A Swoopin’ D Tailgate Never Loses

The Swoopin' D Tailgate crew in their front row seats during the game against Ohio. (Don De Mars/EVT)

The Swoopin’ D Tailgate crew in the Yellow Lot before the game against Ohio. (Don De Mars/EVT)

A Hall of Fame recognizes and honors the exceptional figures who made contributions to their respective sports. The Pro Football Hall of Fame, which opened in 1963 in Canton, OH, has enshrined 371 members. 

Ask any of its 371 members, and each will undoubtedly attest that their careers and accomplishments would not hold as much importance without the support of their most passionate and rabid fans. 

If only there was a way to honor and celebrate those fans… 

Enter the Tailgating Hall of Fame (THOF). 

The Swoopin’ D Tailgate veterans, including the Constancios in the Yellow Lot, before the game against Ohio. (Don De Mars/EVT)

In 2006, Hans Steiniger founded the THOF by traveling to major pro sports venues across the United States and immersed himself into the home team’s tailgates to discover the traditions and atmospheres that made each city unique. According to their website, “The Tailgating Hall of Fame is a community of those of us who gather together for every home game to support their team through the good times and the bad.” 

The community currently holds 52 honorary members. San Diego’s own Swoopin’ D Tailgate is one of them. 

Founded by Jesse “Swoopin’ D” Constancio in 1998 in the A4 North Qualcomm Stadium parking lot, the group began primarily as a Chargers’ tailgate. 

Sam Constancio, Jesse’s son, attended those early tailgates with his dad and has seen the group grow to as large as 150 people as it has evolved. 

“It was a way for us to blow off some steam for the week,” recalled Constancio, now 46, in an interview with EVT. “Father and son time. We didn’t go fishing; we tailgated!” 

Where does the name “Swoopin’ D” originate? 

Looking for a nickname for the Chargers’ defense led by Samoan Junior Seau, the group landed on Swoopin’ D as they aimed for the defense “to be swoopin’ on the ball like a pack of starving dogs on a ham hock.”

The elder Constancio, the patriarch of the group, was the most affirmative voice preaching that nickname, which eventually led to the rest of the group calling him by that nickname. 

Swoopin’ D Tailgate member Martin Rodriguez, with his daughter, Eliana, in the Yellow Lot before the game against Ohio. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Eventually, the tailgate grew to support the Padres, Aztecs, Strikeforce, and other San Diego sports teams, culminating in their induction into the THOF in 2016. 

“My goal is always fan unity and diversity,” explained Constancio, who is focused on promoting safety and togetherness among opposing fans.

“We want to abolish the narrative of fearing for your lives in hostile territories and not wanting to bring your children to games because you are going on the road.”

The ultimate dream is building a generational fanbase that is passed down from parent to child and so forth. 

As the Chargers left San Diego, the crew lost a lot of members, angry at owner Dean Spanos and the circumstances around the team moving 125 miles north to Los Angeles.  

Constancio had some of those feelings of anger and doubt but made the decision to stick with the team.

“For me personally, it took a while, but I’m very thankful I decided to stick with it because we are having a blast and doing something great,” he explained.  

Donney Cummins, a retired United States Army veteran and long-time San Diegan, is also one of the leaders of the group.  

“I’ve always been a San Diego sports fan in general, even going back to the Clippers days,” Cummins told EVT in an interview. “I try and support all the teams in San Diego.” 

Cummins recalls the different groups of Chargers’ tailgaters at the “old Murph” and how, about ten years ago, he linked up with the Swoopin’ D group to make it a whole block party. 

“It’s grown from just a Chargers tailgate with friends to a well-known brand,” Cummins added.

Cummins did not attend SDSU but grew up watching and attending games with his father, a season ticket holder and avid Don Coryell fan. As he grew older, Cummins began planning tailgates for Aztec games in F4 near Aztec Village and Warrior Walk and started attracting more people to the group.

I'd like this amount to  

In addition to being recognized by the THOF, many Swoopin’ D members are also part of the Pro Football’s Ultimate Fan Association (PFUFA), a 501(c)(7) organization that includes members from all 32 NFL teams with the mission “to promote the fellowship of all fans, encourage sportsmanship and support charitable activities.” It was founded in 1999 by honorees of the Visa “Hall of Fans” in conjunction with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Cummins, who has been a PFUFA member since 2019, received the 2023 Bellringer Friendship Award, which is awarded to the PFUFA member “that throughout the previous year has personified friendship and hospitality towards our membership and also displayed our mission statement in their day-to-day lives.”

Cummins preaches PFUFA’s mission by promoting 100% inclusivity in every event he plans or attends in conjunction with their two mottos: “A tailgate never loses” and “Respect the Vibe.”

The two sides of the Tailgating Hall of Fame Challenge Coin. (Credit: Tailgatinghallofame.com)

“Everyone is free to walk up and join the party,” Cummins said when asked how newcomers can immerse themselves into the Swoopin’ D culture. “Let’s say someone came to our tailgate for the first time. Monday morning, they go to work and (tell coworkers) we had the most amazing time. You should go with me next time. That’s how you grow.”

The THOF issues commemorative Challenge Coins for identification and credential purposes when members travel from city to city and congregate with fellow THOFers. The leaders of Swoopin’ D – the Constancios (father and son), Cummins, and his wife – select three to five deserving members each year to receive the coin. It’s not simply about attending the tailgates to earn the coin but doing your part in promoting and supporting the missions and goals of the group.

The demolition of the “old Murph” created logistical issues for the tailgate when it came to SDSU football. For two years, the team played home games in Carson, CA. While some, including Cummins, still made the trip to represent and support the team, the excitement around the opening of Snapdragon Stadium in 2022 grew stronger.

A challenging 2022 season on the field and unreasonable ticket prices pushed a lot of season ticket holders to not renew for 2023. Cummins and his wife, who have been season ticket holders for the past seven years, debated it as well but ultimately renewed. 

“Let’s take Alabama or Auburn, where ticket prices are reflective of the type of program (they are),” Cummins noted. “We know a lot of programming and money comes from football to fund other sports, so ticket prices are based off of that and how well they are doing. SDSU has done well, being bowl-eligible and so forth, but what is the community outlook that comes from SDSU football, and does that validate the cost?”

Cummins’ favorite current player is Christian Jones, the sophomore LT who made his first career start in last Saturday’s season opener against Ohio.

“I think he is one of the most standup young men I have ever met come through those doors, and we have met quite a few,” he explained when asked why he chose Jones. 

The Swoopin’ D Tailgate was out in full force before the game against Ohio, not only to celebrate another season of SDSU football but also Cummins’ 46th birthday. They plan to be out for every Aztec home game this season in the new grass area along the back row of the Yellow Lot near the trolley line. 

Like all Aztec fans, Cummins eagerly awaits a potential elevation to a Power 5 Conference but understands that while the administration is handling that aspect behind closed doors, the fans need to do their part as well. 

“We talk about Power 5 and this and that, but in order for that to happen, you got to show up Aztec fans,” Cummins said. “You got to. We had opening day this past weekend, and to see less than 17,000 was disheartening. It shouldn’t matter who the opponent is at this point. You come out here and root for the home team and have some fun.” 

This week’s opponent is an FCS school from Idaho. Will Aztec fans follow Cummins’ advice?

We’ll find out on Saturday night at 730pm.

Swoopin’ D Tailgate member Donney Cummins hosting his birthday party tailgate in the Yellow Lot prior to the game against Ohio. (Don De Mars/EVT)
(Visited 331 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *