By Brian Cullen

Does a tailgate have to involve a car?

This sounds silly, of course — as if I just asked you if a sandwich has to include bread. And before you scoff at that, consider: Exhibit A: ice cream sandwiches; Exhibit B: Chipwiches; Exhibit C: the Double Down Sandwich. That’s three right there for ya. I could go into all sorts of other examples about lettuce wraps and what have you, but while we’re challenging tailgating convention, let’s not stray too far from what brung us to the dance in the first place, hm?

This is a challenge, of course, because if you mess around with the DNA too much, we could permanently alter what we’re talking about here. In other words, if we say that tailgating doesn’t need a car, are we suggesting that it can happen at a bar? If so, what are the limitations there? In other words, if you’re talking about just drinking at a bar before a football game, then we’re not talking about tailgating anymore. We’re talking about going out. Or day drinking. Now, both of those concepts are fine and dandy, but last time I checked, I wasn’t getting paid by At least, I don’t think.

So the task set before us is twofold:

1. Determine conditions that make up the stereotypical core of what makes a tailgate a tailgate
2. Of these, figure out what we can change while still keeping it a tailgate.

Should be easy enough, right?



(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Now, when you think of a tailgate, you’re probably thinking of a few key ingredients. So far as I can tell, the “essentials” are:

– A football game
– Adult beverages
– Food
– A grill
– A motorized, 4-wheeled vehicle of some sort

Sound about right? Let’s start from there. And if you’d like to amend the list, feel free to shred me in the comments, like a soft cheese to be served melted on a walking taco at a tailgate. (See how I brought that full circle? Ha HA!)

So, five items. What can we change, while still calling it a tailgate? We’ll parse through it one by one.

(Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

(Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

A Football Game

We could disprove this one with anecdotal evidence all day long. I myself have tailgated before the Belmont Stakes on three separate occasions. In fact, I’ll be tailgating before the Kentucky Derby next week, too (stay tuned for whatever that article turns into. Woof.) But, for the sake of science, let’s go to our good friends at Wikipedia to see how John Q. Everyman defines a tailgate:

Tailgate parties have spread to the pre-game festivities at sporting events besides football, such as basketball, hockey, soccer, and baseball, and also occur at non-sporting events such as weddings and barbecues.

Far out, America! That’s the kind of innovation I like to see! Baseball games? Basketball games? Weddings!? That’s the kind of groundbreaking thinking what fought off King George III in the first place. I’m proud to call myself a patriot today. Although, one might wonder how someone would tailgate before a barbeque, since that’s like saying “I took an 8-hour nap” (no, you slept), but let’s not split hairs. Celebrations abound and you guys are doing things and experiencing life. Well done.

Verdict: NOT a necessity
Alternative: Any activity where people are gathered in celebration.

Check out the Top 10 Tailgating Cities.

(Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images  for Rolling Stone's Volkswagen Rock & Roll Tailgate)

(Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for Rolling Stone’s Volkswagen Rock & Roll Tailgate)

Adult Beverages

Well. This one is tricky. My shoot-from-the-hip reaction is “yes, of course they have to involve adult beverages! They make people forget about butt fumbles and helmet catches!” But I’m rethinking that now. You could argue, probably correctly, the the most fun and exciting tailgates involve adult beverages. But there’s something missing here. See, the true beauty of tailgating culture is the spirit of inclusion. Helping your neighbor out when her car needs a start. Sharing a bratwurst. Replaying your school’s fight song on his request. It’s the last great American neighborhood and should be revered as such. So when we’re mandating alcohol at tailgates, are we excluding children? What about folks who happen to be recovering from alcoholism, are they not allowed to tailgate? I call that all horse hockey. The joy of the tailgate is in community and camaraderie, so I say, adult beverages are optional.

Verdict: NOT a necessity.
Alternative: Apply beverages liberally to those of legal age who are so inclined.

Check out the Top 10 Tailgating Beers.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)


I think you absolutely need food in order for your party to count as a tailgate. At the very least, have some burgers and brats to nosh on. Or, at best, you can deck out your tailgate to be specific to the event you’re attending. I got to hang out at some awesome tailgates where the menu changed every week depending on the opponent (for instance, clam chowder when they’re playing New England, crab cakes against Baltimore, horse meat against the Broncos, etc). So yes, I think food is a must. Not only will it sop up booze, but it can help the whole cultural experience of your tailgate. And also, the alternative is that you’re just standing around outdoors drinking. Now, that ain’t bad livin’. It just ain’t a tailgate, neither.

Verdict: Necessity!
Alternative: Add melted cheese.

Check out the Top 10 Regional Tailgating Foods.

(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

A Grill

Do a Google image search for ‘tailgate,’ and whaddya see? The vast majority of these pictures have grills. That would suggest that a grill is a must, right? Of course not. If you based your decisions on Google image searches, you’d be a mess of a human being; the type of human being who would assume that all quarterback are handsome white guys. (How’s that for the universe’s worst SEO phrase?)

Now, I’m going to go against convention and say no. A tailgate does not need a grill. And here’s the litmus test:

If someone called you up and said, “hey, we’re tailgating before the game, we’re going to drink beers in the sunlight all day, but we don’t have a grill. We DO, however, have a cold, six-foot party sub.” Would you ever say no to that arrangement? Because I’ve got news for you — that’s my own personal heaven right there. That’s my field of dreams.

Verdict: NOT a necessity
Alternative: Any food, as long as there is food.

Find some great recipes for your next tailgate.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

A motorized, 4-wheeled vehicle of some sort

This one’s a biggie. This is a discussion that could rock the entire tailgating world to its core. This requires some academic thought above and beyond my abilities, so let’s go to the tape:

A tailgate party is a social event held on and around the open tailgate of a vehicle.

Aw. Well, that settles that, then. It was fun while it lasted. I guess we’ll just… wait! What’s this?

Many people participate even if their vehicles do not have tailgates.

…oh my God!

Ok, Kevin Pollack, go get some law books. Demi Moore, put on a pot of coffee. We’re going to parse this out and redefine the entire tailgating institution!

So, if vehicles without tailgates can have a tailgating party, then the name “tailgate” is symbolic in nature only. Do you know what that means!? You can tailgate on a segue! You can tailgate on a pogo stick! You can tailgate on a unicorn! (But also, maybe call a zoo or National Geographic for that last one?) In fact, I’ll take you one further here:

I don’t think you need a vehicle at all.

(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

I know, I know, I know, put the pitchforks down, settle yourselves and just hear me out. I encourage you to look at what people are doing at The Cubby Bear in Wrigleyville before every game. Or at Stan’s before the Bronx Bombers take to the field. Is that not tailgating? I submit that it is. You’ve got people gathered in celebration before an event, toasting each other with food and drinks and having a community-driven party. I think that absolutely counts.

BUT. BUUUUUUUUT. But. But. There’s a BIG caveat here. I think in order to qualify to be a tailgating bar, you need to be within a half mile of your stadium. Like, me getting plastered in my backyard can’t count, especially because, if it did, I’d be tailgating for Frasier every night. No, in order to bar tailgate, you’ve gotta be close to the fans and close to the action. Then and ONLY then can you get a pass. I encourage all of you to start bringing measuring tape to your local speakeasies to double check for yourself. This is important.

Verdict: NOT a necessity
Alternative: A bar close to the event.

Check out the Top 10 Tailgating Vehicles.

So this is startling, huh? Let’s take a look at our original list now.

A football game
Adult beverages
– Food
A grill
A motorized, 4-wheeled vehicle of some sort

Ok, so now let’s look at our NEW list.

– An event celebrated by a mass of people>
– Refreshments. Alcohol only if agreeable
– Food
– More food
– Proximity to the event itself

Now, does this open us up to a whole new world of possibilities? Yes. And I think that’s perfect. So let’s get going, tailgaters: we’ve got a long off-season of barhopping ahead of us. Giddyup!

Check out Brian’s Tailgating Top 10s.

Stop in at the Man Cave Daily, where the women are hot and the beer is cold.

Brian Cullen finished writing an entire season about football tailgating, and is ready to dive in for the offseason. Follow him on Twitter @bucketcullen.

Comments (4)
  1. NBC Sports activities Network will select up the action for the early stakes at two:30pm (ET) with NBC broadcasting
    the Belmont Stakes at four:30pm (ET).

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