One of the
great traditions surrounding football is tailgating. East Carolina fans
do it up right in the fall and throw a great party before games. But
the last two weeks I have witnessed tailgating in extreme conditions by
people who have it down to a science.
When you go to a Panthers game in Charlotte, it's more of a street
festival before the game with people milling around the sidewalks. But
older cold weather cities have a time honored tradition of firing up
the grill and loading up on good food and libations before the game.
When I went to playoff games in New York and Chicago, the fans were out
early and made the parking lots their own personal playgrounds.
Outside Soldier Field in Chicago, I rode with a carload of revelers
into the South Lot in a parade of other fully loaded cars. Within
minutes of parking, tailgaters had their grills and tables out to claim
precious space, flag poles with team and city colors up, and grills
fired up, the first beverages open, and the warming up process underway.
Fans in New York and Chicago have been doing this for quite a long
time, so obviously they have learned from trial and error, and the
results speak for themselves. The brats in Chicago melted in your mouth
and warmed up your cold stomach. There was the smell of sausage and
chicken filling the air, shrimp and chips to snack on, and cigar smoke
wafting skyward. My theory is that the tailgating gets better as it
gets colder, because the fans are cooped up inside and they have cabin
fever which can only be cured by getting charged up outside for a
The atmosphere in Soldier Field was just as good (probably fueled by
all the tailgating). There are things you miss watching at home on TV
that make the environment at an NFL game great. In Chicago there is the
banter between the PA announcer and crowd (think "First Down...
Pirates"). During every break in action, the announcer would say
"Timeout." Then the whole stadium would say "Where." The announcer
would replay "on the field." The crowd would finish with a resounding
"Oh!" Then, after Bear touchdowns, the whole stadium would sing the
Bears fight song (who outside of Chicago knew that existed). It's part
of the tradition that has been going on in the Windy City since the
1920's, but you only experience if you are lucky enough to go to a game.
There is only one real weekend of football left. The Championship games
are the last chance for fans to see their teams and tailgate. The Super
Bowl is a corporate adventure for those who have more money than Fort
Knox. But at least fans can still have their own personal tailgate
parties at home, come up with their own silly chants and songs, and
enjoy the enthusiasm that the NFL brings.