What would football be without tailgating? For decades, fans have made the hours leading up to kick off almost as important as the game itself, thanks to the campers and cookouts, buffets and bottles. In fact, tons of fans tailgate before football games without ever going inside the stadium.
From the grassy fields of Happy Valley to the concrete parking lots of Pittsburgh, the seemingly never-ending flow of food begins early on game-day mornings. The smell of bacon and eggs wafts through the air as the early birds secure their favorite spots.
Barbecue grills, canopies and chairs are pulled out of the back of vehicles, unfurled, unfolded and fired up to create an outdoor kitchen, dining room and living room, perfect for entertaining.
Custom flags fly over RV's and pick-up trucks, showing family and friends where to join the party. Television sets are tuned in to preview shows to keep track of all the day's events.
Tailgating has come a long way from the Styrofoam cooler full of cold cuts and transistor radios of yesteryear. Today's tailgates involve everything from meat seared with your favorite team's logo to portable satellite TV.
Shopping for the latest and greatest in tailgating supplies, you will find things like a "motorized cooler scooter" that will not only help quench your thirst, but also transport you to your tailgate. How about "magnetic coozies" insulated covers for your favorite beverage that stick right to the side of your vehicle.
For the die-hard fans of food and football, there are helmets that hold chips and dips, even garbage bags that show which team you'll be cheering for later in the day.
The food isn't just the easy-to-pack and easy-to-grill hamburgers and hot dogs. Walking through the tailgating areas you can smell and taste everything from surf and turf to chili, to gourmet vegetarian delights. Everyday cooks become prideful chefs as they slave over the open flames of the barbecue grill, and open Tupperware containers filled with carefully-prepared salads and sides.
Beyond the food, today's tailgates are statements of style, featuring colorful cloths over fold-up tables, team-color floral arrangements, fancy hors d'oeuvres and dessert platters.
There are games to pass the time before kick off from simple catch to makeshift horseshoe pits, beanbag tosses, and even putting greens.
It all creates the ideal backdrop for the true purpose of tailgating no, it's not just to stuff our faces and fill our bladders. It's the fun and fellowship that goes with football.
It's reuniting with college classmates, feeding your campus-living kids and all their friends and hooking up with football-loving, face-paint wearing, terrible-towel waving friends. It's catching up with folks you met while tailgating and only see on football weekends.
It's hours of trash talk and armchair quarterbacking, all with added benefit of good food and good company. Grab a plate and dig in.
Goodman can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org