As the Aggies gear up for this Saturday’s home game against the Louisiana State University (LSU) Tigers, Assistant Director for Tailgating Operations Neil Peltier is predicting a tremendous crowd. “I would not be surprised if we have 30,000 to 50,000 who are not going to the game, coming to campus just to be a part of the Gameday experience,” he says. “Add that to the more than 80,000 going into the stadium. Louisiana is so close geographically and we’ve both got good records. It’s renewing an old rivalry ― there is a lot of history there.”
Managing a gathering of such staggering size is a challenge and Peltier says the university’s first priority when it comes to tailgating is safety. “Our job is to prevent anything from happening that causes someone else to have a bad time,” he emphasizes. “We do this by keeping everyone informed and by creating a bond. I always tell my staff, ‘don’t let the first time you talk to someone be when there’s a problem. Go socialize and build relationships. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’”
Peltier says he thinks the university has done a good job of creating different tailgating communities where you can find others of a similar mindset. “For example, at Spence Park, there aren’t any generators allowed, so the area is a little quieter and more family oriented,” he says. “Then you’ve got West Campus where we do allow generators and large barbecue pits, so there tends to be higher energy, loud music and cooking. And with the new reserved tailgating areas at Simpson and Duncan Drill Fields, it adds another type of atmosphere where you don’t even have to set up your own party.”
Kickoff time is a major factor in tailgating, says Peltier. “If you have an 11 a.m. kickoff, that’s a breakfast crowd and they’ll do most of their tailgating after the game. A night game means they’re going to start early and stay strong all day long,” he jokes. “My favorite kickoff time is around 2:30 p.m., that way we get a break midday to refresh and reload before they come back out.”
In his sixth month overseeing Aggie tailgating, Peltier, a former student and member of the Corps of Cadets Company C-2, says his return to campus “is like coming home.”
And what a time to start a job managing Aggie tailgate parties in this, the school’s inaugural season as a member of the Southeastern Conference (SEC), with record crowds and an unprecedented national stage.
Last season, Sports Illustrated recognized Texas A&M as having the top Gameday experience in all of college football and the fervor has only heightened since the Aggies entered the SEC.
Starting the season against the Florida Gators was certainly a dive into the deep end for Peltier in his first go-around in tailgating operations. “We didn’t even get a non-conference warm-up,” he notes. “It’s like starting your season with the Super Bowl! It’s been an amazing experience so far. It’s my dream job.”
Peltier, Class of ’97, earned his bachelor’s degree in management from Texas A&M and holds a master’s degree in business from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Pointing to his office walls, “Look, it’s not even hanging in my office here,” he says of his UT diploma. “I am very proud of that degree but I am 100 percent Aggie.”
Before returning to Texas A&M as an employee, Peltier spent 10 years working in operations at Sea World in San Antonio. He started there in 2002 as a seasonal worker and just days before he was set to start a full-time position, he broke his neck in a mountain biking accident.
Of the paralysis that resulted from the accident, he explains, “I have never let it limit my aspirations.” Nowadays, he gets around in a motorized wheelchair. “As soon as I got my wheelchair and was able to function, I wanted to get back out there and contribute again,” he recalls. The folks at Sea World agreed to hold his job for two years, but Peltier took just seven months to return to work at the park.
When an opportunity to work at Texas A&M presented itself, “I knew that coming to Texas A&M ― knowing the culture, friendliness and warmth ― I’d be accepted and valued for my work and not judged only by my disability.”
He says his management philosophy has a lot to do with his profound love of Texas A&M. “When people come to tailgate here, it’s like I’m welcoming them to my home. We create an environment where people can come together, enjoy each other and enjoy campus.”
Tailgating sometimes gets a bad rap, Peltier contends. “Ninety-nine percent of people do it in a responsible way. When you have a crowd of over 100,000, it is inevitable that there will be some incidents. We work with university police, athletics, transportation services and environmental safety to minimize those incidents and it’s really a team effort.”
Peltier says he’s looking forward to his continued involvement in Aggie Gameday, “because there’s nothing else like it. We get to showcase our campus to people from all across the country. They get to come to A&M and see why we are so special.”