lines at the four beer stations around the concourse for the first hour the vendors started selling. Most of the students who waited to get in headed straight to the student section to get the best seats in the Wolfpack club, not to buy beer.
Fans continue the tailgate into the stadium
Outside the stadium, thousands of students, alumni and local fans cracked open cans of the new NC State beer at tailgates that have been raging for three hours.
“It’s a good time, everyone looks forward to it every year,” NC State senior Norma Miller said. “We’ve been counting down the days to tailgate season.”
Students pitched tents and sit in truck beds, playing beer pong, tossing bags onto painted cornhole boards while crushing beers and white claws. They waited eight months for the WolfPack football season to start. They say it’s the best tailgate scene in the state.
“Beer prices are pretty steep inside,” said Brian Mericka, a 21-year-old senior at NC State. “You try to get your worth out here and then go in.”
A 19.2 ounce can of Old Tuffy, a 16 ounce Truly and a 16 ounce Trophy Brewing Co. IPA cost $9.
A 16 ounce can of Bud Light, Coors Light or Miller Lite is $8.
The beer sales inside the stadium didn’t deter their pre-game traditions. They say they aren’t planning on drinking any less or going into the stadium any earlier. But, they are excited to buy a $9 Old Tuffy at the game.
“I’m definitely going to have one because it’s memorable because it’s the first year,” Miller said.
Across the street in another lot, three generations of NC State fans celebrated the start of the season. The Annas family has been hosting this tailgate since 1985 when the children, who now have kids of their own, were in college.
It’s an elaborate set-up with a bus that has giant inflatable wolves on top, a grill that could probably hold 50 burgers and tents with large flags to mark their spot.
Dozens of family and friends were there all morning to keep the tradition alive. But this day was more special than most for a reason other than buying an Old Tuffy inside the stadium.
“This is a special year because Don of Don’s tailgate went to heaven a few weeks ago,” said Tina Walton, Don’s daughter. “So we’re going to keep coming in memory of him and make a toast every year.”
Old Tuffy tastes better in the stadium
Lifelong fans were easy to come by at the season opener.
NC State alumna Lori Willford said she’s been a fan for 45 of the 46 years she’s been alive. She and her husband Troy were inside the gates an hour before kickoff to try her first Old Tuffy.
“I just walked in and this is the first thing I bought,” Willford said holding her commemorative beer. “I said, let’s go on and get in and enjoy the celebration because you can party inside now.”
“This is my first sip of Old Tuffy,” Willford said. “It’s delicious. It’s hearty like the Pack.”
As the stadium filled after kickoff at noon, the beer lines grew.
Fans waited anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to buy a beer or a Truly during the first half. Many quickly slipped on koozies to keep the drink cold in the 88-degree heat.
Beer cans were scarce in the student section stands, but some said Old Tuffy tastes better inside the stadium.
“I’ve had the Old Tuffy a few times and it’s been great every time,” said Holden Ray, a 22-year-old junior and former NC State cheerleader. “But I feel like just in this atmosphere with NC State football kicking off it might just taste a little bit better.”
Several students and fans said they thought the beer sales would keep people in their seats through half-time. With NC State’s “pass-out” policy, fans can leave the stadium and return, which many of them do to refuel on food or alcohol.
“I think it’s going to help people from not leaving,” NC State senior Alexa Sayre said while holding a Wild Berry Truly hard seltzer.
But the concession stands had longer lines than the beer tents at half time. Thousands of seats were still empty at the start of the third quarter. And NC State head football coach Dave Doeren didn’t shotgun a beer at the 50-yard line.
The beer sales continued pretty steadily through the game until police officers cut off the lines a few minutes before the fourth quarter. As expected, every beer stand closed promptly at the announcement of the end of the third quarter.
The fans started filtering out when it became clear the Wolfpack was running away with the game. The final score was 34-6. As the stands emptied, beer cans were left scattered behind.
What other NC schools are selling beer this season?
A few other universities around the state will have beer on tap at football games this season.
UNC-Chapel Hill will serve beer and wine starting at the home opener Sept. 7.
ECU fans can buy beer and wine when they return to Greenville for the home opener Sept. 7, too.
Appalachian State University, N.C. A&T University, UNC-Charlotte have also approved alcohol sales at their football stadiums.
According to the DesMoines Register in 2018, the colleges join the more than 50 Football Bowl Subdivision programs that sell beer at their sports venues on or off campus.