CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 16: Fans tailgate in the parking lot outside Soldier Field before the 2011 NFC divisional playoff game between the Chicago Bears and the Seattle Seahawks on January 16, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Growing up, the worst day of the year for me was always December 26th. Why? Because the build up and excitement for Christmas inevitably led to a free-fall back to reality the day after, a painful reminder that there were 364 more days until it returned.
For any football fan, this same feeling of disappointment is elicited during the last tailgate of the season, a “Tailgating Last Supper” if you will. You see, regardless of whether your team is winning or losing, the inescapable vice of disappointment during the last tailgate of the season is the same.
So while tailgates are typically happy, friendly occasions, this “Last” one ultimately cannot be. This is the blessing and curse of the fanatical football fan: that every season must eventually (and inevitably) come to an end. That’s just life. So how do you cope?
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Ending as a Winner
I can tell you from experience, the last tailgate for college teams almost always occurs at the end of the regular season. Bowl games tend to be unique and unpredictable. Indeed, most are scheduled when students are on break and require fans to travel, diluting their appeal.
Fans of the NFL have it a little better. Pro teams may continue on to the playoffs, which means the tailgating also continues if your team holds home-field advantage. Should they make it all the way to the Super Bowl, travel will also play into the picture.
If your team is fortunate enough to make the postseason, organizing a tailgate is still a must! If you’re doubly lucky and the game is at your home stadium — like the Hawaii Bowl is for me — then you can tailgate in the normal place. If not, you’ll have to move the festivities to someone’s house. Surely someone will volunteer.
While at the tailgate, it’s important to remember to focus on the future. Don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed with short-term successes. This isn’t as easy to do as it may seem. Being a football fan — college or pro — is like running a marathon. No matter how fast you run one mile, you’re still not going to come out ahead if you can’t string more than a few of them together in a row.
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Ending as a Loser
This is, believe it or not, typically easier to deal with than ending as a winner. A losing season is always full of disappointments and, as such, less of a high to fall down from. It also means a fairly low standard when collectively evaluating the potential for future improvement.
The tricky thing here is remaining positive. Once a team starts to lose, the fair-weather fans evacuate like the bandwagon is on fire. This makes it really easy to get down on a team with very little talent (Hawaii Warriors) or a really REALLY terrible coach (USC Trojans) or an under-performing roster (Philadelphia Eagles) or no quarterback (Arizona Cardinals). Reminding yourself that there’s always next year can provide a nice (sometimes deluded) distraction to keep you from bottoming out. If you’re unfamiliar with this mind-trick, ask anyone in Detroit or Cleveland for some advice.
The end of football season sucks, seriously and unavoidably. And the end of tailgating sucks even more. Just try to be positive and find comfort in one thing: The start of next season is closer than you think.