What to Expect at an NFL Tailgate Party

BY: Scott Hirsch |Aug 11, 2017

Summer is inching closer and closer toward fall, which means one thing for football die-hards: tailgate parties. And like the teams themselves, tailgaters should have a gameplan before heading to their respective stadium parking lots. Including the tailgate party and the actual game, you'll clock about eight hours outside—in fall and winter weather—so you'll need to stay warm, well-fed, and entertained.

Back in 2013, I traveled to Soldier Field's tailgating lots at 8 a.m. for the first two Chicago Bears games of the season to glean some tips for those new to tailgating. I met some seasoned tailgaters—folks who've spent decades setting up makeshift living rooms and kitchens in Soldier Field's parking lots—and asked them to share their advice on what food, grills, games, and gear are necessary to endure and enjoy a proper tailgate party. Here's what I learned.

The etiquette: you get what you give.

There was a palpable feeling of camaraderie in the tailgate lots. The collective Bears pride seemed to elicit a brothers-in-arms attitude that materialized in the form of random high-fives and the sharing of food and drink. "Sometimes people stop by, we offer beer and food," said Chris Brynolf, a season-ticket holder since 2006. This sentiment was also echoed by Anthony Cassata, who's been tailgating for 20 years and parks in the same spot at every game. "Everybody borrows from each other. Lot of times we run out of cups, we borrow them from the guys right next to us. We share shots. Everybody gets together; it's a big community."

Still, first-timers shouldn't expect to coast on the generosity of others. To earn your place, it's probably wise to do as Brynolf does: "We always bring extra."

The food: do more than just burgers and dogs.

"The most important thing is to not confine yourself to burgers and hot dogs and brats," Brynolf told me. "Because you can do whatever you want." And Brynolf certainly heeds his own advice. When I spoke to him, he was cooking shrimp on a trailer-hitch grill attached to his tailgate vehicle: a repurposed ambulance decorated with Bears logos and "Bears Tailgating Crew" stenciled across the side.

Elsewhere, season-ticket holder Corey O'Brien devised his own unique way to mix up the menu: by incorporating iconic dishes native to the opponents' city. When I spoke to O'Brien, he was grilling up Juicy Lucys—cheese-stuffed burgers that are a staple of the Minnesota Vikings' native Minneapolis.

The drinks: take it slow and steady.

Libations on opening day were in large supply, from fishing coolers full of beer to 15-foot tables with more bottles of booze on display than a neighborhood dive bar. From what I saw, the festivities were high-spirited but never out of hand. Have fun, but pace yourself, was a common refrain told to me by many. After all, once the drinking and partying subsides, there's still a little matter of the game. Bears tickets aren't cheap, so it's probably a good idea to be conscious for kickoff.

The entertainment: have fun, but keep your head on a swivel.

Whenever you're spending four-plus hours on a slab of cement, it's a good idea to keep yourself entertained. Brynolf has a flat-screen TV mounted to his ambulance. Other tailgaters blast music through club-sized speakers. Of the tailgating games, cornhole seems to be the trendiest. And at any given time, there will probably be more footballs in the air than stars visible from the observatory at nearby Adler Planetarium. (If you happen to take a football to the head, you'll likely be offered a couple of ribs or a burger for the damages. I picked up this little nugget of wisdom firsthand.)

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The weather: dress like it's 20° colder than it is.

The consensus on dressing for the winter is clear: layer up. "Many, many layers," Brynolf said. "If you get warm, you can take layers off. You can't put layers on if you don't got 'em. Don't try to look good; just try to stay warm." Hand warmers are also a hot commodity. "Heating pads for the gloves but also for the feet," Cassata said. "The feet—the toes—are the first things to get cold."

The game: duh—make sure you have tickets!

As fun as tailgating is, everyone's there for a reason: the game itself. To be sure you're not left out in the cold at kickoff, use this handy table to snag some tickets to your team's game.

AFC Teams NFC Teams
Baltimore Ravens  Arizona Cardinals
Buffalo Bills  Atlanta Falcons
Cincinnati Bengals  Carolina Panthers
Cleveland Browns  Chicago Bears
Denver Broncos  Dallas Cowboys
 Houston Texans Detroit Lions 
Indianapolis Colts  Green Bay Packers
 Jacksonville Jaguars  Los Angeles Rams
 Kansas City Chiefs  Minnesota Vikings
 Los Angeles Chargers  New Orleans Saints
 Miami Dolphins  New York Giants
 New England Patriots  Philadelphia Eagles
 New York Jets  San Francisco 49ers
 Oakland Raiders  Seattle Seahawks
 Pittsburgh Steelers  Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tennessee Titans  Washington Redskins

This article was originally written by Groupon staff writer Scott Hirsch in 2013 and has been slightly modified since its initial publication.