It's well known that the Houston Texans have one of the greatest tailgating traditions in the country, a fact made more impressive by the team's relative youth. On Thursdays during football season, we're spotlighting groups that make Texans tailgating the pride of Houston.
The Blue Crew Tailgate is one of the friendliest groups you'll meet outside Reliant Stadium on a Texans game day. It's no surprise that the crew is also one of the largest, with about 200 people enjoying good food, good company and good booze on any given Sunday.
"They are among the most welcoming tailgates," says Steph Stradley, the "Texans Chick" football blogger at the Houston Chronicle and a member of the Lone Spot Tailgate crew. "[They were] day one tailgaters, lots of crazy fans," Stradley says of the Blue Crew.
"If there's out-of-town fans coming in, I send them to the Blue Crew people."
It's hard to believe that the group started out as just a close-knit bunch of eight people, says Blue Crew member David Glenn. And although the tailgate doesn't do traditional things such as collect dues or plan Sunday menus, Glenn reports that their "organized chaos pot luck style" works well for them.
"Everyone contributes in their own way," says Glenn, "and it has grown into something we could have never imagined."
On organizing a Texans tailgate before the Texans were even an official team:
Before the Texans were named, several of us met online on HoustonTexans.com message board. Now we organize on www.texanstalk.com and Facebook. When the Texans played their first game at the Hall of Fame, a small group piled in a van and drove to Canton together. It didn't matter that they did not really know each other.
On going Platinum:
After the Hall of Fame trip, they started tailgating from the first game in the northwest corner of the Blue Lot, and the Blue Crew has grown every game. We were so good at tailgating, they made us Platinum!
On what makes the Blue Crew feel like family:
We look forward to being able to gather around with good food, good people and great football at each game. We are one of the largest non-commercial tailgates. This family-oriented tailgate has really become like a second family. Seeing our football family each week is one of the things that makes it all worth it. Our biggest challenge is probably keeping everything running smoothly. With so little time, we do our best to squeeze in all the activities we do before heading in to the game
On a typical mad-cap tailgate Sunday:
Buy groceries the day before and start preparing food. Some recipes, like bacon-wrapped jalapeños with cream cheese or bacon-wrapped shrimp, take a long time to prepare, and time is precious out on the lots. The Platinum opens at 7 a.m., so we get there and are set up before the other lots open. Once set up, we set out the breakfast foods and coffee and begin cooking. We have a commercial grill setup open-style, which means anyone can cook on it, or they can drop off items and our grill master will cook it for them.
On what makes the family-friendly Blue Crew tailgate stand out in the huge Texans crowd:
We have a piñata for the kids at every game, a visit from the Bull Pen Pep Band and a world-famous Texans Toast which is followed up with a shot of a strange concoction of alcohol for the adults. We welcome all age groups and even opposing teams' fans, and were told by many visitors that we have the most family-friendly tailgate they've seen. You might even run into a celebrity or two when you come by.
On keeping the game day spirit alive during the other six days of the week:
The Blue Crew Tailgate is so much more than a tailgate. There have been several articles written about us and a mention in a new book, A Tailgate to Heaven by Adam Goldstein. We perform charity work all year long, have piñatas for the kids each game, a song that was written about us, the family atmosphere and the kids who have actually grown up with us, the ultimate fans (Joe Texan, Hardhat, Leatherhead, Bronco Billy, Battle Red Texan, Ka-Rah and Yankee) with their charity work in Canton each year at the Hall of Fame festivities, [my] famous grill and the Texans. Who could go wrong?
On the Blue Crew's signature dish, the BullPen Crack Weenies:
It may be simple, but BullPen Crack Weenies (so named because they are addicting and you can't stop eating them) are always a favorite. Sandy Catoe, a.k.a. BullPen Grandma -- one of our first members and the crazy lady who drove a bunch of strangers to Canton -- does a lot of baking and often brings a killer Monkey Bread. She may have started that tradition, but I believe her daughter Kara has continued.
- 1 14-ounce package Little Smokie sausages
- 1 pound bacon
- 1 cup light brown sugar, or enough to cover the sausages
- maple syrup (real or artificial, either works.)
Pour a generous portion of the syrup into the bottom of your baking dish, enough to at least cover the bottom of it. Cut bacon into thirds and wrap a strip around each little sausage. Secure the bacon with toothpick and place into a baking dish.
If making in advance, cover with foil and refrigerate until ready to bake. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees (375 if they've been refrigerated). Generously sprinkle the brown sugar over the sausages until they're covered.
Bake covered for 20 minutes, then uncover and bake another 20 to 30 minutes, or until the brown sugar is mostly melted and the syrup is nice and bubbly. Then put on your oven's broiler, crank up the temperature and broil for about five to ten minutes to give them a nice bit of brown.
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If you're making these for a big party, double the recipe. Unless you party with vegetarians, trust me...these things are going to go quick. You *must* use light brown sugar. I've tried it with the dark stuff and it just does NOT melt. I prefer the 10x12 throwaway aluminum pans for baking these for two reasons: They're nice and deep and cleanup is much easier, but you can move them to a warming dish or Crock-Pot once they're baked; just be sure to save some of the syrup to pour over them.