How to Tailgate

Illustration by John Rice

THE SPIRIT

It’s the season to abandon reason, so make your fanaticism count. Don all that team paraphernalia, yes, but distinguish yourself from a couch potato with shows of true commitment: face decals, dye jobs, strategic shaving, and, of course, body paint. Also imperative are your ride’s trimmings (bumper stickers, hitch covers, specialty plates, insignia air fresheners, a fight-song horn) and any item with special powers (lucky boxers, that magical mustard-encrusted hot dog from last year, your ex-wife).

THE TERRITORY

More than 50 million tailgaters flock to stadium parking lots every year, so beat the crowds by arriving about four hours before game time, advises Stephen Linn, the vice president of the San Antonio–based American Tailgater Association and author of nine tailgating books. Rules for position jockeying (arrival times, reserved areas) vary by venue; call ahead or consult a guide. Coveted parking is near a grassy patch (for ample seating and spillover partying), but if you’re in concrete country, find the end of a row and throw down some artificial turf for the same effect (just don’t block traffic). Stake your claim with a tent, lawn chairs, and a portable landmark—like a blimp—for friends to find you.

THE NOURISHMENT

Beer? Check. Grill? Check. Propane? Oh, no. “The number one tip for good tailgating is to use a checklist,” says Linn. Frequently forgotten necessities? Salt and pepper, a corkscrew, cutting boards, trash bags, and ice. Prep as much as you can the night before (“The point is to have fun with friends, not chop onions,” observes Linn) so that, come game day, you can focus on the essentials: your beer, your famous ribs, and your next beer. The grill will always draw a crowd, but creating three stations—bar, dining area, kitchen—can help distribute the hovering hordes. Amid this controlled chaos, food safety is paramount: At the very least, pack a separate cooler and a set of knives for the raw meat. Salmonella is the ultimate buzz kill.

THE ENTERTAINMENT

Cold Shiner, close friends, and the anticipation of the day’s matchup always equal good action off the field. Hard-core fans plug in plasma TVs and hook up satellite dishes to watch other games (you might add “generator” to that checklist). Lack those luxuries? There’s no shame in listening to pregame commentary on the radio—or bribing your neighbor with a juicy brat for a glimpse at his seventy-inch screen (lifelong friendships have been built on less). Rowdy tailgaters participate in such feats of skill and liver fortitude as flip cup (a relay-based drinking game) or beer pong (table tennis with alcohol). Gotta work the next day? Toss around the pigskin, start a pickup match of touch football, or be your own bookie in a friendly betting pool. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget to go to the game.

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