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'Commissioner of Tailgating' offers pregame tips

By Steve Almasy, CNN
Joe Cahn, seen here soaking in a hot tub at a Detroit Lions tailgate party, calls himself the "Commissioner of Tailgating."
Joe Cahn, seen here soaking in a hot tub at a Detroit Lions tailgate party, calls himself the "Commissioner of Tailgating."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ole Miss is the top spot for college tailgating, experts and fans say
  • Joe Cahn, the Commissioner of Tailgating, has been to more than 500 events
  • Precooking will give you more time to socialize
  • If you plan on cooking at the stadium, make sure you have something to put the fire out

(CNN) -- Joe Cahn calls tailgates the last great American neighborhoods.

On Saturdays, especially in the South, tailgating means having a party with thousands of your friends, old and new. College campuses are full of makeshift tent communities, where there are no privacy fences separating neighbors. It's just a bunch of folks having some drinks, grilling out and actually talking to each other.

"Even if you are not a football fan, you can be a fan of tailgating," Cahn says from his home in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he is looking forward to his seventh trip to the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in December. And that's as much for the camaraderie as it is for the game itself.

You see, Cahn loves, loves, loves a good tailgate, and he has seen a few in his new line of "work." He's been to more than 500 in the past decade since he sold his New Orleans School of Cooking and started the Web site tailgating.com. His travels include more than 120 college games for the self-described "Commissioner of Tailgating."

If anyone knows where the party is, it's Cahn. Take, for example, his trips to pregame parties at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan, which annually hosts a game on Thanksgiving Day.

Detroit partiers trick out their tailgates in very cool ways -- literally and figuratively. Recently Cahn found himself enjoying a dip in a hot tub, despite 25-degree temperatures.

As for college tailgates, Cahn's been to all the top spots.

The first one he enthusiastically mentions is the school that was repeatedly mentioned by many fans and frequent college football tailgaters: Oxford, Mississippi, home of Ole Miss.

Even if you are not a football fan, you can be a fan of tailgating.
--Joe Cahn, self-dubbed "Commissioner of Tailgating"

They tailgate in an area known as The Grove, for its many oaks, elms and magnolias. It opens the night before a game at 6, and you need to get there early to set up your spot. Cahn says the people are super-friendly even to fans of opposing teams. When asked about Ole Miss, male fans of other Southeastern Conference schools pointed to the scenery -- and we're not talking about the trees.

The same tailgaters can be found in the same place year after year, and enterprising undergrads set up tents for alumni for as much as a few hundred bucks.

Many fans wear their best clothes and use crystal on their tables.

Everyone feels comfortable leaving their food out (except the deviled eggs), even during the game, because sharing truly is caring. And if you don't cook any food, you can always stop by Abner's for some chicken tenders.

As a tailgater once told The New York Times: "We may not win every game. But we've never lost a party."

Other hot spots

The SEC takes its tailgating very seriously. The Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville, Florida, is known informally as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, and Cahn says the event is not overhyped. Hundreds of thousands of fans travel to it, and after the tailgate takes a break for the game, most head to bars to watch.

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    Source: Clint Cantwell
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    Another popular spot is Baton Rouge, Louisiana, home of Louisiana State, where the food is the best in the league, several frequent tailgaters say. The menu even includes alligator. (Fans from Gainesville, Florida, probably go for jambalaya or gumbo instead.) And there's plenty of food for everyone.

    "Louisiana people can't cook for just one or two people," Cahn says.

    Outside-of-conference notables include University Park, Pennsylvania, home to Penn State and Beaver Stadium, the largest college stadium, with more than 107,000 seats. Cahn says the fall weather doesn't deter the Nittany Lions fans, and there is a ton of room to tailgate.

    He also likes sterngating in Seattle, Washington, where Husky Stadium sits near Lake Washington. On Saturdays, a few thousand fans arrive by boat.

    What to bring

    Before you pack the car -- or boat -- for the trip, it's important to make a checklist, Cahn says. You might need to buy a few items before heading to the game and firing up the grill.

    That includes a small fire extinguisher.

    Let's face it, not everyone who will be milling through your party will be sound of legs. One stumble, one knocked-over grill, and there will be a few panicked moments.

    And if you're using charcoal, you'll need an extra gallon of water to douse the fire when you're done cooking. You don't want to miss the first quarter because you were waiting for the coals to cool.

    "People will buy these little grills and roast some hot dogs," says Clint Cantwell, a champion barbecuer from New York whose blog is http://blog.smokeindaeye.com/.

    "They don't want to lose the grill, so they put the lid on, close up the vents and stick them under their car. You don't want to lose a $25,000 car because you wanted to save a $25 grill."

    If you're doing the cooking, he also suggested buying an organizer with a few plastic drawers where you can keep things like a can opener and salt and pepper shakers.

    Toilet paper is also a necessity. The closer it gets to kickoff, the more fans will be using the portable toilets. You don't want to get, um, stuck with your pants down.

    One frequent tailgater -- a friend who has been to more than 90 stadiums -- says it's important to have a generator, especially since you will want to bring a TV to watch the pregame show -- or your conference rivals go down in flames. But check first; some schools don't approve of generators.

    And bring Cornhole -- it's a game -- or a Frisbee or a football to toss around.

    If you're an invitee, not the inviter, just check with the host to see what you can bring, Cahn says. It's like being on a team, not everyone has to be the quarterback. Some of us like being the "lineman" who gets to bring the dip and the chips.

    Cantwell and Cahn say getting things ready at home is crucial. Maybe you do like standing over the grill while others are chatting, drinking and having fun. Maybe it's your alone time. But why not make the burgers, the chili or the bacon wrap sausages the day before? You can heat them up at the tailgate, and they are just as tasty.