What is the secret to great tailgating?
by Jennifer Cohron
Oct 24, 2010 | 2354 views | 0 0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Joe Cahn has eaten his share of barbecue as well as seafood, elk and grits during his tenure as the self-proclaimed Commissioner of Tailgating. (Photo Special to the Eagle)
Joe Cahn has eaten his share of barbecue as well as seafood, elk and grits during his tenure as the self-proclaimed Commissioner of Tailgating. (Photo Special to the Eagle)
Joe Cahn is no ordinary sports fan.

Cahn became a professional tailgater in 1996 after selling his business, the New Orleans School of Cooking. He traveled to every NFL stadium to invite people to New Orleans, the host city of the Super Bowl that season.

Cahn was called the King of Tailgating until he realized that although kings can be overthrown, commissioners have a job for life.

He promoted himself to Commissioner of Tailgating in 1997 at NFL headquarters.

"It so happened that I had the microphone at the time and named myself, but there were no objections," Cahn said.

Cahn has gone to over 650 games in 14 years. He has tailgated at NFL and college stadiums as well as Nascar tracks.

Cahn said the tailgating experience varies based on the type of game fans are attending.

Professional stadiums offer only an asphalt parking lot, whereas college tailgate parties are usually hosted by core fans who are caught up in pageantry and tradition.

Each college game is like a mini class reunion. The university is as important to fans as the game itself.

"An Alabama fan isn't going to go to Auburn just to watch a game. In the pros, people wear jerseys from all over the country. They just want to be close to the action," Cahn said.

The length of the tailgate party also varies, according to Cahn.

NFL stadiums are open a few hours early and fans must be out two hours after the game is over. A college tailgate, however, may last all weekend.

One thing that all tailgaters have in common is the love of good food.

Cahn has eaten everything from grits and lobsters to elk and bratwurst. Still, he advises tailgaters to keep their menus simple so they have plenty of time to visit with their guests.

He compares the experience to a reception or backyard barbecue, where finger foods are best. Cahn said if Rachael Ray happens to stop by, let her eat what you fixed.

"I've never seen competition in the parking lot. I've seen people say, 'What do you got? How do you do it?' but nobody has ever said, 'My food's better than yours,'" he said.

Cahn lists several other tips at his official website, tailgating.com. He suggests keeping laminated checklists (tickets and food should be at the top of the list), doing cooking prep work at home, and keeping your area clean. He said he has found that fitted twin sheets, which can be bought in most team colors, work better than table cloths.

Cahn also insists that tailgaters wear team colors to show their support.

"This isn't church, although there's a lot of praying," Cahn said.

Cahn is more loyal to the art of tailgating than any particular team. In fact, he jokingly acts surprised that people go anywhere after a tailgate party.

Sometimes, Cahn doesn't even make it into the game where he is tailgating. He prefers to watch it on TV from the parking lot.

Cahn calls himself a "stand-up fan" who easily gets caught up in the moment.

"I have to block passes, intercept and put voodoo on the quarterback. It's easier for me to watch it and make a total fool of myself in my motor home," Cahn said.

Although Cahn lives in Texas, his real home is wherever he is parked.

Cahn said he enjoys tailgating because it gives him the chance to see America in a way that few others do. All of the country's hills and valleys look beautiful from behind the wheel of his RV.

Cahn also gets the opportunity to meet more people than most politicians could hope for.

"I'm walking through thousands of backyards with no privacy fences. I'm meeting people standing over their stove. We talk about a little bit of everything. It's incredible," Cahn said.

He recently talked to former Washington Redskins player Rickie Harris at an NFL tailgate party. Before a Navy game, he listened to members of the Naval Academy's classes of 1939 and 1940 reminisce about going off to World War II shortly after graduation.

Cahn likes to say that the difference between a friend and acquaintance is the distance from the kitchen and the dining room. Acquaintances stay in the dining room during a party. Friends come into the kitchen, pick up a plate and help themselves.

Cahn said he gets to eat home-cooked meals every week from the best cooks in the country. He calls it "the food of America."

Cahn describes a parking lot full of tailgaters as the ideal American neighborhood. Tailgaters don't usually care about each other's race, wealth, political or religious beliefs. All that matters is the color of someone's jersey.

"Even if you have a different color jersey, in the parking lot you're treated as a visitor. Inside as an enemy but outside as a visitor," Cahn said.