Wil Peifley stood in the Naval Academy parking lot and shaved. Smackin the middle of the tailgate party, he plugged his electric razor into a portable generator and cut the whiskers from his face.
It all makes perfect sense to the six-year veteran of Navy Fest. He drove his recreational vehicle 200 miles, all the way from Allentown, Pa. And he arrived the night before the pregame bash started.
Camping out in the stadium parking lot overnight beats a hotel, he says, and saves money to boot. "It's very convenient. We don't haveto run around."
Peifley and his wife, Janet, started coming to Navy football games when their son, Tim, entered the academy in 1985.
"This is the first game he's missed in six years," Janet Peifley said, explaining that Tim is in Santiago, Chile, this year.
Not onlydo the Peifleys come a day early to start the party, they stay a daylate. "My wife goes to church on Sundays, so we leave around 1:30," the husband said.
The Peifleys were just one of thousands who tookpart in the pregame revelry. Two hours before the 7 p.m. kickoff, the parking lot was full of people eating, drinking and reminiscing about bygone Navy days.
There were large groups and intimate twosomes, groups that set up tents and others who ate off their cars.
Someset up elaborate tables, complete with real plates, tablecloths and flowers for a centerpiece. Others put out a spread and encouraged anyone passing by to grab a snack.
Even the managing sports editor for USA Today, Jene Policinski, was on hand -- although he was rooting for Ball State.
And if the hot dogs and steaks and imported beer and potato salad wasn't enough, Domino's Pizza sent delivery people out into the lot to sell special eight-inch pies.
"We tell them theygo good with hamburgers," said Sandi Tomlinson, who works at the pizza outlet in Parole.
Mostly, the tailgate party was an afternoon that fulfilled tradition -- where old friends meet and new ones are made. It was an afternoon where the die-hards -- who always park in thesame place in the lot -- could mingle with newcomers.
Like Mike Dunlap, who works at the Washington Navy Yard, and his friend, Joann Bolton. They just moved to the area three years ago.
"We decided toadopt a college team," Dunlap said. "We chose Navy, and we just keptcoming."
Contrast that with Jan Hardesty, who has followed the Navy team since she was in junior high school in Laurel. She had a crush on the team captain, Tom Lynch, who now is a rear admiral and the academy superintendent.
In 1964, Hardesty was too young to attend games. Now, she brings her two sons, 5-year-old Brandon and 4-year-oldMichael, to watch the midshipmen play.
"My kids all grow up with this feeling that the Naval Academy isthe greatest," she said. "They love the pageantry of it."
The midshipmen do put on a show -- everything from a low flyover by two Navy A-6 planes to a parachute jump by Navy SEALs to deliver the game ball.
Hardesty's husband, Jerry,who runs Middleton's Tavern, had a surprise for visiting Indiana dignitaries, Ball State fans.
It seems that group of politicians chose Middleton's for a Saturday luncheon, without realizing the tavern'soperator is an ardent Navy supporter who throws a huge tailgate bash.
The Hardestys painted the sidewalk in front of their establishment in blue-and-gold Navy colors. "The Navy wanted to paint the town,"Jerry Hardesty said. "We wanted to be first."
Red-faced Ball State supporters were forced to walk over the insignia. "They said, 'We didn't see this before,' " Jan Hardesty said.
The best part about the tailgate party, fans say, is seeing people year after year -- people who only get together during football games.
Many of them met when their sons or daughters entered the academy, and have partied in the same parking space ever since.
"None of us knew each other before," said Betty Wells, a Severna Park resident, pointing out friendsfrom Pennsylvania.
Wells' son, Lt. Scott Osborne, graduated from the academy in 1985. He's now enrolled in flight school in Alabama.
Mickey Sharkey's son, Chuck, also graduated in 1985 and currently teaches Naval Science at George Washington University.
Both women know the finer points of tailgating.
"It's a way for people to meet," Sharkey said. "You could be away for two years, and people will come back and look you up. Our parking space is just as important as our ticket -- so people can find us. That is a very important part of the tradition."
Then there is Linda Real, who lives in Glen Burnie.To call her a Navy enthusiast is an understatement. Her van, complete with a license plate that reads "Navy 1," is a moving museum of Navy memorabilia.
"Everybody thinks Linda is selling stuff," Wells said. "But she really is a nut. She drives around with all that stuff."
Dressed in blue and gold from head to toe, Real had to agree.
"I'm the local Navy nut," she said.
She went to her first game 20 years ago. "My sister wanted to see a college football game," she said. "Navy was close. It was cheap. I've come ever since."
Of course, not everyone shared Real's enthusiasm.
Over at the Ball State Alumni Tent, the people dressed in red were not taken in by the blue-and-gold tradition.
"It's not even a question," said Norm Auerkmann,an Ohio resident whose son, Lance, is Ball State's back-up quarterback. "We might let Navy score."
Ball State indeed won the game, crushing the midshipmen, 33-10. But the Navy fans were unshaken, whooping and cheering all the way home.