Go Big, Don’t Go For Broke: Tailgating at its Best

My husband and our son Jonathan with the Drum and Bugle Corps at an Air Force game.

When my husband was assigned to his alma mater, the United States Air Force Academy, we knew we were in for an adventure. We lived on the Academy grounds and found deer in our front yard, wild turkeys in our back yard, and an occasional brown bear by the community dumpsters. But nothing prepared me for the ultimate adventure—tailgating before a football game at over 7,000 feet. The games in September and early October were filled with crisp, cool weather and lots of pregame fun. But by the time Air Force played Army in November, I knew we were in for trouble. The freezing rain started halfway through our tailgate party and was in full force by the time we were guzzling hot chocolate and apple pie. At the start of the game, I had become one of the frozen chosen in the stands, wearing layers of clothing but still chilled to the feet. Our efforts were ultimately vindicated; we whipped Army and brought home the Commander-in-Chief trophy.

In the midst of game-time seasons, I learned the fine art of tailgating with some guiding principles to boot. Here are some tips to make your tailgates more complete—come rain, snow or sleet.

Make a List—Check it Twice

Getting organized will help avoid the frustration of forgetting an essential tailgaiting tool. Make a checklist at home for everything you want to bring to your party and be sure to include everything, even if you think you won’t forget it (We once left the game tickets at home).  Here is a fairly comprehensive list:

Cookout Essentials. Whether you’re going for the all-out barbecue or a simple picnic, it’s important to remember every detail. One slip of the memory can turn baked beans into finger food (not recommended) or leave warm water in place of an ice-cold soda.

  • Food (list it each item individually), beverages (don’t forget a bottle opener or cork screw), condiments, coolers and ice, charcoal and lighter fluid, lighter or matches, cooking and eating utensils, cooker or grill, water (for drinking and for cooling charcoal), serving trays, trash bags, paper products (plates, cups, towels, napkins), plastic products (storage baggies, leftover containers, utensils), pots and pans, and grilling gear (apron, oven mitts, and chef hat).

The Perfect Setup. Tried and true tailgaters know that the right setup can be the difference between the best party and an awkward get-together. If you have the means to take some amenities along, these extras can turn your tailgate into the ultimate tailgate.

  • Canopy or tent, chairs and table (a table cloth makes it better), generator (a portable power source for hard-core tailgaters), flag and holders (GO TEAM!), rope or bungee cords (to tie things down in the wind), decorations, music (radio, iPod, speakers, karaoke machine), and fun stuff (football, Frisbee, games, etc.).

Emergencies and More. Fair-weather fans and tailgating novices may be deterred by a slight chance of rain, but a few preparatory measures will make the difference between worst-case scenarios and slight hiccups in the plan.

  • Blankets and protective rain gear, binoculars, camera, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, sun block, and umbrellas.

Each tailgate is a different experience, so plan ahead and think of every possibility. When in doubt, consider the Boy Scout motto: “be prepared.” And whatever you do, don’t forget the tickets!

Beyond the things to bring, there are a few more considerations to make game day an experience to remember. Check back next week for more tips on game-day preparation and for resources to get more affordable tickets to sporting events.

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