Monday – Dolphins vs. Jets
I’m back in the parking lot on Monday afternoon for the Jets v. Dolphins tailgate looking for Cahn. Every lot in the NFL opens up five hours before game time but due to the draconian parking restrictions for people without permits, I can’t get into a satellite lot until 5 p.m.
By the time I arrive to the complex, the tailgating is already in full force. After a series of phone calls and a pointless walk around the stadium in search of the Commish, I find him walking out of a custom Jets fan bus in a green Wayne Chrebet jersey with a painted head. I also realized I wasn’t the only media following him around today, as he was followed out of the bus by a camera crew from CNN.
The CNN crew is doing a short field piece on him and is filming Joe walking around the tailgate party associated with the large Jets bus. They film him sitting on a couch (only tailgate I saw with a couch) with the guy running it, they film him interacting with the men tending the grill, and then he tries some food and hams it up for the camera. He picks up a rib and then goes into Commish-speak to wrap up the segment.
“There it is,” he says to the camera, holding the rib, “have a bite. As the Commissioner, I am inviting you to the next tailgate.”
The cameraman and segment producer exchange pleasantries with the Commish and then are on their way. I follow Cahn as he begins to work the lot.
His first stop is at a tent where two women are tailgating alone, enjoying some wine. Joe explains who he is and asks them a few questions about their setup. Then we’re moving again as he explains the difference between tailgating for Monday Night Football and on a regular Sunday.
“Monday is a different animal. It used to be everyone wanted Monday Night Football to showcase their city but that’s not the case anymore,” he said. “It’s tougher for people to tailgate after a long day at work. You see a lot of sandwiches, not as many grills. And then they are here so late some of them have to take a day off work. Sunday is just better for families, it’s not even close.”
We move back to the RV lot, dodging overthrown footballs along the way. When we get to Joe’s RV, he’s got another visitor to entertain. This time it’s someone from a sports marketing company that wants to discuss future partnership possibilities with Cahn. After stepping inside, the Commish immediately jumps into some New York-related stories from the parking lot.
“I saw a guy running to catch a football and he had run into a car. He left a big dent in it and put his hand through the windshield, he was all bloody and just sitting next to the car. Then some big guy came up to him and said ‘Hey, did you run into the car? Did you run into the car?’ and I thought we were gonna have some trouble. The guy said yes and then the big guy just said ‘you sellin your tickets?’ Only in New York,” he guffawed.
We walk back to the bus, which I learn is the Winter Bros. tailgate. They were the winners of the New York division of the Bing National Tailgating Championship last year and celebrated by buying a new $30,000 grill.
Joe starts handing out bottles of his edible business card and regales the Winter Bros. group, who has about 45 people at their tailgate, with stories from his travels.
“I was in New England and a guy came up to me and said ‘Joe, I thought you lived in New England.’ And I said, ‘I did.’ He asked when, and I said ‘today! And I’m moving tomorrow!’”
The talk then moved to the most unique dishes he’s tried. He said having leg of ram and leg of lion, both had at tailgates where the opposing team namesake was one of the tailgate dishes.
I talk to the man behind the tailgate, Sean Winters, about the setup.
“We’ve been tailgating for 20 years,” he says. “I’ve known Joe for almost 15. He has pictures of my kids when they were really young.” He also prefers the Sunday tailgate. “It will be close to 2 a.m. when we get home and on Sundays my boys can play football in the parking lot for three hours and love it. Mondays are hard, Sundays have a more family-like atmosphere.”
As more people start to head into the stadium, we start the trek back to Joe’s RV. As we pass a group of tailgaters that includes a number of children, Joe turns to his sports marketing companion and makes another one of his favorite points about tailgating.
“The parking lot is the only place where we care about an 8-year-old’s opinion,” he explains. “We won’t talk to an 8-year-old about religion or politics but we will talk to an 8-year-old about sports.”
Cahn also points out that you see more people having conversations at a tailgate party than you do in everyday life.
“When do people just talk anymore?” he asks. “Out here, no one is watching tv, playing on the Internet, they are conversing. It’s a beautiful thing. I like to think of tailgating as the original Facebook, except when you ‘friend’ somebody, you get food.”
We’re back at Cahn’s RV as a crowd of people associated with the PR company he works with have a tailgate of their own. Cahn rarely hosts parties anymore, as he prefers to wander the lot and interact with everyone else rather than locking himself down to one spot.
We step into the Commish’s RV to enjoy some of his fabled jambalaya. Cahn, a Lousiana native who now lives in Fort Worth, has the walls of his RV decked out with the pennants of all the NFL teams, roughly in the order he’ll be hitting their parking lots this season.
As fans start to trek to the stadium and the parties finally wrap up, the Commish finally gets to relax. Even in his 16th season on the road, Cahn says he never gets tired of it.
He steps out of his RV to survey the lot as things begin to wind down. To the left, a pair of guys in their mid-20s with a football exchange woefully misdirected wobbly passes to each other. To the right, a group of tailgaters, ranging from young adults to the very old, are awkwardly dancing to an Eminem song while still holding their burgers and beers. Next to us, a group of people sitting in chairs around a Jets-themed limo burst into laughter.
“This is what it’s all about,” Cahn says, almost wistfully. “This is fun.” And with that, the Commissioner’s foray into New York this season was over.
Mark Chalifoux is a contributor to CBS Digital. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.