Tailgating used to be a diversion, now it’s the main event. “I gave my tickets to a couple of kids,” the head of the “Whatcha Know Bout Dem Texans??” tailgating team told me in the Reliant Parking lot on a recent Sunday morning. “It’s more fun to hang out in the parking lot and watch the game on television.”
If you thought tailgating meant arriving at a football game a little early and munching a sandwich in the parking lot, you haven’t been to Reliant Stadium before a Texans game. While there are still plenty of folks who are content to grill a few sausages behind the pick-up truck, more and more tailgaters are joining teams and setting up elaborate tents, trailers and pavilions. These include big screen televisions with satellite hook-ups where you can watch the game without ever venturing inside the stadium.
Joe Cahn, who calls himself theCommissoner of Tailgating
, travels around the country visiting tailgating locations and keeping track of trends. He claims that tailgating is experiencing a growth spurt--he says the numbers of tailgaters across the country is increasing and that the cuisine being prepared is growing more sophisticated. Cahn also used to rate the top tailgating venues, but he diplomatically bowed out of that contentious exercise.
LSU, Penn State, University of Georgia and the University of Michigan were Cahn’s top-ranked college tailgating spots back in 2003, when he did his last rankings. In the NFL, Kansas City, Buffalo and Green Bay got top honors. But Cahn singled also singled out Reliant Stadium as one of the best new tailgating venues in the country.
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The Oilers prohibited hanging around in the parking lot, but the Texans have encouraged the tailgating scene as a way to build comradery among its fans. It seems to be working. None of the food prepared can be sold, it's all given away for free. Beer companies, like Saint Arnold’s, also pass out free beverages, while they last. Unlike a barbecue or chili cook-off, tailgating in not really a competitive pastime. There are a few awards--HEB gives out gift certificates to the Tailgater of the Week, the winners compete to become HEB’s Tailgater of the Year--but the awards aren’t the reason people come out and cook.
Tailgating is growing because its so much fun. The Texans front office estimates that there are 30,000 people tailgating in Reliant’s parking lots before the average game. (The population of Brenham is 14,000.) In fact, as you walk around Reliant Stadium before game time on a Sunday, you feel like you are visiting a strange village full of people obsessed with football, meat and beer. (My kind of folks.)
The Texans tailgating season will reach its peak before the Monday Night Football game on December 1st. Leading up to the big game, Eating Our Words will share a few recipes from Texans tailgaters we met the last time we visited the Reliant parking lot. So stay tuned. -- Robb Walsh