“Meet us in the south parking lot. Bring hot dogs.”

To the uninitiated, that invitation sounds decidedly unfestive and downright weird. To those who spend their summers counting down the days to football season’s tailgate parties, you need say no more before the coolers are stocked and the grill is lit.

Ask individual revelers what tailgating means to them and you’ll get answers that range from the poignant (UW Husky football is a family legacy, and some of your cousins never miss a home game) to the amusingly practical (uh, tons of free-flowing beer?). Collectively, though, this spirited crew will offer up the same ultimate conclusion.

The essence of tailgating boils down to the three F’s: Friends, Food, and Football.

Whether you’re a parking lot regular known to keep a Coors in one hand and a spatula in the other or a tentative stadium newbie, here are some ideas for getting the most out of the tailgating trifecta.

THE TAILGATING TRIFECTA

  1. Friends & Family: Tailgating as a member of your home team’s fan base is like attending an extreme family reunion (matching outfits and all). It’s fun to involve multiple generations of football fans, and most parking lots morph into “game day neighborhoods” with some spots more family-friendly than others. Experienced partiers include games in their list of essential tailgating supplies, along with outdoor party gear like stereos and speakers. Some fans set up elaborate stations with places to sit, watch pregame commentary on TV, or enjoy picnics while showing off their team spirit.
  2. Food: Tailgating recipes extend far beyond grilled bratwurst. According to a Tailgating Institute research study, 95% of tailgaters prepare food right there in the parking lot, meaning a good tailgating grill (or two, if you’re hosting a crowd) is a must. To balance out the staple burgers and sausages, ice chests full of cold beer (or wine) abound–and if you run out, be prepared to barter for your next can. If you’d like to get creative with regional dishes, desserts, or gather more tailgate food ideas, check out Inside Tailgating.
  3. Fandom: It’s not really a college football or NFL tailgate party without, well, the football. Even those who keep partying in the parking lot and never enter the stadium show their team spirit with flags, player jerseys, team memorabilia, fight songs and cheers, and fun accessories like flasks and sunglasses.

game-day-trifecta-knackshops-02

 

YOUR TAILGATE PARTY CHECKLIST

Great Tailgating Gifts

Primus Onja Stove and cookout prep set: If good food is the most important part of a tailgate party, make sure you have the tools to whip up the perfect picnic. 

Gas camp stove

Enamelware plates and cups: Lightweight, shatterproof, and easy to clean, this classic picnicware is an eco-friendly alternative to paper plates and cups.

Enamelware plates

Kachula Adventure Blanket: It doesn’t get much more versatile than this adventure blanket–it’s waterproof, machine-washable, anti-microbial and super lightweight. Plus, it can fold into a small pillow or unfurl into a poncho if the game goes into overtime or the weather gets cold.

Striped camping blanket

Coalatree Kachula Adventure Blanket

Snake Eyes Yard Games: Keep kids–and squirrely adults–entertained with yard games before the big game. A tip for the savvy: since these games are made of wood, play on a blanket if you don’t want to scratch the pieces.

Snake Eyes Yard Dice

Metamorphic Gear Marble Boat Tote: Haul it all with ease! Metamorphic Gear’s sturdy boat tote made from upcycled sail cloth and climbing ropes is roomy enough for all your tailgating essentials, and then some.

Metamorphic Gear Upcycled Sailcloth Boat Tote

A TIMELESS TRADITION

Cultural anthropologists and team historians across the country have long hoped to pinpoint an origin story for this American tradition. They’ve turned up several theories, most of which fall as short as the Seahawks’ mortifying 20-seconds-from-victory play call in the 2015 Super Bowl against the New England Patriots (we’re not bitter or anything). Several universities and NFL teams claim to be the first-ever tailgate party hosts, swearing that the experience dates back to the 1920s or, in some cases, the 1860s–but much as Rutgers, Yale, or the Green Bay Packers would like to own the honors, the earliest documented tailgate party remains a mystery.

Rather than identifying the first official tailgate party, Notre Dame professor and researcher John Sherry likens the experience to the harvest festivals held in Ancient Greece and Rome in his study, “A Cultural Analysis Of Tailgating.” He explores the complexities of the festivities, suggesting that by establishing pre-game traditions that pass between generations of partiers, fans develop a shared identity distinctive to every team that’s just as important as the game itself.

And with that, Sherry gets to the very heart of the joyful, smoky, beer-splashed reveling that consumes stadium parking lots every fall. He says, “Tailgating is actually a very complex social, community-building exercise, not simply a wild party, during which fans are able to connect with and actually help create their school’s brand,” Sherry says. “Tailgating, for the fans, is literally helping to create Notre Dame, or Michigan, or USC.”

Tell us about your favorite tailgating traditions in the comments! Can they beat any of these?