Friday, February 24, 2012

Nomads of the North

For over 16 years, they have been a fan base without a team.

The Quebec Nordiques only exist in the history books now

The Quebec Nordiques started as members of the upstart World Hockey Association in 1972, winning two division titles. They won their first-and-only world championship in 1976-77, defeating the Winnipeg Jets to claim the Avco Cup.

The Nordiques won the WHA's Avco Cup in 1976-77 (Screenshot courtesy: Youtube)

Following the 1978-79 season, Quebec was absorbed into the NHL as part of a merger between the two professional leagues. As a result of the 1979 Expansion Draft, however, the Nordiques became bottom-dwellers for the next couple of seasons.

Despite their struggles on the ice, the Nordiques rarely suffered from a lack of fan support. Throughout their NHL existence, the then-15,750-seat Colisee de Quebec was at-or-near capacity for almost every home game.

Le Colisee usually drew big crowds for the Nordiques (Photo courtesy:

Other economic factors were rearing their ugly heads, however.

During the early-to-mid 1990s, all eight of the NHL's Canadian teams were affected by the economy in some way. While revenues for those franchises were calculated in Canadian dollars, players' salaries were paid in American money. At the time, the Canadian dollar lagged far behind the U.S. dollar, placing the Nordiques and others at an automatic disadvantage.

Star players like Joe Sakic were expensive for the Nordiques (Photo courtesy:

The Nordiques' surroundings also seemingly hindered their survival. At the time, Quebec City represented the smallest market in the NHL, and the 2nd-smallest market among North America's major professional sports teams (the NFL's Green Bay Packers were/are #1).

In addition, Quebec City is an almost exclusively French-speaking area, so that proved intimidating to some English-speaking fans, advertisers, media -- and even some free agent players -- from outside the region.

The Nordiques' location played a role in their financial difficulties

Eventually, the red ink that accompanied the Nordiques' annual bottom line was too much for team owner and president Marcel Aubut to handle.

May 16th, 1995 marked the last game in Quebec Nordiques' history, a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers that eliminated them from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That summer, the igloo/hockey stick logo and fleur-de-lis insignias were packed away for good, as the franchise was sold and relocated to Denver, where they became the Colorado Avalanche.

1994-95 was the last season in Nordiques' history (Photo courtesy:

Since then, the Avalanche have captured two Stanley Cups and turned the Denver area into a hockey hotbed. Meanwhile, Quebec City has been left in the National Hockey League's wake -- and residents now wonder if they'll ever again have an opportunity to call a franchise their own.

In August 2010, a grassroots effort began to take shape at the suggestion of two Quebec City radio hosts -- with the intent of bringing the NHL back to their town. It would be called "Nordiques Nation."

A fan-based movement to bring the NHL back to Quebec

The movement started quietly, with local fans signing up and obtaining t-shirts bearing the group's name. It wasn't until Nordiques Nation started taking their show on the road that they received national -- and international -- attention.

During the last two seasons, the group has traveled to Long Island, New Jersey and nearby Montreal to get the word out about their cause. This time, it was on to Ottawa.

A clear day in Ottawa for Hockey Day in Canada

It was Hockey Day in Canada -- February 11th, 2012. With the Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers facing off in a nationally-televised afternoon contest, Nordiques Nation saw a golden opportunity to be seen -- and heard -- in the nation's capital.

They traveled by the busload -- literally. In addition to those who made the roughly 5-hour drive from Quebec City to Ottawa, 22 buses carrying over 1,200 Nordiques' fans ventured to Scotiabank Place.

Buses filled with Nordiques' fans made the trip

It was a frozen, but sunny afternoon as I arrived in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata. Although I was there almost an hour-and-a-half before gametime, the excitement for my first hockey game outside the United States couldn't be contained.

Under the clear blue sky outside Scotiabank Place, I had my first of what-would-become numerous encounters with Nordiques Nation. Dressed in powder-blue or royal-blue, many proudly displayed signs with the Nordiques' logo for those entering the arena. Meanwhile, one man alternated between speaking and shouting in French through a small bullhorn, like it was a political rally.

Part of the demonstration outside the arena

Inside the arena, it was much more serene as I wandered the concourse, absorbing the hockey history that Ottawa had to offer. With photos, murals and memorabilia displays, the original and current incarnations of the Senators were well-represented.

Nordiques' fans remained intent on getting out their message to anyone who would listen. One man wearing a light-blue-and white wig held a "Coyotes Belong in Canada" sign, referring to the struggling Phoenix Coyotes' franchise that relocated from Winnipeg one year after the Nordiques departed Quebec.

The struggling Phoenix Coyotes are on Quebec's wish list

During warmups, the blue-clad Nation quietly filed into the seating bowl, occupying a decent swath of Scotiabank Place's 300-level. It was such a stark contrast to the red-and-black worn by Sens' fans that you couldn't help but notice the difference.

Nordiques Nation starts to fill parts of the upper seating bowl

Ottawa entered the game in the midst of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. With a record of 28-22-7, the Senators sat in 7th place in the East with 63 points. They were experiencing somewhat of a freefall in recent weeks, however, having lost 7 of their previous 8 games.

Edmonton, on the other hand, had been thrust into the "spoiler" role in the Western Conference, entering the game with a 21-28-5 mark. Their 47 points were good for 14th place in the West, 13 points behind 8th-place Phoenix.

As the game between the Senators and Oilers got under way, a sold-out crowd of 20,085 focused their attention on the rink.

Opening faceoff between the Senators and Oilers

Ironically, it was the contingent of Nordiques' fans who led chants of "Go Sens Go!" that echoed throughout Scotiabank Place. Those who traveled from Quebec to Ontario had come in peace, and were cheering for the home team.

When the clock ticked toward 16 minutes, however, it became Nordiques Nation's time to shine.

Nordiques' fans eagerly anticipated the 16-minute mark of the period

With 16:10 remaining in the 1st period, those wearing blue started to count down in French -- "Dix, neuf, huit, sept, six..." Those unfamiliar with the movement started looking around the arena in confusion. Meanwhile, the countdown continued -- "cing, quatre, trois, deux, un..."

Suddenly, Nordiques Nation leapt to its feet, cheering and screaming at the top of their collective lungs, waving the rally towels that were provided to all fans in attendance. For 16 years, Quebec City has been without a hockey team -- thus the symbolism of making noise at the 16-minute mark.

Those in the stands alternated glances between the game and the protest. Those on the ice surface, in uniform, would later admit that they wondered what was going on. For one minute straight, Nordiques Nation would stand and cheer -- their version of civil disobedience.

Nordiques Nation makes its collective voice heard

They would soon be joined by the cheers of Senators' fans, however, as captain Daniel Alfredsson scored his 19th goal of the season with 15:24 remaining in the 1st period. As the goal horn sounded, nearly all of the 20,000+ in the building were yelling and waving their towels. It was one beautiful and loud ovation, but for two completely different reasons.

Sens' fans had reason to cheer after Daniel Alfredsson's power play goal

As the hockey game resumed, the normal pattern of cheering took place. "Go Sens Go!" chants were followed by the occasional (and much quieter) "Let's Go Oilers!" chant from those wearing blue-and-orange.

Ottawa, wearing their black, red and cream-colored "heritage" alternate jerseys, carried the 1-0 lead into the 1st intermission. It was an exciting opening stanza with wide-open play and numerous scoring chances.

Senators' forward Bobby Butler puts a shot on net

That quick pace would continue into the 2nd period. Oilers' goalie Nikolai Khabibulin kept the Senators from extending their lead, while Ottawa netminder Craig Anderson maintained the goose egg that adorned Edmonton's scoresheet.

Nikolai Khabibulin denies Nick Foligno's backhand attempt

Once again, as the 16-minute mark approached, Nordiques Nation prepared for another prolonged vocal performance. In addition to the cheers, many dressed in blue held up signs to further illustrate their point. A few were directed toward NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman -- "Do You Hear Us, Gary?" was the most notable.

Nordiques Nation stands and cheers in the 2nd period

Elsewhere throughout the arena, signs saying "Bring Back the Nordiques," "16 Years," and "Hockey Day in Canada 2013 -- Senators vs. Nordiques" displayed the passion that provoked this road trip to Ottawa.

This Nordiques' fan has already made plans for next year

The Senators maintained their 1-0 lead through most of the 2nd period. With 5:55 remaining in the frame, Edmonton ended the shutout bid. Magnus Paajarvi tallied his 1st goal of the season, pouncing on a loose rebound in the slot and firing the puck past Anderson. For the first time in the afternoon, Oilers' fans had reason to give a hearty cheer.

The Oilers' bench celebrates as Magnus Paajarvi ties the game

Their celebration would not last long, however. A little over two minutes after Paajarvi's goal, left wing Milan Michalek converted a breakaway attempt by stuffing a backhand shot through Khabibulin's legs and into the net. It was Michalek's 24th goal of the season, and Scotiabank Place erupted as the goal horn sounded to give Ottawa a 2-1 lead.

Both Milan Michalek and the puck ended up in the net on this Senators goal

The Oilers would show their resiliency yet again. With 1:08 left in the 2nd period, left wing Ben Eager found some space in the offensive zone and wristed a shot beyond Anderson's reach to make it a 2-2 game.

Ben Eager's late-2nd period goal tied the game at 2

While those wearing blue-and-orange cheered, the rest of Scotiabank Place sat quietly. Staying true to their word of rooting only for the home team, Nordiques Nation did not join in the scattered chants of "Let's Go Oilers!" as the final seconds of the 2nd period ticked away.

Edmonton would carry the momentum of that late goal into the 3rd period. Before many had a chance to return to their seats, Oilers' captain Shawn Horcoff took a slot pass from Ales Hemsky and shot the puck over Anderson's right shoulder to give his team a 3-2 lead.

Shawn Horcoff's goal gave the Oilers their first lead of the game

Senators' fans grew quiet and nervous. After dropping 7 of their last 8 games, Ottawa's playoff position was becoming precarious. Losing to a team with a worse record would only further ratchet up the pressure.

While Sens' fans were apprehensive, Nordiques' fans remained boisterous. They once again cheered at the 16-minute mark of the 3rd period, and followed that with repeated chants of "Nor-diques Na-tion!"

Nordiques Nation stretched across much of the 300-level at Scotiabank Place

Midway through the period, Ottawa brought the mostly-hometown crowd to its feet. Defenseman Erik Karlsson's wrist shot eluded Khabibulin and found the back of the net. Senators' and Nordiques' fans stood and cheered in unison, waving towels and flags as the goal horn blasted to indicate a 3-3 tie.

Senators' and Nordiques' fans cheer Erik Karlsson's game-tying goal

With each passing minute toward the end of regulation, Scotiabank Place buzzed with additional excitement. Senators, Oilers and Nordiques fans alike cheered the back-and-forth play, as Ottawa and Edmonton each approached 40 shots on goal for the contest.

When the scoreboard clock reached :00.0, the game was still tied 3-3. It would require overtime -- and possibly even a shootout -- to determine the winner.

Senators and Oilers are headed to overtime

As I continued to watch from Section 314, the five-minute overtime period got under way. The Oilers won the faceoff, and former 1st overall draft pick Taylor Hall had the puck in his possession. Hall crossed the blue line, and the left-handed shooter flicked the puck toward Anderson from the right faceoff circle.

The Ottawa goalie made the initial save, but had trouble controlling the rebound. Hall suddenly swooped in from behind the net and backhanded the puck into the goal! It took just 17 seconds of overtime for the Oilers to emerge victorious, 4-3.

The Oilers celebrate at center ice after the OT victory

As Senators' fans slumped in their seats, the Edmonton players stormed off the bench to congratulate each other near center ice. A hard-fought game went in their favor, providing numerous highlights to what has -- so far -- been an otherwise disappointing 2011-12 season.

Nordiques Nation, meanwhile, left a lasting impression on Hockey Day in Canada. Although it has been over 16 years since their franchise last set foot on NHL ice, the passion of Quebec Nordiques' fans remains evident.

This fan says he's been on all four Nordiques Nation road trips

No one knows when -- or if -- Quebec City will have a team to call its own once again. Many of the obstacles that led to the Nordiques' departure are still there. But those wishing for a second chance remain hopeful that a stronger Canadian dollar, a dedicated fan base, a league-wide salary cap and the promise of a new arena would prove too enticing for the NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman to resist.

Until then, Nordiques Nation will continue to wander North America, visiting arenas and cheering on teams that don't belong to them. Maybe someday, all of this travel will result in the ultimate payoff -- a NHL team back in the city they so dearly love.

Gardez la foi, Nordiques Nation.

Keep the faith, Nordiques Nation

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cooking Something Up

When I first acquired New York Jets' season tickets several years ago, I was excited at the opportunity to see memorable games, a variety of teams and some incredibly talented football players.

What I didn't expect was that it would turn me into a more complete and well-rounded person.

Jets tickets -- a path to a better me?

At the outset of my journey as a season-ticket holder, tailgating sessions mostly consisted of store-bought subs or crashing friends' parties, while tossing in a few dollars to help cover the cost of food and drinks. I had neither the equipment -- nor the expertise -- to conduct a reasonable, self-sustained tailgate.

That time on the sidelines proved to be valuable. Instead of being completely overwhelmed and underprepared, I was able to observe and learn from those who had been partying it up at Jets' games for years -- what to do, and what not to do.


I learned plenty about tailgating in Lot 5A at Giants Stadium

My friends from Giants Stadium's Lot 5A and Section 302 were experts at tailgating. Steak, shrimp, corn-on-the-cob -- even seared ahi tuna -- would occasionally find its way onto the menu. I couldn't help but wonder, "Why can't I someday have an elaborate selection like that?"

On paper, it was a great idea. In reality, there were roadblocks.

The main challenge was obvious. While I was adept at throwing pre-prepared meals into the microwave, I had very few discernible cooking skills at the time. Could I even do it?

Burgers were a staple at early tailgates

Another wrinkle in the potential plan was food selection. How could I come up with dishes that matched my cooking ability, while also remaining appropriate for a standard tailgating session?

The push toward self-sustainability started slowly and modestly -- a small grill here, a table and chair there. The food was predictable -- burgers, hot dogs, store-bought potato salad or macaroni salad and chips. Week after week, my friends and I went through virtually the same process -- only throwing in small changes to try and keep the tailgating sessions fresh.

Eventually, the repetition became boring.

Change wasn't limited to the Jets' move to a new stadium

When the Jets moved across the parking lot from Giants Stadium to New Meadowlands Stadium in 2010, it marked the beginning of a new tradition. For each Jets' opponent, I decided to make one dish that corresponded directly to the visiting team's city.

Suddenly, possessing season tickets became even more exciting. My competitive nature took over, and I started looking forward to the weekly challenges that presented themselves. It was a game before the game.

Cuban sandwiches were a highlight of the 2010 Jets-Dolphins game

During that first year of culinary experimentation, some dishes turned out better than others. The menu was kept mostly simple, to match my budding cooking skills. For the 2011 season, however, I decided to kick things up a notch.

Week 1 -- Jets vs. Dallas Cowboys -- Beefy Cowboy Chili

Prior to this game, I had never made any type of chili in my life. While I followed the recipe closely, there were so many ingredients, hindering my confidence. What if I used too much chili powder? What if I didn't cut enough sirloin steak pieces? Will it even taste like chili when it's ready?

Everything was prepared in the Meadowlands' parking lot. After cooking the steak, onion, garlic and chili powder in oil, I added the beans, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, water, sugar and red pepper to the mix.

Beefy cowboy chili on the grill

Continually stirring, the chili slowly cooked before coming to a slight boil. It was time to find out whether all the effort was worth it.

Fortunately, my group of friends/guinea pigs enjoyed the specialty dish. The aftertaste was even better when the Jets pulled off a dramatic 4th quarter comeback to squeak out a 27-24 win over the Cowboys.

It was a good night all-around at the Meadowlands

With one game and one tailgating session in the books, the season appeared to be quite promising. But this was no time to just sit back and enjoy the results.

Week 2 -- Jets vs. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Jacksonville Orange Rolls

In the days leading up to this game, I started to wonder what I was getting myself into.

The Jaguars would provide a tailgating challenge

While searching online for potential recipes, a theme continually came to mind: citrus. With the Jets playing a Florida-based team, it seemed appropriate to make something with a tangy orange flavor.

One particular item kept popping up, and it sounded very intriguing: Jacksonville orange rolls. With the Jets-Jaguars game starting at 1 pm, the pastry dish would fit right in with the breakfast portion of the tailgate, which includes scrambled eggs, pork roll and cheese sandwiches, and fruit.
Jacksonville orange rolls, fresh out of the oven

There was one small issue, however -- I had never baked anything in my life.

As the orange rolls started to take shape in my kitchen the night before the game, I began to have doubts. My concoction didn't really look like the pictures that accompanied the recipe, and it smelled a little odd. I pushed on, hoping it was part of the baking process.

By the time the pastry was ready to come out of the oven, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. The orange rolls looked presentable -- and more importantly, they survived the taste test.
Homemade pastry finds its way into the tailgate

The next morning at MetLife Stadium, my father reluctantly decided to try one. His initial reaction: "You made these?" Then a smile appeared on his face. At that moment, I knew that this tailgating session was a raving success.

Wearing their throwback "Titans of New York" uniforms, the Jets crushed the Jaguars that afternoon, 32-3, but that was only the second-largest triumph of the day. Overcoming the inability to bake was a much more significant achievement.
Shonn Greene slams his way into the end zone for a Jets' touchdown

Week 6 -- Jets vs. Miami Dolphins -- Cuban Pork Masitas

Miami's annual visit to the Meadowlands brings joy to my taste buds.

With South Florida carrying such a rich Cuban tradition, it only made sense to choose an item from that particular menu. This year, I decided to try my luck with Cuban pork masitas -- a blend of marinated pork, black beans, rice, spices and plantains.

Making Cuban pork masitas

After mixing the ingredients together in an aluminum tray, it was time to heat the masitas on the grill. In the moments that followed, a pleasant aroma of pork, rice and spices filled the air.

When the specialty dish was ready to serve, an enjoyable combination of rich and bold tastes awaited. The pork remained succulent, the rice and beans were flavorful, and the plantains seemed to melt in my mouth.

It was another successful tailgating session, and that provided the backdrop to another Jets' victory. Darrelle Revis had two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown, leading New York to a 24-6 win over the Dolphins.
Darrelle Revis had a big night against the Dolphins

Week 7 -- Jets vs. San Diego Chargers -- Fish Tacos

There are certain things that you never thought you'd say in your life. "I need to buy a deep-fryer" was such a sentence for me.

For years, I had heard about San Diego's delicious fish tacos. With the Chargers coming to town, I wanted to see if I could at least provide a reasonable facsimile of the real thing.

This little deep-fryer came in handy for the Chargers game

After finding a recipe online, I set out to buy the right cooking equipment. Finding a small, cheap deep-fryer was relatively easy. Next was figuring out how to use it.

Before putting the deep-fryer to the test, I prepared the beer batter and white sauce for the fish tacos. While beer batter may taste great on fried food, it smells terrible when you're making it. I couldn't help but wonder if I was doing it wrong, because the odor was nearly repulsive.

Once everything was ready, I slowly lowered the beer-battered and floured cod fillets into the boiling oil of the deep-fryer. Within a minute, the fillets became crispy. Same with the corn tortilla shells, except those only took a few seconds to be ready.
Fish tacos, ready to serve

After the deep-fried items drained, it was time to bring everything together. Tortillas, cod, shredded cabbage and white sauce made for a colorful mixture on the plate.

Was it an authentic fish taco? Based on ingredients, yes. Based on taste, I guess I'll find out when I visit San Diego someday. I was extremely happy with the result, however, and that's all that matters.

One could say the same about the game that followed. Late in the 3rd quarter, Gang Green trailed the Chargers 21-10. The Jets refused to fold, however, storming back with 17 unanswered points to manage a 27-21 win.
Plaxico Burress had three TD receptions in the Jets' win over the Chargers

Week 10 -- Jets vs. New England Patriots -- Lobster Stew

With New England so well-known for its seafood, it seemed natural to come up with a dish that reflected its reputation. Lobster stew provided the perfect challenge.

Since the recipe called for a lot of mixing and slow-cooking, I decided to put everything together in the comfort of my kitchen, hours before heading to MetLife Stadium for the Sunday night primetime game.

Lobster stew for the New England game

Using a small pot, I mixed together the lobster meat, butter and milk at first. Next came the heavy cream, to give the concoction a stew effect. Slowly, I stirred it all with a wooden spoon, ensuring that nothing would burn and stick to the pot.

Once the cooking itself was complete, I added salt, pepper, paprika and a small dash of sherry. The lobster stew passed the taste test -- and better yet, it looked exactly like the picture in the recipe!
Great meal, beautiful sunset, but a Jets' loss

Unfortunately, that delectable dish (and a pretty sunset) proved to be the highlights of the night. The Jets faltered at home, losing 37-16 to the eventual AFC Champion Patriots. Despite that setback, it was the wonderful meal that prevented the game from leaving a bad taste in my mouth.
Tom Brady passed for 329 yards and 3 TD's

Week 12 -- Jets vs. Buffalo Bills -- Buffalo Shrimp

In case you haven't noticed, I like seafood. Not only that, but making seafood specialty dishes provides a nice complement to the burgers and hot dogs that come with the tailgate.

Shrimp on the barbie

During the 2010 season, I went with buffalo wings when the Bills came to the Meadowlands, so I wanted to switch things up and test myself yet again.

Since Thanksgiving occurred just a few days prior to the game, it seemed wise to go with a relatively light dish that wouldn't continue the assault on my waistline.

For the first time since Week 6, I was able to fully prepare the meal in the MetLife Stadium parking lot. Using a pan, I sauteed the shrimp in olive oil, butter, salt and pepper. After about 10 or so minutes, the shrimp was cooked and ready to be coated in hot sauce.
All ready for the Buffalo game

It was the first time I ever had buffalo shrimp, and I was really impressed with the result. Coupled with a side dish of bleu cheese and celery sticks, the meal had everything one could ask for. It had just enough kick to tickle the taste buds, but not enough to overwhelm and cause a mad dash for a bottle of water.

The game itself between the Jets and Bills proved to be quite spicy. With three ties and five lead changes, the Jets outlasted Buffalo for a 28-24 win. Quarterback Mark Sanchez threw for 4 touchdowns, despite completing fewer than 50% of his passes. The winning TD was scored by Santonio Holmes with 1:01 remaining, providing drama to the very end.
Mark Sanchez had 4 TD passes, including one on the Jets' final drive

Week 14 -- Jets vs. Kansas City Chiefs -- Barbecued KC-Style Pork Ribs

I'll admit it -- I had this game circled since the schedule came out. One catch, however -- it was not for the matchup itself, but rather the potential menu options that were at my disposal.

Kansas City carries a legendary barbecue reputation, and I only hoped that I could do it some justice in the morning/afternoon tailgate. I had never before made ribs, but I was determined to step up and make it a memorable meal.
The rubbed-up ribs hit the grill

Preparations got under way the night before. Using brown sugar, dry mustard, smoked paprika, black pepper, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne pepper, the dry rub for the pork ribs took form.

After spreading the dry rub onto the rack of ribs, it was time to play the waiting game, giving ample time for the spices to become embedded within the meat.

The next morning at MetLife Stadium, the tender ribs were placed onto the grill. Roughly every 20 minutes, the meat was flipped, so it would properly cooked on both sides. During that process, barbecue sauce was added to the mix, keeping the ribs juicy and tender.
Just about ready

Over an hour passed before it was ready for consumption. During that time, we were tortured by the aroma of barbecued ribs wafting into the air.

Cutting the rack into individual pieces was even easier than I could have imagined, thanks in part to the dry rub and barbecue sauce. As we took our first bites, the meat came right off the bone, with little-or-no resistance.
Couldn't have been more pleased with the result

They were honestly some of the best ribs I ever had, and most of my friends concurred. They requested that I start making that recipe at all games! I had never felt so accomplished as a cook.

The Jets would have no trouble with the Chiefs that afternoon, emerging with a 37-10 victory. Shonn Greene rushed for 129 yards and a touchdown, while Sanchez accounted for 4 TD's (2 passing, 2 rushing).
Shonn Greene had a big day on the ground for the Jets

Week 15 -- Jets at Philadelphia Eagles -- Philly Cheesesteaks

After watching almost 40 Jets' games at the Meadowlands over the years, it was time to take the show on the road.

For my specialty meal, the choice was simple: cheesesteaks. When in Philly, do as the Philadelphians do.

A beautiful day for football in Philadelphia

The prep work started the night before, in the shadows of New York City. After shopping for the necessary items, I spent nearly an hour thinly slicing ribeye steaks on a cutting board. Once that tedious task was complete, the meat went into a storage container for transport.

The next morning, I made the roughly hour-and-a-half drive to Philadelphia, in a car filled with food, ice, drinks and grilling equipment.
Lincoln Financial Field awaits the Jets-Eagles matchup

Arriving over four hours before the opening kickoff proved to be helpful. It allowed me to get familiar with the parking lot layout at Lincoln Financial Field, and take advantage of the open space.

Soon after everything was set up, it was time to get to work. After slicing an onion and some mushrooms, I sauteed the add-ons in oil while keeping the steak nearby. Once that was finished, I tossed the ribeye slices into a separate pan of oil and let the grill do its job.
The sliced steak sizzles on the grill

As the tender meat turned from pink to brown, the pan sizzled. The smells of grilled onion, mushrooms and steak filled the air. Even those parked nearby stopped to watch the process, asking the occasional question or two.

While the cooking was in its final moments, I filled empty hoagie rolls with provolone cheese. For those who preferred Cheez Whiz or American slices, they were available too.
Homemade Philly cheesesteaks in Philly

Did the cheesesteak pass Philadelphia muster? It sure seemed that way, since the hoagies quickly disappeared from plates. Not only that, but those rooting for the Eagles seemed surprised that a Jets' fan could recreate an authentic Philly culinary staple.

In the game itself, the home team was not very hospitable, as the Eagles humiliated the Jets, 45-19. That loss failed to put a serious damper on my spirits, however, because I learned that I could make yet another successful dish. Better yet, I learned that I could do it outside of the friendly confines of the Meadowlands.
A good time away from home, despite the outcome

Week 16 -- Jets vs. New York Giants -- Christmas Theme

With all of the creatures stirring in the MetLife Stadium parking lot on the day before Christmas, it seemed appropriate to have a holiday-appropriate tailgating session.

As Jets' and Giants' fans commingled throughout the morning at the place they both call home, a party commenced in the familiar location of Lot 26D. In addition to the usual breakfast and lunch fare, there was a collection of Christmas treats.
Tailgating on Christmas Eve, a present unto itself

Back by popular demand was the Kansas City-style pork ribs that made their debut two weeks prior, a "gift" to those who requested them. Once again, the ribs were a hit, further establishing them as a mainstay in future tailgates.
The return of the ribs

In addition, it wouldn't be Christmas without ham, right? My cooking experiment for the day featured grilled ham steaks, with an apricot glaze topping.

It was surprisingly simple to make. Mixing together a jar of apricot preserves, dry mustard, lemon juice and ground cinnamon, the glaze quickly formed over the grill. From there, it was simply a matter of cooking the ham steaks and bringing the two elements together.

The spirit of the season finds its way into football

To further add to the holiday cheer, store-bought Christmas cookies and egg nog made for a nice dessert combo.

Roughly 15 people attended our end-of-season blowout extravaganza. Only those wearing blue would emerge from this game happy, however. The Giants topped the Jets, 29-14, putting Gang Green's playoff hopes in peril. The season would end for Rex Ryan and company one week later, with a loss in Miami.
MetLife Stadium clears out after the Jets' loss to the Giants


While the 8-8 record and no playoff appearance is considered a major disappointment for the New York Jets, it was a wildly successful season for myself.

Not only did I attend nine games during the course of the year, but I also managed nine tailgating sessions without incident. Just a few years ago, I was lucky if I knew how to prepare nine meals, period.

Self-sustainability has arrived

The games didn't always turn out as hoped, with the Jets going 6-3 when I was there. Still, the results ended up being secondary to the fun and cameraderie that accompanied the entire experience of attending these events.

Most importantly, the 2011 season provided confidence in my cooking abilities. It was a benefit that was not mentioned in the season ticket brochure, and one that will last a lifetime.
A season's worth of meals and memories