Tailgating1 is an American tradition that has sprung up around the culture of American football. It was most probably named after the tailgate of a pickup truck, which makes an excellent support for charcoal grills, plates of food, radios, and the like. Every match day football fans can be seen in the parking lots of the stadiums, cooking on portable stoves and grills, eating, drinking, playing games - possibly all four at the same time. Probably one of the most attractive aspects of tailgating is that you don't need a ticket to the game to do so - the polite tailgater merely has to chip in for parking passes, food, and beverages at a much lower hit to the wallet than a ticket to the game.
Tailgate food is traditionally hotdogs, sausages, hamburgers, and whatever cheap foods can be quickly thrown onto a grill. However, it is not limited to junk food. Those tailgaters who can afford it enjoy steaks or salmon cooked over gas or charcoal grills. Health-conscious tailgaters can grill vegetables such as sweet peppers, aubergines2, and onions. Potatoes wrapped in foil can be an excellent grilled side dish.
Although the grill is a ubiquitous part of tailgating, not all food needs to be grilled. Gas powered deep fryers are also common at tailgates. These can be used not only to make deep-fried turkey, fish, chips, candy bars, and other notoriously bad-for-you foods, but they also make excellent soup pots for foods like jambalaya - an incredibly good taste on a cold October day. Finally, cold side dishes can include anything from potato chips and dip to macaroni salad - anything that could also be brought to a picnic or barbeque.
Tailgaters are usually college students or members of the working class. Therefore, the beverage of choice at most tailgates is cheap beer. However, for those who don't drink alcohol or simply have a more refined palate, it is easy to find something to suit your tastes. On cool autumn days, many tailgaters have a camp stove set up to boil water for hot beverages such as coffee and tea, or to make hot apple cider. Well-planned tailgates usually have a selection of spirits for mixed drinks, as well as soda and water for those who don't want alcohol.
Activities and Games
Sitting around, eating food and drinking, waiting for the game to start can get boring rather quickly. To combat this, tailgaters have created their own set of activities. The most common of these is the game of pickup football.
Footballs seem to be called into existence just by the sheer presence of tailgaters. At any given place in a car park, at least three different games are visible, with players of various ages tossing the football back and forth and running pass patterns with invisible defence men. Sometimes a full game of touch football is played if there are enough objects to mark the goal lines - rules are similar to those of normal American football, except that a tag is as good as a tackle.
Drinking games are popular among college student tailgating. The standards, such as Beer Pong or Flip Cup can always be seen, but sometimes games can be invented or adapted from existing sports, such as croquet.
Other activities abound at tailgates. There will usually be a poker or euchre game going on somewhere. College tailgates almost always have a game of Cornhole set up somewhere. Children tend to make their own fun with whatever toys they were allowed to bring along. Tailgate parties often use the car battery to power the radio for music and news of other football games. Occasionally, tailgates may have small televisions that can receive aerial broadcasts. Very rarely, sponsored tailgates have more powerful satellite trucks. If nothing else, just the spectacle of everyone going about their business is enough to keep anyone occupied.
There are many different styles of tailgating. Today, as in the early days of tailgating, many people just go to a stadium with a few folding chairs and a charcoal grill in the back of their pickup truck. The open tailgate provides a table for everything you need for your basic tailgate. However, tailgating can, and does, get more complex. If the tailgate of the truck isn't large enough (or if the vehicle in question doesn't have a tailgate), folding tables can be added to the equation. A tent can be erected to enable you to escape foul weather. The more seasons a group has been tailgating together, the more intricate the tailgate is likely to be. Some groups charter buses, fly flags, and even own SUVs, caravans, or camper vans that they decorate with their team colours and mascot!
If you would like to host a tailgate, there are some things to consider.
- Theme: Do you want your tailgate to have a theme? This could dictate what foods are appropriate, or even what costume your friends should come in. A fancy dress theme is often fun around Halloween, and a good Luau theme is fun while the weather is still warm.
- Rules: What rules does the stadium have regarding tailgaters? Charcoal or gas grills? Are pets allowed? Trailers? Glass bottles or cans? Do you have to limit your party to a certain area? These are all things that must be considered beforehand.
- Attendance: How many people are coming? This is very important, as it's embarrassing to run out of food or beverages when you have twenty hungry people in line for the grill.
- The Game: Not everyone in the tailgate party may want to go to the game. Some may not be able to afford tickets or simply would rather listen to (or watch) the game from the comfort of their camp chair and avoid paying extravagant prices for stadium food. If someone wants to go and doesn't have a ticket, where can they get one? What will people who aren't going to the game do in the meantime? Who cleans up?
- Cost: How much are you willing to spend? Many times, tailgate parties will have people chip in for the cost of food, beverages, and parking. How much would you ask for?
- Sponsorship: Occasionally, well-organised tailgate groups can go around begging for a sponsor. This means that while the food and sometimes the beverages can be paid for, the tailgate will have to fly a flag or banner advertising for their sponsor. This usually only works with groups who have been around for quite some time.
Tailgating is a football tradition that is almost as enjoyable as the game itself - sometimes more so, depending on the team's record. The next time you go to a football game, stop by the parking lot and at least savour the smells. Who knows - maybe someone will let you chip in and enjoy some tailgating yourself!