October — with the Michigan-Michigan State classic and the Detroit Lions at home on three Sundays — is the high holy month for tailgating.
Whatever your colors, games are an excuse to kick back, eat, and socialize. Fans who can’t make it to a downtown Detroit parking spot for the Lions tailgate or to East Lansing (this year) for the Big Ten battle can do a backyard version followed by TV coverage in the warmth of their own homes.
The hearty Lions faithful pictured on these pages braved December temperatures for last year’s Bears-Lions game and the Detroit Tailgate annual Chili Cook-Off.
Wolverines fan, Brighton
> Why tailgate? “It gives you the opportunity to see people that you don’t see throughout the year. It has gotten to the point that everyone who has moved out of town will come in for at least one or two of the games. At the end of the year, regardless of the outcome, you have that rekindled friendship.”
> What’s the secret to a good tailgate? “We normally plan each game and [pick] who’s going to be the tailgate coordinator, which takes the burden off the whole group. The coordinator plans the menu and who’s going to bring what. It makes every game a success. There are usually only one or two games that you’re responsible for.”
> Unique idea? “I do what they call a fearless prediction. It started 20 years ago, when I used to talk about the score. My friends said they were going to hold me to it, so they made a board. I get up before each game with a microphone and talk about each team and I give my fearless prediction score. I write it down, and then at the end of the game we write the actual score. One of the younger folks will put the sticker on the board and it’s always a big treat. It gets everyone fired up; I’ll play the fight song. It’s always a great time.”
Downtown tailgating hotspots:
// Eastern Market: Lot south of Shed 2, lot east of Shed 3, lot north of Shed 3, and lot north of Shed 5.
// Lots on the west side of Gratiot, bounded by Madison to the west, Farmer to the south, and St. Antoine to the north.
// Lots behind the Foxtown district: In the quadrant bounded by Cass, Adams, Park, and the Fisher Freeway.
// Lots off Woodward, just north of I-75: Bounded by Henry, Park, and Temple.
> Dress in team colors.
> Plan the menu and keep it simple. Advance preparation is important.
> Make a list. Check it twice.
> Arrive early. Stay late — for fun and traffic avoidance.
> Fly a flag. Up high, so friends can find you.
> Decorate. It’s festive.
> Serve food at least 90 minutes before kickoff to allow ample time to eat and clean up.
> Pack plastic trash bags, first-aid kit, extra ice, and sun block (yes, even when it’s cold and gray).
> Use Zip-loc bags (freezer version) to store and transport things like marinated flank steaks.
> Bring cash for parking lots and expect to pay a premium for top spots.
> Line the bottom of the grill with aluminum foil before cooking to make cleanup easier.
> Know the chorus to the Lions’ fight song, “Gridiron Heroes” (below).
Forward down the field,
A charging team that will not yield.
And when the Blue and Silver wave,
Stand and cheer the brave.
Rah, rah, rah.
Go hard, win the game.
With honor you will keep your fame.
Down the field and gain,
A Lions victory!
Spartans fan, a winner of MSU Alumni Association’s “Best Tailgate”
> Why tailgate? “It’s an opportunity to get together with friends and family that live in different places around the state and country. It’s a rallying point for something we all share in common. We get together to support our team — MSU — and our school. If not for Spartan football Saturdays, my kids wouldn’t know the kids of my college buddies. It’s been a really nice experience staying in touch.”
> Secret to success? “Being organized. I send out a weekly email, which basically assigns people things to contribute to the theme menus that we do for each and every game. It also provides an opportunity to relive and rehash some of the fun we had the week before.
“Our theme for the rivalry games against either Michigan or Notre Dame is a big seafood blowout. We do Alaskan king crab legs, lobster tail, shrimp, you name it. We had over 100 pounds of king crab legs for the MSU/Notre Dame game last year.”
> Tip: Unique themes make every game a distinctly memorable experience. Get creative and get everyone involved.