NFL Enthusiasm
by Brian North

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 football game.

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.

Brian North