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A Few Tips From the 'Commissioner'

Joe Cahn has made the outdoor party his life's work

September 26, 2002|Nancy Rommelmann

Joe Cahn, the self-appointed "Commissioner of Tailgating," was reached while driving his Monaco motor coach on Interstate 95, "somewhere between Baltimore and New York," en route to the opening NFL game between the Giants and San Francisco. "I'm seeing America and eating my way around the country," says the former New Orleans cooking school owner, who seven years ago decided to devote himself to what he calls "the world's largest covered-dish dinner party."

"The first couple of years, I would cook jambalaya," says Cahn, whose recipes and more can be found on "But I wanted to see how other people celebrated. Now I park, put out a little snack food and a sign that says 'Help Yourself,' and walk around sampling other people's food. I stop and schmooze, go to maybe 10 or 20 parties.

"Tailgating is somewhere between a food festival and a sporting event. But you don't even have to like football to come out to this community social."

There are two main theories on the origin of the tailgate, according to Cahn. One dates it to the very first college football game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869, when fans traveled to the game by carriage, grilling sausages and burgers at the "tail end" of the horse.

The second says it all began at Yale in 1904. At least that's what they'll tell you. Is it true? The Yale story has been verified by, you guessed it ... Yale. As the story goes, there was a train made up of private railcars bringing fans to a Yale game. By the time the fans arrived at the stadium, they were hungry and thirsty. So the idea of bringing a picnic hamper of food was born.

Whatever the history, Cahn will log 30,000 miles and tailgate in 47 stadiums this season. He is so fascinated by the demographics of tailgating, he got a grant to study it.

"We live in an America where we don't talk to our neighbors; we check our caller ID; if someone knocks at the door at 9 p.m., we don't open it," he says. "But in the parking lot, we talk to strangers, we share food with them--and it happens in parking lots across the country every weekend. Religion and ethnic group are not factors, nor is age; you have 10-year-olds hanging out with 80-year-olds. This adds to the sociability, and makes tailgating magical."

Here are Joe Cahn's Top 10 Tips for Successful Tailgating:

1. Dress in team colors. You are the 12th man on the team, so show your team spirit. Decorate your site with team pennants and other team stuff.

2. Plan your menu and do prep work a day or two before the game. Keep the menu simple and pack prepared food in disposable containers.

3. Make a list of the items you want to take along, and check them off as you pack. Pack paper products (plates, napkins, towels, etc.) the night before. Remember such items as a small first-aid kit, trash bags, water and damp towels in plastic bags to clean up.

4. Plan to arrive three to four hours early and stay one to two hours after the game.

5. Find a good spot to park. Not all parking spaces are created equal. Park next to a grassy area or at the end of the parking row. This gives you more room for setting up tables, schmoozing, rubbernecking. In short, for serious tailgating.

6. Fly a flag on a very high pole so friends can find you.

7. Meet your tailgate neighbors, share food, swap recipes, throw the football with friends, read the paper.

8. Food should be ready 1 1/2 hours before game time, so there is plenty of time for those going to the game to eat, clean up and extinguish fires. (Those not going to the game can pull out the generator and TV.)

9. Leave the area clean. Begin thinking about food and friends for the next game.

10. And don't forget ... jumper cables, toilet paper, more trash bags than you think you need, an extra cooler full of ice, rain gear or sun block, comfortable shoes, antacid and a friend.

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