Ah, tailgating... an American institution and a true display of what it means to be a fan. For the uninitiated, a tailgate is a party hosted out of a car, or pretty much anything else with wheels (not Segways... yet). Most tailgates take place around football games and involve grills, beer, games and other outdoor distractions. The common tailgater will hold the party before and after the game, with the exception of some boozy warriors who celebrate throughout the game as well.
Got the fundamentals down? Good. Because that's the academic definition of tailgating. And the truth is that tailgating means so much more than just partying outside on game day.
You see, our favorite athletes give us a gift every season. They sacrifice themselves for the sake of our school or hometown pride, not to mention our entertainment. In turn, we pay back their sacrifice with $45 parking spaces, $170 jerseys, $18 beers, $115 tickets and multimillion dollar contracts by camping out near the stadium for every game, sometimes for days at a time. The physical sacrifice we endure before and after the game is a direct homage to their efforts during the game. In fact, sometimes it's harder. Let's see JaMarcus Russell try to cram down 15 hot dogs before running out on the field. Maybe that isn't the best example, but you get the point.
Maybe I'm being too dramatic. Just tell that to the Buffalo faithful, who brave freezing temperatures outside each winter to chomp down one more wing before watching their team heroically race for 3rd in the AFC East. Or to the Houston fans who are forced, against their better judgment, to down beer after beer to stay cool in the sweltering southern heat. Ladies and gentlemen, these are the true fans. They sacrifice themselves to show both support and pride for their teams.
BUT! Tailgates are also a direct reflection of hometown pride. Think about it: you can get burgers at any tailgate. But only in Gillette Stadium can you feast on some of the world's best New England clam chowder while some big guy named Sully screams aggressive things about your mother. And in New Orleans? You can have your fill of etouffee and gumbo, all while trying to decipher what language the locals are speaking (spoiler: still English).
And finally, tailgating is all about community. You'll understand when you see it firsthand: the parking lot laid out in front of you, the air thick and smoky from a small army of grills, music blaring and flags flying high. It's like someone stitched together everyone's backyard cookout like a quilt. And even though the days when we would ask a neighbor for a cup of sugar are long gone, at the tailgate, where everyone is gathered together in the name of fandom, the feast is shared among fan and foe alike.
I could describe tailgating to you all day and night. But experience trumps all. So, do yourself a favor this season: go out there and celebrate your town, team, region, college or community, and enjoy a publicly approved excuse to drink beer at 10:00 in the morning.