Ranking the Best Sports for Tailgating

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2014

Ranking the Best Sports for Tailgating

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    These fans do it for the love of the tailgate.
    These fans do it for the love of the tailgate.Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    Sports have the power to intoxicate fans, and die-hard supporters discover a seasonal joie de vivre only brought about by their home team.

    For a variety of reasons, rooting on sports has become inextricably tied to the ability to show up to the event, flip down the tailgate on a pickup truck and start grilling a variety of meats over the coals. And if a designated driver has already been determined, a few or 10 adult beverages makes a fitting complement.

    Aside from almost single-handedly propping up sales of those folding-chairs-in-a-bag, tailgating stands as one of the most hallowed traditions in sports fandom. Just remember to bring the cornhole board to the parking lot!

    In fact, you don't even need an actual truck with a tailgate to take part. Indeed, relaxing amid a bombardment of food and beverage constitutes the spirit of the tailgate, and these are the best sports for eating and drinking while not being crammed into a row of cheap plastic seats.

8. Rugby Sevens

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    OK, so those are just the players. And they're sober. Imagine the fans!
    OK, so those are just the players. And they're sober. Imagine the fans!Kin Cheung/Associated Press

    Like soccer, rugby utilizes a European approach to the game clock: halves come in one block, uninterrupted by stoppages or commercial breaks. Fortunately, the hybrid sport of rugby sevens prevents fans from having to utilize their attention spans for more than 15 minutes at a time.

    The sport of rugby typically involves 15 players, but in a twist on rugby union, this seven-per-side sport cuts game time down to seven-minute halves with a 60-second break for halftime. That way, fans can watch an entire game of sevens in as much time as it takes to save 15 percent on car insurance.

    Sevens invaded San Diego's PETCO Park back in 2009, and the fan festival brought nearly as much excitement as the competition on the field. Imagine a crowd similar to a football game, except the games only last 15 minutes, which leaves even more time for imbibing and noshing outside and inside the stadium.

    These tournaments also bring out a colorful array of international rugby fans who consider sevens the next-best thing to 15-a-side. That worldly flavor really adds to the atmosphere, as do all of those chanting Aussies.

    Along with golf, rugby sevens became the newest addition to the program for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, assuring the sport continued growth, rising popularity and further improved tailgating.

7. Golf

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    CHING YING-YING/Associated Press

    Unlike other sports on the list, you can actually tailgate and participate in this activity at the same time, even if a small hibachi grill won't fit on the back of the golf cart.

    Playing golf can be so exceedingly boring and frustrating that players commonly seek out alcohol after playing the ninth, 12th and 18th holes, and courses happily accommodate them. Many country clubs have employees tasked with driving all around the course with a cooler full of frosty beverages including beer, just like the trusty beer man from baseball games except piloting a golf cart.

    Fancy a cucumber and watercress sandwich at the turn, followed by a nice Dominican cigar with Cuban seed? Now where's that brandy cart? And when you're done, that same course can host a football tailgate if you happen to be strolling along Little Rock's War Memorial Golf Course in advance of an Arkansas-Grambling game at War Memorial Stadium.

6. Horse Racing

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Two words: mint juleps. For some reason, the vast majority of the American population has no concern with these domestic predecessors to the mojito, yet on the week prior to the Kentucky Derby, everyone clamors to pick a horse and Google the ingredients for the race's signature cocktail.

    After all, anytime you get a bunch of rich people together for a sporting event, a lavish cocktail party will likely erupt. The 2014 Derby saw Woodford Reserve, the horse race's official bourbon, offer a $2,000 mint julep, though most of the expense went toward the limited-edition engraved cups.

    The best thing about attending a horse race is that the tailgating comes to you. As often happens when gambling gets involved, event organizers would prefer that everyone gets a belly full of drinks before it's time to bet on the big race.

    If you don't own an audacious hat to compete with those ladies who lunch, throw on a bolo tie, indulge in a julep and rub elbows with regal race fanseven if you can't tell the difference between an exotic and an exacta.

5. Soccer

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    A fan gets an assist from his headgear prior to a 2013 CONCACAF match between Panama and the United States.
    A fan gets an assist from his headgear prior to a 2013 CONCACAF match between Panama and the United States.Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

    The United States does not rate very highly on the list of rowdy international soccer fans. In Europe and South America, fans often arrive in the rival city and parade around the downtown area singing songs and taunting the opposition's supporters. U.S. fans prefer driving to the stadium and sitting outside for a few hours before kickoff while drinking and eating. Call it a cultural difference.

    One benefit to the international flavor of soccer comes from the tailgating recipes, which often draw from a plethora of worldwide cuisines by placing sofritas burritos alongside smoked kielbasa and chimichurri flank steak.

    The MLS' Portland Timbers enjoy a fierce rivalry with the Seattle Sounders, and the Oregon faithful show out in force for away games. The Timbers Army will come to your town toting craft beer and delicious organic food, root against your soccer team, then dispose of all their refuse in a responsible manner. That's just how they roll in Portland.

4. Baseball

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    Cubs fans enjoying some sun-splashed BBQ'ing before a Feb. 2014 Cactus League game.
    Cubs fans enjoying some sun-splashed BBQ'ing before a Feb. 2014 Cactus League game.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Primarily due the summery weather that generally accompanies the sport, baseball makes for a great occasion to break out the grill before a game. In fact, as an endeavor meant to be played on grass and in the sun, baseball is practically the pro-sports version of a backyard cookout.

    With baseball's glacial pace, you can comfortably keep the coals burning until the third or fourth inning without worrying about missing anything inside the stadium. Even if you do miss some action, there are 161 other games during the regular season.

    Naturally, fans of the Milwaukee Brewers bring some of the most sophisticated skill to the tailgating party. After all, the team has long conducted an in-game sausage race, so these fans know their bratwurst.

    Moreover, fans of the Brew Crew must be delighted that the games actually occur during the relatively short time of year when Wisconsin gets warm. Unlike with football, fellow tailgaters do not run the risk of suffering from hypothermia while trying to choke down a rapidly cooling hot dog from the grill and a rapidly freezing light beer.

    However, one of the trickier aspects to tailgating can be access to a restroom, and these Detroit Tigers fans devised a sort of solution to that cringeworthy problem. Call it good old American ingenuity.


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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    No, you do not need to be at a NASCAR truck event to enjoy tailgating; the cars suit just fine. This could be the only sport where tailgating actually takes place inside the field of play.

    You can drive your camper van, RV, converted school bus, et al. into the facility at the start of the weekend, hang out on the infield for a couple of days with plenty of your own food and drinks, stuff your ears with noise-reducing foam, watch a lot of guys make a lot of left turns, then drive on home. It's the next best thing to pitching a tent on the 50-yard line.

    And with NASCAR's nationwide scope, fans can take in a wide variety of local flavors as the competition tours the country. Daytona International Speedway offers fans a chance to spice up the race weekend with a little taste of spring break. Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth provides some especially delicious barbecued rattlesnake.

    However, Northeastern race tracks throw admirable parties of their own, especially at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway.

2. Pro Football

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    An ample spread prior to a Steelers and Titans game in Sept. 2013.
    An ample spread prior to a Steelers and Titans game in Sept. 2013.Associated Press

    Something about NFL football makes it so uniquely suited to tailgating that some fans don't even bother going into the game. After all, if you've got a portable TV, a grill and a cooler filled with fermented hops, there remains little point in leaving the luxurious comforts of the stadium's parking lot where the crowd's roar provides a vicarious thrill.

    Of course, the National Football League tries to be family friendly as well, and the rowdier fans who give the sport's game-day experience a checkered reputation also get careful consideration.

    For example, the Raiders have an alcohol-free tailgating zone, a bright idea likely prompted by how terrifying most Raiders fans look before they even start drinking. That way, kids can still enjoy some food from the spread without encountering the sobering fervor of "Raider-Gloria" (whose legal name is actually "Raider-Gloria").

    Sadly, though, tailgating has been forbidden at the Super Bowl since 2007 for security reasons, so championship-caliber fans may wonder what they spent all those overindulgent Sundays preparing for.

1. College Football

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    College! Florida fans prepare to square off against Georgia in 2012.
    College! Florida fans prepare to square off against Georgia in 2012.Associated Press

    No professional fervor compares to that felt by many for their old alma mater. ESPN's College GameDay, which recently claimed the Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Studio Show, has made an institution out of visiting a college campus each week and showcasing how bonkers collegiate fans can go for their team.

    Naturally, the college-football-centric South does tailgating better and boasts a whole host of traditions. Florida and Georgia's meet-up has become known at the "World’s Largest Cocktail Party." Texas A&M students stay up late and get started with the "Midnight Yell" before games. Ole Miss hosts its famous tailgating soirees at The Grove.

    Florida State fans have even been known to roast a real gator in advance of playing the Florida Gators. At Auburn, pregame celebrants can even accompany players to the stadium as part of the traditional "Tiger Walk."

    Tailgating for college football also inspires attendance numbers to match the fanaticism, making tailgating a party on the scale of a mass refugee migration.

    Some cities see a significant population swell on game days, such as Ann Arbor, Michigan, which boasts Michigan Stadium. By some estimations, for a few hours during each home game, the stadium itself has a larger population than Ann Arbor and briefly becomes one of the largest cities in the state.