Wyoming fans tailgate before Wyoming's game against Washington State Sept. 1 outside of War Memorial Stadium in Laramie. Shannon Broderick/Laramie Boomerang

LARAMIE – For Tyrel Hulet and his friends, tailgating planning begins early in the week, usually Monday or Tuesday.

Inside their private Facebook group, 7220 Tailgating Association, Hulet will post an event page detailing the upcoming Saturday’s plans. This one is particularly special, since they’re working on ironing out the particulars for the first home game of the 2018-19 season, when the University of Wyoming Cowboys will take on the Washington State Cougars.

This is the main reason he’s even kept his Facebook group active, because the social media platform makes it easier to create event pages that his friends can easily keep track of.

Hulet admits the party won’t be as large as normal, since the game is taking place during Labor Day weekend and many of the group members are taking advantage of one of the final times they can head up to the mountains before the snowy season begins.

“It always bums me out when they schedule home games on Labor Day weekend, but at least we have a great matchup for Saturday,” he relayed in a Facebook message earlier in the week. “But maybe we’ll have a better turnout than expected because of the good game last weekend (referring to UW’s 29-7 win over New Mexico State on Aug. 25).”

The group isn’t going to let the smaller gathering get them down, though.

They’re working out shopping lists, since they have a themed party every time they tailgate. This weekend, they’ll have a taco bar, with various types of drinks being offered. One of the members even volunteers to leave his car in their favorite spot Friday night, just so they can guarantee it’ll be open for them the next morning.

“We don’t want anyone taking our spots like last year,” he jokes in a post in the group.

Game day

It’s a beautiful, unseasonably warm Saturday morning in Laramie when the Cowboys fans come out.

The street across from War Memorial Stadium is lined with enthusiastic people decked in head-to-toe brown and gold. They cheer at every passing car, letting everyone in the general vicinity know how excited they are for kickoff, which will take place in just a few hours. Many are playing games of cornhole, tossing footballs around or just sitting in portable chairs, talking animatedly about the upcoming game.

The air smells of smoke and bratwursts. Breakfast for many who are at the tailgating park will consist of hot dogs, burgers or other grilled goods.

Hulet and his friends have gotten started slightly later in the morning than other hardcore fans, setting up their tents, chairs and grill around 9:30 a.m. Tailgating in Laramie can start at 8 a.m. on game days like this, and many have taken that rule to heart, getting out to the parking lot as early as possible.

Laramie lawyer Baend Buus is one of the few helping get the tents planted into the ground, along with Hulet’s parents, who drove down from Buffalo to help celebrate the occasion.

Buus has been tailgating with the association for about four or five years, which started by accident.

“A group of classmates of mine from the university’s law school would have huge tailgating parties at the opposite end of the lot,” he said. “Our spot got stolen for one game, but I knew Tyrel and all of these guys, so we basically just joined up with them. Now we’ve got an even better tailgate. The people out here are the reason we keep coming out. We’re here for this collective moment, and we want to cheer these guys on. I can’t speak for the team, but I’d like to think it gets them hyped up to see all of us out here supporting them.”

As the morning goes along, more members of the tailgating association will join in the fun, arriving with their arms loaded with grocery bags filled to the brim with tortillas, salsa, sour cream and shredded cheese for the lunch. Once Hulet and his wife, Rachel, come back from parking another car, he immediately begins grilling steak and chicken, with the air soon becoming filled with fantastic aromas.

Occasionally, fans of the Washington State Cougars will pass by, with the 7220 Tailgating Association and other Cowboys fans jokingly booing or heckling them. Obviously, it’s all in good fun, but they still want to assert their dominance.

Even though everything has come together easily on this particular morning, it’s taken almost a decade to nail down this process.

Hulet and a group of friends began tailgating in 2008, when the University of Wyoming first allowed these celebrations on school grounds.

At first, it was just him and a handful of friends drinking beer in the lots, anxiously waiting for the games. But in the last five years or so, there was a shift. The Cowboys began winning more and more, and the excitement was just infectious.

Now, the Facebook group boasts around 100 members from all over the country, but most who regularly attend the games are from Laramie, Cheyenne and the Front Range region. Some games can draw a little more than a dozen members, but others can draw at least half of the members, along with their significant others and friends they might bring along for the experience.

And even though most, if not all, of the 7220 Tailgating Association have graduated from the school, there’s no doubt they are still Cowboys at heart.

“It’s the pride in the University of Wyoming and the state of Wyoming that keeps us tailgating after all these years,” Hulet said. “It brings people back to Laramie, and we get to see each other for a few times each year. It’s just fun to do this. You can get day drunk, play games and just hang out. You can see everyone here in brown and gold and realize this school has had a profound effect on our lives. The pride is definitely always there, even if we’re not having a great football season.”

Although the Cowboys fans are ultimately disappointed by their favorite college team’s loss, there’s no doubt they’ll be back out in front of the stadium in less than a week, drinking, laughing and cheering on the team that keeps their hope alive.

“There’s no better way to show how true of a fan you are than to be at Tailgate Park before the game,” Buus said. “I think we could be on the level of Louisiana State University or some schools like that, because we’re the only state team. This group wants to make tailgating as big as possible. If people can see us out here for every home game in the same spot, cooking food, setting up our flags, then we can make it even better and celebrate the Cowboys together.”

Ellen Fike is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s features editor. She can be reached at efike@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3135. Follow her on Twitter @EllenLFike

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