Virginia Tech has a strong tradition of tailgating before football games, with many of the more fervent, die-hard fans arriving some four or five hours before the kick-off.

These Hokie fans are contributing to the reported $12 billion that the estimated 50 million tailgaters in America collectively spend every year on their spirited spread, according to Nationwide Insurance's website. 

Since around 35 percent of people who tailgate don’t even go into the stadium, this unique American pastime has fans hooked before, during and after the game.

The history of tailgating reaches back over a century, rooted in Civil War patriotism, which evolved into team comradery. 

The basics of tailgating – groups congregating with food and drink to cheer together for their ‘team’ – actually started at the 1861 Battle of Bull Run in the American Civil War when civilians from both sides gathered with picnic baskets to watch the battle and root for their soldiers.

A step in the evolution of tailgating was the invention of the chuckwagon, which was a U.S. Army wagon converted by Texas rancher Charles Goodnight into a wagon with a grill on the back.

The chuckwagon served “chuck” ground beef to cowboys that needed dinner when they weren’t near the ranch. The chuckwagon proved to be a good mobile meeting place for food and socializing.

There isn’t one official first instance of tailgating at a sporting event, the way most fans think of it today, however.

Theories abound, but none are certain. 

Some say that it started at Ivy League schools where parking was so limited that spectators had to arrive several hours early to get a spot, then, naturally, they would pass the time until the game with food and fun.

Another theory is that tailgating arose from a popular custom in the early 1900s, wherein families attend church together, then socialize and eat before walking to a nearby baseball game.

According to the American Tailgater Association, the practice developed from the first intercollegiate football game, which was between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869. Spectators gathered to grill sausages at the “tail end” of a horse, giving rise to the name.

A simpler, perhaps more likely theory, is that tailgating started in the 1900s when most people were travelling to a sporting event by train. Fans had to bring their own food as there were no food vendors in sports stadiums at that time, and thus the practice of modern tailgating was born.

These days, a walk through tailgating lots before a game will show T.V. monitors, monster R.V.s, cornhole games, elaborate catering spreads and more.

No matter what events led to the trend, tailgating is certainly going strong and is still evolving as one of America's favorite past times.