The tailgate is a given right and a time-honored tradition for sports fans that should never be fully sacrificed. But it’s important to remember that the tailgate isn’t the only thing on the docket when spending hours in the stadium’s parking lot.
Grilled food and cold beverages with close friends are merely a precursor to what matters most: the game. Pulling away from the grill and ending the party is tough. Shuffling through the crowd to enter the stadium is a tedious affair and, therefore, understandably postponed. The problem is that it’s unfair to the home team.
Much like delay-of-game penalties destroy momentum for an offensive drive, delaying an entrance to the game doesn’t fill the place with adrenaline. Players expect home-field advantage when they charge through the tunnels, but find a half-filled stadium at the opening kickoff.
While the team is responsible for giving fans something to cheer about during the game, the pre-game portion is about loud roars and rumbling stomps to make the place vibrate. Every squad wants a legit 12th Man in the stands, but that’s only determined by the heart of the collective.
After the Green Bay Packers blanked the Jets 9-0 at home in 2010, the never-reserved Rex Ryan delivered a challenge to fans attending last season’s Week 11 game against the Houston Texans: be early and be loud.
“I’m asking our fans that we start our tailgate a little earlier and by the time introductions come out that we’ve got a butt in every seat,” Ryan requested. “I think it’s going to show the commitment that we have to each other, the team, the fans, that we’re in there for introductions.
“Let them know we’re there.”
The fans responded, and the Jets improved to 3-2 at home after defeating the Texans 30-27 in the final minute with a five-play, 72-yard touchdown drive. It actually mattered.
Coaches can’t go to the well with Ryan’s plan too often, though—especially if the team is mediocre or worse. In that case, the tailgate is the most exciting part of the day. But that doesn’t justify making the game secondary.
Fans need to remember why they fell in love with the team, and why it was important to make the investment—financially and emotionally—to attend a live game. The entire experience isn’t cheap.
Mint.com recently averaged the cost of attending an NFL game for a family of four at $427.42, after calculating prices for tickets, parking, food and beverages, and a souvenir or two around the league. When tailgating, that price is significantly higher with all the food on the grill and the drinks in the cooler.
Simply enough, if you’re going to be there, then be there.
Game plan for the pre-game
Shut off that grill, and make cleaning up a priority at least an hour before kickoff. Someone in your party should be willing to help. No one enjoys being the party pooper, but someone has to make sure the group remains passionate about what’s scheduled to happen on the field.
Lay out a plate or two, depending on the size of your party, stacked with cooked burgers and franks. No one will complain that it’s not fresh off the grill, and anyone afraid of starvation during the three-hour game can devour what’s left.
Ideally, the feeding frenzy should be consolidated to a fold-away table where people can grab what they want quickly without delaying the game.
And then burn off all those calories with celebrations, a stadium wave, and screams from the top of your lungs for the team. You’re well fed; now feed the boys with that energy.