It was a relief to learn that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are still planning on having a nearly-full, if unusual, football schedule this year. Sadly, there is one element of the gameday experience that we know still won’t be coming back as normal: tailgating. There will be no close-up rubbing of elbows between thousands of fans, no taking in that insane carnival atmosphere, no parking lot Kan-Jam or cornhole (well, not the same parking lot - we’ll get to that in a second), no snow football on the golf course in November and, what would have been saddest for my college-aged self: no shotgunning beers on top of a dilapidated school bus.
The good news is that you can still recreate some of the tailgate experience from your own home.* Whether you’re watching a real game in a still-ongoing season or replaying an oldie if the season has been cancelled, the following are some great tips for creating an exciting atmosphere before kickoff.
*It should go without saying that in the process of planning such events you should be complying with state and local laws and guidelines on gathering size, washing your hands frequently, self-isolating if you may have been at risk in the past two weeks, etc. Safety first, people.
If you’ve got a house with a backyard, you’re pretty much set from an atmosphere standpoint. While it doesn’t match the hype of a packed parking lot, a backyard will still allow some of the tailgate experience to occur: games, grilling, and the like. This just becomes a normal backyard barbecue with a football game happening later.
If, however, you are like me and have not yet achieved that glorious American Dream, you may have to get creative. My wife and I are relatively lucky as we have a seldom-used open-air parking garage on the top floor of our apartment complex, where we have already played cornhole during the height of quarantine stir-craziness a few months back. If you have access to such a lot, all you have to do is park with food, drinks, a speaker and games, and baby, you’ve got a tailgate going.
Failing a scenario like that, I would recommend finding a public park near where you live and setting up shop. Bonus points if it’s walking distance, and you can pretend your walk home to turn on the game is actually the walk into the stadium and it isn’t 2020 and the world still makes sense.
One key component of a successful at-home tailgate atmosphere is music. At a normal tailgate, music is often optional as you can usually hear some from a nearby car and there’s so much other noise buzzing through the air that people don’t really notice it anyway. At home, the onus is on you to create that buzz, that sweet sense of fun and excitement. If you’re unprepared for such a scenario, fear not. I’ve got you covered.
A thousand years Five months ago, I was tasked by the Notre Dame Club of Dallas with organizing our float in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. One of the components of that was creating a playlist for the float. That parade never happened, but the playlist lives on to be played one day when the sun is shining, the drinks are flowing and the Irish are out to play, and now it is my gift to you to use as your tailgating soundtrack. Click here to check it out. It should have everything you need: spirit songs mixed up with classic Irish tunes and pop anthems old and new. It was also required to be family-friendly since many children attend the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, so this is a playlist that will work whether your fellow tailgaters are drinking Miller or Minute Maid.
Tailgating can be an all-day event, which means you’re going to want breakfast and lunch options. One of my favorite traditions as a student was paying a morning visit to my buddy Chris and his family (who were from Michigan and had season tickets) in the golf course lot to grab a homemade breakfast sandwich. The recipe was simple, essentially a homemade McGriddle:
- Silver dollar pancakes with a dash of maple syrup spread on.
- Pork sausage patty
- American cheese singles
- Scrambled egg patty.
Whip up those pancakes, assemble the sandwich, then wrap the whole thing in foil and put it on low heat in the oven to allow the temperatures and flavors to mix together. The great thing about these is that they can be made (and consumed) in highly variable quantities.
Tailgate food later in the day can vary, but in terms of both quality and scalability it’s hard to beat brats. On gamedays at Notre Dame, I typically pay a visit to a family friend of mine named Bubba, whose brats made him much beloved among my friends when I was an undergrad. The recipe he uses is simple but effective:
- Johnsonville brats - get in the 5 ct/19 oz packages
- Bud Light - for soaking the brats
- Generic buns
- Brown mustard
That’s it, and it’s all you should ever need.
If you don’t have a grill, I’d suggest going to your local Trader Joe’s and loading up on frozen apps - Pastry Pups, Mac and Cheese balls, mozzarella sticks, chicken nuggets, and many more. You can plan an incredible spread without ever leaving the frozen aisle of that store. Heating up frozen pizzas would also be a great choice. My favorite is Tombstone and I certainly don’t know of any other brands that OFD staff enjoy, so you should definitely just get that.
There is one surefire way to conjure the spirit of a Notre Dame gameday no matter where you are: cracking open an ice-cold can of Hamm’s.
Is it the best beer in the world? Not even close, but it is crisp and drinkable with a humble, smooth flavor. It is also quite affordable, which makes it the beer of choice for student-led tailgates.
If your tastes are a little more sophisticated, some solid Midwestern-based beers that you would often see at an Irish tailgate include Spotted Cow, Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, and Goose Island 312. You may also want to support local beers in this troubled economy, in which case selection is completely up to you. One thing I would recommend is varying your beers up with the season, going from lagers and blondes in week one to Oktoberfests in late September, then bocks, red ales and pumpkin ales in October, then brown ales, porters and stouts in November. It’s a fun way to try a lot of different beers while marking the changing seasons.
If you must serve wine, I’d recommend staying #onbrand with Hampton Water. No one will ever convince me that wine is a viable choice of tailgate beverage, but sometimes we are obligated to do these things by the ones we love. Choose wisely.
The official cocktail of this site is Trojan Blood. Sadly, Notre Dame won’t be playing the USC Trojans this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t draw on the last three years’ worth of delicious reserves. Beyond that, a cocktail that you can make in shareable quantities that I really enjoy is the Irish mule, which is just a Moscow mule with Jameson instead of vodka.
Irish Mule Ingredients (for one serving)
- 3 oz. ginger beer
- 2 oz. Jameson
- 1 oz. lime juice
- 1⁄2 cup of ice
Scale up as needed.
With good drinks flowing, food fired up and a fun atmosphere, you’ve got the opportunity to have a buzzing, hyped at-home tailgate experience. It’s not the same, but it’ll do in these times.
Do you have any other at-home tailgating tips or tricks? Leave them in the comments below.