Interview With Joe Cahn, The Commissioner Of Tailgating (Part 1)

Joe Cahn is the Commissioner of Tailgating. And he has the best job in the world. The Commish travels the country in his RV, going to tailgates. He’s visited all the 31 NFL stadiums, along with hundreds of college stadiums. Tailgate Fan caught up with him on his way to the Monday night game in Dallas.

What made you first start traveling the country visiting tailgates? What made you decide to make this your life?

You know, I don’t know if in the beginning I had decided to make it my life. In 1996 I wanted to actually do a television series like Charles Kuralt traveling around getting recipes. I had sold the cooking school in New Orleans that I had opened up in 1980. And so what happened was that I thought that tailgating and going around to the stadiums was a good way to see the country and to get recipes. The Super Bowl was in New Orleans that year as it is this year too. Actually, Green Bay and the Patriots played in that game. But I thought I could go around and welcome everybody to New Orleans even if their team didn’t make it to the Super Bowl. That’s how it really started.

And after the first four games, which actually were the black and blue division, I just fell in love with this thing we call tailgating. And since then, over 880 games later, over 800 plus thousand miles, that tailgating has become… the reception to the banquet. It’s the last great American neighborhood. It’s the new community social. And for me to go around the country, both pro and college, is just an incredible, incredible journey…

So what was the first tailgate you attended as the commissioner?

The first tailgate, I remember quite clearly. The first tailgate was actually up in Minnesota, which was the first tailgate in 1996 that they had allowed people to tailgate since they had moved to the Metrodome from Bloomington. And it was a very interesting thing. The tailgating in several cities at that time — Seattle; Houston still had the Oilers; Dallas didn’t allow tailgating — so there was still some cities that didn’t allow tailgating. And I think that they didn’t really truly understand that tailgating is more than a bunch of guys getting together and maybe cooking some burgers and drinking beer and causing problems. That actually it’s all about the socialization of the country. The NFL and colleges have provided an open area where the community can get together — no matter what background, what walk of life, economics, race, religion — and talk and be this last great American neighborhood.

Photo Credit: Joe Cahn

What would you say is the most memorable tailgate you’ve ever been to? Whether it’s the weirdest, strangest, an experience that was so much above and beyond the rest. What would you say is the most memorable?

Being the commissioner and being politically correct, the most memorable was all of them. I can really say that. It’s hard for me to remember certain things, but I can look back and remember some very interesting… Certainly The Grove in Ole Miss or being up in Green Bay for the first time and the tailgaters there in 14 degree weather. Or being in Seattle, where there is stern-gating at the Husky game. Being in San Diego walking around, both at San Diego State and the Chargers, seeing the amount of Mexican food, tortillas and guacamole made onsite. Or Kansas City, pulling in and seeing the smoke of the barbeque rising. Or going to places like Michigan and seeing people tailgating on the golf course, and in one hole on the golf course, I hit two birds and a pig, which I thought was an exceptional score at the time. Every single one leaves great memories.

Whether it be the small colleges or LSU at a night game or Georgia going and watching people tailgating in the cemetery, each tailgate is unique. Especially, the military academies — Army, Navy and Air Force — which do a parade on the way to the stadium. But just the honor and the feeling of being an American and realizing that football is really truly a game and these young men are going to fight bigger battles in their life. Certainly the Army/Navy game will always fan down the tailgating. There is not an incredible amount of tailgating because everybody wants to be in the stadium early to see the exchange of prisoners that goes on.

High school games, which are getting more and more popular. High school games where students have a tailgate and parents throw a tailgate. It’s a great place for parents to meet friends of their children in a non-threatening area with no walls that they could be cornered. And certainly no high school student would ever turn down a free meal. In colleges it’s the same thing. Parents are throwing tailgates. It’s very interesting, when you first go to college, you feel you’re grown up and you don’t want to have anything to do with your family for the first couple of years. However, it always seems that they gather around their family tailgate and bring their friends with them for a free meal. And the smart ones actually bring their laundry for their mother to wash and bring back the next game.

Photo Credit: Joe Cahn

Ah, that sounds like something I would do. You touched on this, but what would you say are the differences between tailgating at college games versus tailgating at professional games.

Well, I think there are several things. Number one, in college we have students, parents of the students, alumni, faculty, friends of the university, tradition and pageantry in a campus. In the pros there is an asphalt parking lot. Normally in colleges the people going to those games have a vested interest in either the home team or the visiting team, whether it be alumni, whether it be parents, whether it be friends of. In pros it’s just the entire community. Nobody went to the University of the Saints, nobody went to the University of the Cowboys…

But you have more of a community atmosphere in a lot of places where you have two or three teams that represent universities of that area. You have that split loyalty. But in pros, there is normally one team per market. So that’s a major difference. I think you’ll see more children at a college game, and I think that has to do with pricing. Probably alumni bringing their children along, showing them where they went to school more so than a pro setting. But the major difference, I guess, is the atmosphere. You know it’s one when I went to school there we tailgated here and then they closed and when we tailgated at Mile High is different from Invesco. So the terminology is a little bit different, but the party and the reception remain the same.

Understood, Understood. So do you root for any particular teams, be they college or pro?

I root for the home team. I have a jersey from every team. In college I don’t have a player jersey, I normally have the team jersey. Normally in the pros, I have throwback jerseys. In New York I wear Y.A. Tittle. Actually in Baltimore, I wear Johnny Unitas, which is a very interesting thing because it’s a Colt jersey but the only Colt jersey that’s really allowed.

Two weekends ago I did Virginia Tech in the morning and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the afternoon and then Tennessee Titans that Sunday. This weekend I did SMU/TCU in a pouring down rainstorm, which was interesting to watch how many people can fit under one tent. And the answer to that is a lot. I had my SMU pony shirt on.

And then I went down to Houston for the Texans game yesterday, and the Texans had given me a number 32, which is a retired number because they were the 32nd team in the league, with ‘The Commish’ on the back. They honored me with that a couple of years ago. And tonight I go to the Cowboy game with a Romo jersey. When I am in Seattle, I’ll have a Largent jersey. I’ll have a Lance Alworth jersey down in San Diego. So in each place I really root for the team. It’s a very interesting phenomenon to be apart of that gathering of 70-80,00 people cheering for one outcome, that our city is better than your city, our school is better than your school. And it makes it very exciting to always be for the home team. And beside that you get more food.

Check back next week for part 2 of our interview with Joe Cahn, the Commissioner of Tailgating.

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