Brad is deep-fat-frying a turkey. His wife, Kathy, is passing around Jell-O shots, after sampling a few to make sure the flavor was just right. Chopper is slow-roasting an entire pig. Lacy is baking 20 pounds of her famous ham loaf. Darren is setting up the margarita machine, after putting hundreds of bottles of craft-brewed beer on ice. There’s a chili-tasting challenge going on just around the corner.
More people are showing up all the time, and everyone seems to know everyone else. There’s a carnival vibe in the air. Wait, what’s this — a marching band? What kind of a restaurant is this?
It’s not a restaurant, it’s just the weekly tailgate party in the visitors’ parking lot of this week’s big game. Brad is frying that turkey behind his SUV; everyone else is cooking or unpacking enormous amounts of food and snacks.
This is college football at its finest. Brad, Kathy, Chopper, Lacy, Darren and all their friends and family drove seven hours to get to this game. They brought tents in our team’s colors, and proudly display expensive memorabilia and collectibles while they spread out the food they’ve made on folding tables for the other fans to share. The food and drinks are free; everyone is happy just to be there and share their support for our team. It’s like Woodstock, except the toilets work and no one’s naked. Yet.
Of course, it’s only 10 in the morning, and the party’s just getting started. The game won’t start until 4. As in, six hours from now. How is anyone going to sit through a three-hour football game after they’ve been drinking for six hours?
“We pace ourselves,” Chopper said, beer in hand. “And since you can’t drink in the stadium, after the game, you’re good to come back and start partying again.”
The home team’s fans are having their own tailgate parties in other parking lots because today is the big game. But in an age where every college game is on some TV channel somewhere, every game is a “big game.” Last week’s game was a big game, next week’s game will be a big game.
Today’s weather was perfect weather for football — sunny, low humidity, brisk but not cold. You could tell the temperature was going to drop tonight after the sun went down. Good sleeping weather, people say. But next week, the forecast is for much lower temperatures. Good hibernating-in-a-man-cave weather, I say.
Twenty minutes of eating brats in the chilly rain would hit my “are we having fun yet?” limit. Contemplating doing it for another five hours and 40 minutes makes me wonder why college alumni don’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain. No, not rain — it’s sleeting now. There’s an icicle on Brad’s ear. It’s 31 degrees, but with the wind chill, it feels like ... like it’s time to scalp the tickets and go home. I’m sorry, but this is not margarita weather.
I didn’t inherit the tailgate gene. As much as I like football and as much as I like eating free food off the backs of cars in parking lots, I still prefer a nice, centrally heated living room with a comfy sofa and a 60-inch TV. Drink in one hand, clicker in the other, nachos in the third. The temperature in my living room is a manly 72. With the wind chill, it feels like ... oh yeah, 72.
The pictures on HD TV are incredible. I think I just saw Brad and Kathy on the 50-yard line. They look like they could use a drink. A nice, hot drink.
Contact Jim Mullen at firstname.lastname@example.org