EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 18: A general view of the top of Metlife Stadium before the game between the New York Giants and New York Jets on August 18, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Photo Credit: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
We began the year locked in to the idea that tailgates belonged entirely in the realm of football. But, the closer we studied the problem, the more we realized that that’s not quite true. We’ve dismissed vehicles and parking lots, and in many cases, sports altogether. Today, tailgating as we see it at Tailgate Fan has a loose, flowing, squishy definition that, under the right circumstances, can apply to almost anything, as long as there is passion, company and good food. Today, we’re going back to our roots, and today we’re asking:
Can you tailgate a preseason football game?
The answer, of course, is yes. But not quite in the way you’d expect.
If you’re a fan of this column, you know that last season I had the chance to put the Jets and the Giants against each other in a smorgasbord of tailgate pandemonium that left me hungover and covered in barbecue sauce on two consecutive weekends. Sure, passers-by might have wondered if that much day drinking would take its toll on my already heavy-set frame. But maybe those people just don’t know how to party. You ever think about that? Hm? Unrelated: I’m turning 30 next month.
I attended last week’s preseason game between the Jets and the Giants at MetLife Stadium, aka the Meadowlands. Now, having seen some remarkable displays of tailgate swagger just one season before, I expected a healthy dose of Jersey shenanigans (perfect band name, btw). Think about it: you’ve got same-town rivals vying for “The Snoopy Trophy” (I don’t know if this was actually a thing or if they just made it up on the spot). It’d be like two fat, ugly brothers fighting each other for the last bite of mama’s beef casserole — their rage stoked by their close proximity and the fact that they’re both horribly boring and fun to root against. I don’t care if this metaphor got away from me. This is what I feel in my heart.
At the very least, the stage was set for what would be an emotional, tense tailgate, right?
My first clue that something was amiss was the train ride over. New Jersey Transit was almost empty. This is in stark contrast to the games I attended last year. Traveling to the games last year, I was surrounded by New York fans. This year? I was surrounded by people headed to Newark Airport. Lots of suitcases. No Sanchez jerseys.
Arriving at the parking lot, I found, basically, a Walking Dead scenario, but with fewer zombies and more sad people. There were various encampments scattered around the parking lot. Occasionally, you’d find a mom and pop sitting by their lonesome, grilling a brat or two. People were somewhat territorial. And that was it.
Photo Credit: Brian Cullen
Sure, there were some highlights. I saw a good bit of people with tailgating vehicles (which I am absolutely a fan of). I even found a fella with a wine rack and a portable bar. Of course, these all took the backseat to the shirtless dudebros who were actually holding their fantasy football draft in the parking lot next to their fanbulance. That… that was pretty cool.
At last year’s tailgates, I was struck by just how open, giving and generous people were. I was getting handouts like crazy. Beers. Food. Everything. Hell, I even got to shotgun with a few folks just because I helped them carry a cooler. Nothing like that here. At this tailgate, everyone just sort of seemed to keep to themselves.
Now, interpreted the wrong way, you might argue that I’m giving this tailgate a grade of “disappointing” because I didn’t get free stuff. Not so. The point is — and we’ve said this since day one — the essence of tailgating is community. It’s the last great American neighborhood (albeit mobile). And when I see sectioned off tailgates not interacting — for lack of a better term, not being neighborly — to me, that’s the sign of a tailgate in serious need of work.
I don’t blame Jets fans or Giants fans. More than anything, I think this is indicative of the level of passion surrounding preseason football. It’s just a series of games that don’t matter. And if these two typically riled up fanbases can’t get their enthusiasm up for playing for New York bragging rights — what teams could? Of course, if I were being political, I might mention that this somewhat non-excitable crowd was the same crowd that got to witness players, such as Mark Sanchez, get hurt. But that’d get preachy real quick.
So, my advice? If you’re planning on a tailgate, I recommend either a) heading to a preseason game with such energy and enthusiasm that your fellow tailgaters can’t help but take you seriously, or b) just wait until the regular season.
Thanks again for the hospitality, Meadowlands. I’m sure I’ll see you soon.