For many in this country, Sunday is a day devoted to the Lord, attending a temple of worship with family, all with a similar purpose.
For the rest, there’s the NFL, and with any NFL game, there are, like any religious gathering, rituals. For football fans, there’s the tailgate.
Tailgating has come a long way since the first ever one allegedly took place at the first ever college football game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869. Since that time, this pregame festivity has become (nearly) as big as the game itself — bigger grills, bigger crowds and bigger turduckens.
I was indoctrinated into tailgating at football games during the 2000 season (my family’s fourth as season ticket holders to the Giants, but my first). My father and I would bring only sandwiches from a deli and two tailgate chairs; occasionally we’d meet up with friends for a few beers. But my first taste of religious tailgating came in 2010 when I interviewed Bradford Thompson, a James Beard Award–winning chef, Giants fan and known tailgater, for an article on tailgating for the Hoboken Digest. Thompson baptized me at his tailgate and introduced me to the “family.” Many “parishioners” are from the service industry and culinary world — fellow chefs, restaurant executives and produce, beer and homemade charcuterie suppliers — along with a lawyer who always brings the cheese.
Each Giants home game, Thompson and his crew put together a menu of dishes based on the team and city the Giants are playing against: whole suckling “hog” (Washington Redskins), Lone Star Beer Can Chicken (Dallas Cowboys) and Tony Luke–style pork sandwiches (Philadelphia Eagles). This past Sunday, we feasted on Cuban sandwiches with homemade pickles and mahi mahi, and washed it all down with Dolphin Destroyers (Miami Dolphins).
The D2 congregation starts setting up five hours before kickoff at a time when most faiths begin services, “purifying” our parking spaces for the big day. Chef Ben delivers the weekly sermon on what we need to do to support the boys in blue, our iPod of a choir blasts AC/DC and there’s a proverbial collection plate put out to support the chefs’ efforts.
We just hope that after five hours of enjoying some of the best food and the company of new friends and family, our prayers will be answered inside the house of worship.