No one needs to remind you how to tailgate, so please don’t take this as such.
You are more than capable of handling these matters accordingly: to build a proper parking-lot fortress, stock it with the proper food and beverage and spend a lovely Saturday celebrating the greatest sport on the planet with the people you like most.
You know these things.
In the end, that’s what this is all about. Yes, there is football—sweet, succulent, never-leave-us-again football. But the preparation for the actual in-stadium happenings carries a significance that is hard to put into words.
Tailgating, in many ways, is an art form. There is no single way to maximize a game-day experience. A good tailgate is in the eye of the beholder, which is why college campuses around the nation will be studded with noble attempts to create these masterpieces in the not-too-distant future.
In honor of college football’s glorious return, I have put together an essential guide to this splendiferous pastime, highlighting developing trends, magnificent locations and even a bold power ranking of gastronomic delights to partake of in 2015.
Congratulations. You made it through another offseason. Let’s eat something awesome.
Positive Tailgating Trend: Coffin Coolers
Death is cold and cavernous, which is precisely what you’re looking for in a tailgating apparatus that holds bottles and cans filled with ritualistically imbibed beverages.
A normal-sized cooler will no longer suffice. And while you could bring multiple coolers, that sounds like a heck of a lot of work for a weekend. What some are doing instead involves bringing coffins in which to chill their beverages.
That is not code for some sort of newer cooler; people are schlepping actual mortuary coffins to the party. It is both terrifying and brilliant.
Don’t think about the dark part of this movement and what these containers are normally used for. Instead, think about all the ice and drinks that could fit in this team-centric monstrosity and how much easier life just became.
The next time you’re surveying a tailgate and come across a coffin, don’t run to the nearest authorities. Run toward the contraption and you’ll likely be greeted with frosted excellence.
Negative Tailgating Trend: Spray-Painting Your Dog
With a nod to the animal kingdom, we now dive into one of tailgating’s most curious developments.
People are using their animals as props on game day. Instead of proudly planting flags on cars, they are turning family members into sixth-grade art projects.
This pup was just minding his business one morning when his favorite people on the planet approached him with an idea. (Well, it wasn’t really much of an idea because our furry friend here didn’t have much of a say.)
The end result is this: a mortified pooch that kinda-sorta resembles a…tiger?
I love the passion at work here. This took time. It took multiple people. It took careful planning and probably in-depth Internet research. Perhaps that’s also what’s troubling about it.
Moving forward, let’s use our precious tailgating time more wisely. Let’s put an enormous amount of pork in a Big Green Egg and share the end result with man’s best friend instead of making him look like a mutant Beanie Baby.
Positive Tailgating Trend: Incorporating Televisions
Technology is a handsome beast. Sure, you have a cellphone capable of checking scores, but this little devil will be out of battery by noon, and then you’ll end up stranded in a Family Video parking lot hours after the game ends.
No one wants that.
It is this realization that has made televisions far more regular at tailgates. Well, that and the fact that they have gotten much easier to move and cheaper to purchase.
More people are incorporating this critical piece into their setups. It's a positive advancement, because the only thing better than eating, drinking and talking about football is eating, drinking, talking about football and watching football.
Pro tip: Don’t be the dedicated soul tasked to lug around the flat screen. Find a good friend up to such a tall order and bribe him with delicious baked goods.
Negative Tailgating Trend: Body-Tape Artwork
Let’s skip right to the image before attempting to determine what exactly is going on here and if you should ever try it. The fact that this gentleman has yet to run for president of the United States—at least to my knowledge—is a dear shame.
This game is attracting all types of fans. This guy put tape on and then went to the beach. 90 minutes later: voila pic.twitter.com/9av2AfI7h2— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) September 13, 2014
Now, the man gets high marks in a few categories. The overall craftsmanship and presentation are exceptional. There’s also something remarkable about a Rutgers fan showing his love for the Big Ten—his new conference—which still doesn’t feel real. He’s done that with his mortal flesh.
But this is not something I can officially recommend that you attempt to emulate. The likelihood of pulling this off is minimal, while the likelihood of ending up dehydrated and sunburned with illegible letters on your person is high. Use your immense talents elsewhere.
Greatest Tailgating Tradition: Midnight Yell
Not all tailgating has to take place shortly before or after the sun cracks the horizon. In fact, the nation’s most passionate pregame addition—a ritual that showcases passion in ways that are unparalleled—is Texas A&M’s Midnight Yell.
Since the 1930s, A&M fans have carried the torch. They are the tailgating’s finest alarm clock—a sign of great things to come. Now that the Aggies have increased the size of their lovely football digs, this moment will only continue to grow.
It is a sight to be seen—a dedicated mass of humanity that fills full sides of stadiums at unreasonable hours all in the name of team and one another. The end result is something that makes every college football bone in your body start to shake like a washing machine in need of leveling.
Food Power Rankings
The only thing that can enrage fans more than meaningless preseason polls is some stranger on the Internet telling them what they should eat.
Chosen for taste, presentation, tailgate accessibility and personal preference—here are my first Tailgate Food Power Rankings. Allow me to apologize in advance.
10. The Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookie: One of the most underrated foods at the tailgate is the one that can be made the night before. Cookies are a wonderful palate cleanser, great on the move and a solid change of pace.
9. Burgers and Hot Dogs: These classic standbys are fine, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Easy, predictable and filling, they are the vanilla ice cream of tailgate food, which makes them a popular selection.
8. Elaborate Dip(s): The best dip usually has a friend. In fact, offering up multiple chip companions at a tailgate is a good way to make friends. It's not the centerpiece but a quality filler as you overthrow your football and hit that dude’s Camry.
7. Wings: So much variety to be had here, which makes them such a versatile option. And if you bring your deep fryer to the tailgate, you should be given an award for effort and excellence.
6. Chili: This will depend greatly on the calendar along with your geographic location, but a hearty chili served outside a Big Ten stadium in November makes for a lovely treat.
5. Jambalaya: When done right, this dish can easily move near the very top of this hit list. The hard part is finding the perfect recipe. When you can do that, the sky is the limit.
4. Meat-Filled Breakfast Sandwich: Cooking this might require some finesse, but it’s time and effort well spent. If you’re going to start early—and you should—make this at least one course.
3. Ribs: They are not clean or easy to eat; they require expert preparation, and you need a lot of them to satisfy a large group. Outside of that, there is no fault in this food when prepared properly.
2. Pulled Pork: Preparation may vary, as will the results. But it’s hard to think of a food more destined for Saturdays than this.
1. Whole Hog: It’s a power move that is also delicious. When you show up at a tailgate with an entire hog, you (a) can feed a large sum of people and (b) up the ante for everyone else.
Always enjoy homecoming tailgate food - especially when my fraternity smokes a whole hog. pic.twitter.com/tFqFGcQm2j— Paul Smith (@ptsmith109) November 2, 2014
Bonus Food Item: Fire. The wheel. The lever. The light bulb. The Internet. And now this. History's great innovation has led us to a point where we can put a turkey inside an alligator, cover that alligator with bacon and then throw it on the grill.
Tailgates You Need to Visit at Some Point in Your Life
If you’re serious about tailgating, you owe it to yourself to make a pilgrimage to these singular shrines.
(It’s worth noting that there were roughly 50 other tailgates I wanted to include; I simply ran out of time. I’m sure your school does it wonderfully right, too.)
Ole Miss (Oxford, Mississippi): A combination of bowties, boat shoes and chaotic elegance, The Grove is unique from any other tailgate experience in the nation. A sea of red, white and blue tents scatter the grounds, housing resplendent cuisine options. It is a magnificent operation that is slightly short of assigned seating. This place is for professionals.
Bucket List: Tailgate at the Grove pic.twitter.com/Utr34wlEO2— Football Down South (@Football_South) December 23, 2014
LSU (Baton Rouge, Louisiana): There is a level of intensity—a spiced ball of united energy—that resonates from an LSU tailgate as the sounds and smells overtake you. Your palate deserves the best treatment possible, and it will get it here. The jambalaya and gumbo options are endlessly delicious, and that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of consumable choices.
Wisconsin (Madison, Wisconsin): The people of the great state of Wisconsin move at a pace different from yours, and I mean this as a tremendous compliment. They are a lovely, caring bunch who will hand you a Solo cup with a hamburger and a bratwurst sticking out of it before you can even ask. Somehow, on this beautiful campus, it will all make magical sense.
Georgia (Athens, Georgia): I spent nearly one week in Athens and instantly realized that (a) I made a huge mistake not booking this trip sooner and (b) I probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer. It is hard to put into words the great buzz of this town, a place of great culture that reaches new decibels on Saturday mornings.
Ohio State (Columbus, Ohio): If you fancy grilled meat of all kinds, Columbus, Ohio—one of the more robust tailgating locales around—is a must. Look, 100,000 fans tailgated for the team’s spring game, which felt more like a playoff game than it did an organized scrimmage. Sure, it gets cold, but there are plenty of things that help deal with that, and this city has perfected those things.
One Last Thing...
I am blessed to write about the sport I love, which is not something I take for granted.
What drew me to this job in the first place wasn't seeing physically gifted human beings collide into one another repeatedly. No, this whole thing began in large part because of the game-day atmosphere—the sights, smells and feels that come with a Saturday morning outside a stadium.
If I could bottle this sensation and sell it, I would be very rich, and our winters would be far more enjoyable. For the time being, please maximize the season's return and enjoy this euphoria for yourselves.