Friday, November 19, 2010

A Game All Its Own

Originally posted on Facebook -- 11/17/10

Competition feeds us all -- sometimes quite literally.

It's 9 am on Halloween Sunday at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey. In four hours, the New York Jets and Green Bay Packers will be facing off inside New Meadowlands Stadium. Outside in the parking lot, however, one game has already begun -- the tailgating.

When it comes to tailgating, the competition can take on many forms -- against Mother Nature, against those in surrounding parking spots (knowingly or unknowingly), and against yourself. You want to make it a memorable and fun experience -- something that can enhance a team's biggest win in the actual game, or compensate for a disappointing loss.

In Lot 26D, across the street from the Izod Center and a short walk from New Meadowlands Stadium, all five human senses are prominently in use during the morning and early afternoon. Fans will be seen in Jets' and Packers' attire; not to mention Halloween costumes as well. The smell of grills burning and food being cooked will waft its way into our noses. The sounds of celebration will be heard before a much-anticipated NFL game. The cold and brisk wind that is occasionally whipping throughout the parking lot will be felt. Finally, the taste of a satisfying pre-game meal will resonate in our mouths and fill our stomachs.

The wind proved to be the biggest threat to Sunday's festivities. Every time the charcoal would be lit in the grill's cauldron, a gust of wind would blow it out. Man vs. Mother Nature is proving to be a more fierce competition than initially expected. A cat-and-mouse game ensued, with bursts of wind seemingly toying with the grill, while objects -- such as tables and human bodies -- were used to protect the fire from the extinguishing elements. Eventually, Man won -- and the tailgating could properly begin.

Now it's time for the real competitiion to ensue. Whether we admit it or not -- we're a nosy society. We like to people-watch...and it's no different at a football game. Just pull into the parking lot, and immediately, the sights are impossible to ignore. Some bring RV's to the stadium for tailgating; others buy old school buses and turn them into a personal team banner. Some fly flags from the windows of their cars, and others are much more unassuming.

Upon pulling into the parking space, you can feel the eyes of those who are already around you, staring you down and taking mental notes. You can imagine the questions running through their mind: "What team does this person root for?" "What kind of jersey are they wearing, if any?" "What kind of tailgating setup do they have?"

That last question is the most important...because you can't help but look. Everything is up for scrutiny -- the chairs and tables used, whether the grill uses charcoal or propane, how many people are in your party, etc. There is one category that ranks above all, however -- what food and drinks are offered?

Since the Jets and Packers had a 1 pm scheduled start, our tailgating party is broken down into two sessions -- breakfast and lunch. With the grill finally heated up, we can begin with our 1st item on the menu -- pork roll sandwiches! While it may seem odd on the surface, it maintains a New Jersey culinary tradition in a New Jersey sports venue. A round of scrambled eggs and assorted fresh fruit bites follow, and we're stuffed heading into the mid-tailgate break.

How do you occupy the time when you're not eating or having something to drink? Lots and lots of games. Washers, cornhole, tailgate toss -- the possibilities are almost endless. There is also the tried-and-true tradition of simply tossing a football around. You can test your accuracy -- or try to put a dent in some unsuspecting person's vehicle. Fortunately, there were no crimes committed as my friends and I threw the football to each other for about 20 minutes. Then, it's on to the lunch portion of the tailgate.

All of the joyous smells associated with a barbecue are now making their presence felt. As the burgers come into contact with the metallic grill surface, a sizzling sound emerges, and some light, white smoke begins to fill the air. After a few flips, the once pink-and-frozen patties turn a deep, juicy brown. To further titillate the palate, some macaroni salad -- as well as an array of pretzels, potato chips and tortilla chips -- make their way onto the green serving table. Once the grill becomes free, hot dogs are added to the mix. Just for good measure, some Halloween candy was presented for dessert. The feast is on! There were only treats on this day -- no tricks.

At one point, a Packers fan in the parking space next to us strikes up a conversation, and during our discussion of both football and non-football related matters, he compliments our tailgating style. The "competition" -- real or imagined -- is now officially a success. Any time unsolicited praise comes your way, you can't help but feel good.

At 12:30, it became time to clean up and head toward the stadium. Kickoff was a half-hour away, and the walk from the Izod Center to New Meadowlands Stadium can take anywhere between 10-15 minutes. It's a good way to burn off some of the food that we had spent all morning and early-afternoon eating!

Another Jets' tailgate has come-and-gone. Could it have been better? Yes...there were some new menu items that I had meant to break out for lunch, but ran out of time. Still, there is no way I'd rather spend a fall Sunday -- and after a disappointing 9-0 Jets' loss to Green Bay that afternoon, you could argue that the "game" beforehand was more of a highlight than the actual contest itself.

Burgers on the grill during a Jets' pre-game tailgate

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