I attended my first football game in the fall of 1979 when I was just nine months old. Since then, I’ve been to more than 100 football games. High school match-ups, college bowls, pro games—I’ve seen it all. And I truly revel in the Xs and Os of what I deem to be the most compelling sport on the planet.
But I have to admit that I love another aspect of football about as much as I love discussing the merits of the spread offense: tailgating.
There’s a lot of lore surrounding the humble beginnings of these back-of-a-truck bashes—namely that they began among Ivy League colleges as demure picnics and became markedly more popular following the Civil War. Today there’s very little modesty on display. We roll into parking lots in massive RVs and hook up flat-screens to mobile satellite dishes so that we don’t miss the other games of the day. That is fine and good and, let’s face it, pretty darn fun.
But hosting a memorable tailgate, say, for Sunday's Broncos game versus the Chargers (it’s a 2:15 MDT kickoff) requires more than a land yacht and a remote control. Yes, folks, tailgating is an art to be perfected. And after nearly 33 years of experience, I can offer a few pointers.
1. Scout: Don’t spend game day driving around aimlessly trying to find a place to put down the cooler. Problem is, game days are like old-timey land grabs—you gotta be smart and quick. Find a spot the night before and try to get there super early on game day to claim your space. You might even consider finding out if you can park a car there the night before (with the heavy stuff already inside) and then take light rail the following morning.
2. Get Out of the Car: Yes, the word “tailgate” suggests you use the back of your truck as a buffet table. In a pinch, this works just fine. But bringing a simple card table, some camping chairs, a couple of sturdy coolers, and a canopy tent not only allows you to legitimately commandeer more space, it means you don’t have to set the deviled eggs next to those stinky hiking boots you never remember to take out of your trunk.
3. Run Up the Sweeps; Cell phones have made locating your friends in a sea of parked cars a bit easier, but if you mark your 12 square feet of real estate properly you won’t have to mind your iPhone. Pick up a half-dozen helium balloons (any colors except Chargers colors please!) and tie them to a long string that’s attached to your bumper. Tell your friends to look for them.
4. It’s All About the Meat: Authentic tailgating involves charcoal—that’s a rule. If you’d like to grill brats (make sure to boil them in beer the morning of) or burgers, that’s your prerogative, but if you’re trying to take your tailgate to the next level, we suggest something more awe-inspiring and mouthwatering, like barbecue ribs (recipe below).
5. Share: The best part of tailgating is inviting friends—and strangers—to your feast. Don’t ever pass up the opportunity to include passersby in your day. The phrase You folks need a beer? should always be on the tip of your tongue. Of course, that means you’ll want to pack a few extra beverages and snacks just in case you make more friends than you had anticipated. Good-natured ribbing of opposing fans is acceptable.
6. Partake in Some Friendly Competition: No tailgate is complete without tossing the football around. (We dig the leather pigskin, but we’ve found softer Nerf-style versions tend to result in fewer dents.) But you can also find space for corn hole, washer toss, or ladderball. Take note: These are all games that can be played with one hand, leaving the other free to hold a cold beverage.
7. Booze It Up: A parking lot is not an environment fit for heavy stouts or coffee-flavored porters. Yes, we brew some mean microbrews here in Colorado, but football means one of two things: yellow beer or bourbon. And, in some cases, both.
8. Pump Up the Jam: There’s nothing worse than a too-quiet tailgate. We believe the rotating “playlist” should include the fight song of your team, ESPN Jock Jams (c’mon, you know you like it), and, for a great majority of the day, a steady stream of sports radio.
9. Post Game Plans Most folks assume the tailgate is over once you enter the stadium. Wrong! Although you’ll want to pack up before the game, make sure to keep some food and beverages easily accessible for afterward. It’s much more enjoyable to relive the victory (or rehash the loss) from a camping chair than it is from behind the wheel in gridlock traffic.
Fall-off-the-Bone BBQ Ribs
(Makes 1 rack of ribs)
1/8 cup paprika
2 ¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 ¼ teaspoon brown sugar
2 ¼ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ teaspoon celery salt
1 ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
1 ¼ teaspoon cumin
1 rack of pork ribs
3 medium onions, sliced
2 bottles dark beer
Bottled barbecue sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine first nine ingredients in a medium-size bowl to make dry rub. Set aside. Remove shiny white membrane from rack of ribs with a knife. Cover ribs—front and back—with rub.
Place sliced onions and both bottles of beer into bottom of large roasting pan. Set ribs onto rack inside pan (meat should rest above the beer and onions, not in them). Cover tightly with foil. Place in 350-degree oven for 3 hours (or until tender), turning every hour.
Remove ribs from roasting pan. Baste with your favorite bottled barbecue sauce. Grill over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, basting with more sauce as necessary.
If you’d like to serve these ribs at your tailgate, roast the ribs at home the morning of the game. Cover the roasted ribs in foil until it’s time to grill them. Bring a grill, barbecue sauce, sauce brush, and lots of napkins to your tailgate. Enjoy!