SIOUX CITY | It's pretty easy to spot Rick Niles prior to any Morningside College football home game.

After all, he and wife Renee regularly hold court in the northern end of Olsen Stadium's east parking lot, along with other tailgating families.

However, none of the other tailgaters make it to game day in a converted 1979 ambulance that is being used as a party wagon.

"We stand out," he said in a vehicle that says "Stang Nation" on its side "There's no other way of explaining that."

Niles purchased the used ambulance from an ad he saw on Craig's List more than two years ago.

"Believe it or not, this was originally white with an orange stripe and a decal which read Martinsburg (Neb.) Ambulance in big blue letters,” he recalled. "It only had 40,000 miles on it and I thought it would make the ultimate vehicle for tailgating."

But first, Niles painted the vehicle jet black as a way of complementing the Mustangs' team colors. Plus he moved the exterior red light to the inside of the ambulance.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal
Brooke Happe leaves her mark on the ambulance owned by her parents while tailgating at a Morningside College football game.

Still, he had a few tricks up his sleeve.

"I have a remote control siren that I can activate every time the Mustangs make a touchdown," Niles said. "Although I have to shout 'fire in the hole!' before letting it blast.

"I don't want to give anyone a heart attack," he added.

You see, Niles simply wants to let off a little steam by cheering on the Mustangs and son Connor who is a wide receiver.

"We're an athletic family," said Niles, a probation officer by trade. "Nothing is more exciting than game day."

Game day, for Niles, usually starts hours before the team hits the field.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal
Renee and Rick Niles converted an ambulance to use for tailgating at Morningside College football games.

"If a game starts at 1 p.m., I'll be here (at the stadium) by 7:30 a.m." he said. "Along with the other tailgaters in our group, I'll help set up the tents, chairs tables, you name it."

Um, what about the food? You haven't mentioned anything about food.

"Oh yeah, Renee and I are part of a group of other tailgating families," Niles explained. "We start cooking early and every game has a different theme."

During a match-up with the Truman State University Bulldogs, tailgaters were to try their hand at south-of-the-border cuisine.

"Tacos, burritos, nachos," Niles said. "Everything will be delicious."

When he preps his food, Niles is greeted by both family and friends.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal
Tailgating begins early on game day at Morningside College.

"We have people from as far away as Minneapolis and Omaha to watch Connor play," he said. "It's part college football game and part family reunion."

It certainly helps that Niles has a very liberal definition of family.

"Even if you're not a part of our crew, come on in if you're hungry," he said. "We never turn anyone away."

And that includes members of the Mustang team.

"It's tradition that we set some food aside for the players," Niles said. "We have players from all around the country who may not have family in the stands. We're feeding team members as if they were family."

Niles said he always gets a charge right before the start of a game.

"You can feel it in the stands and you can feel back in the tailgating section," he said. "Everybody's rooting for the Mustangs to have a good afternoon."

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal
As a guest book of sorts, the side of a tailgating ambulance is signed by visitors.

Just before a recent game Niles shouted out "Fire in the hole!" as he clicked on his remote control siren.

"Yeah, it's going to be a good day to be a Mustang," he said with a smile. 

Outbrain