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‘Tubgaters’ turn heads in longtime Detroit Lions tailgating tradition

Every football Sunday, hours before kickoff, hundreds of Detroit Lions fans head Detroit parking lots with grills, tents and coolers full of drinks to party before the game.

But one tailgating setup usually stands out in the crowd.

Among the masses of who take over Eastern Market in a sea of Honolulu blue, one group of fans brave frigid temperatures wearing bathing suits, emboldened by the steam that rises from a hot tub on wheels.

They call themselves the Tubgaters, and they tailgate in a hot tub before every home game, rain or shine.

“We’re kind of nuts,” said Denny Arney, the group’s ringleader.

Starting at 4 a.m., Arney and the Tubgaters fill up the hot tub on wheels in Allen Park before driving 45 miles per hour on I-94 to Eastern market. It takes about two hours to fill the tub and 40 minutes to drive to the tailgate site, Arney said.

“A big part of it is getting it parked and leveled off, getting the straps undone and checking the temperature,” said Arney, of Ortonville. “It’s a process for sure.”

The Tubgaters have been around since 1994, going back to the Silverdome days. The creator of the hot tub and the idea of tailgating in it was Arney’s friend Ron Leonard, who passed away in a snowmobile accident in 2001.

Arney took the reins and carried on the tradition after Leonard’s passing.

“We invite anyone to go in anytime. Usually, they’re Lions fans, but sometimes we get some crazy away fans,” Arney said. “When it’s cold, the numbers drop off for some reason, but the important part is we have fun at tailgate. If you can go in a hot tub in cold weather, it just makes it all the better…

“It’s the enjoyment of tailgating, the comradery and the spectacle of ‘what the (heck) is that thing?’ That’s what keeps me coming back,” Arney said.

Before each of their events, the Tubgaters pick an honorary person to dump Honolulu blue dye in the water to kick off their tailgating festivities.

“I’ll be a Lions fan for always,” Arney said. “You have to have a lot of heart, hope and trust. A lot of the time, those are strained throughout the season, but there’s always next year and there’s always next game. To me, it’s about the tailgating and the friends and family coming together. Sure, I want to see the Lions win. And someday, they will.”

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