Photo by Maude Frederique
By Liz Crowe
This fall is bringing with it a lot of firsts, most of them related to the fact that we’re living through a real-life Stephen King novel vis-à-vis this pandemic. However, I’m not allowing this to disguise the fact that for yours truly, this will be the first fall I won’t be launching myself headlong into soccer season.
I’m sure many of you have experienced the simultaneous joy and pain of watching your kid play a sport. I had three of them (kids who played sports), the last one going as far as playing on a Division 1 Big Ten women’s soccer team. If you’re one of the parents who spent the necessary dollars and time getting your child to that point, you feel my angst.
One of the things I found most interesting about being an Official Soccer Mom for so many years — other than the opportunity I had to spend hours and hours waiting for my daughter to finish practicing or training so I could drive her home again — was the way it threw together people (i.e. parents) who might never otherwise meet or be friends. I feel the same way about being an ex-pat for so many years, but we’ll save that for another month. For the most part, soccer parents have a fair bit in common — mainly the financial wherewithal to spend hard-earned cash on expensive clubs, uniforms, and trips to Orlando between Christmas and New Year’s for tournaments.
Otherwise, the one thing that held most of us together was our desire to drink. Okay, yeah, and see our daughters’ teams win games, sure. But you get me.
Once we graduated to college-level soccer parenting, the drinks game levelled up as well. Whether our team was winning or not (and unfortunately, we were more often on the “not winning” side), we would gather prior to almost every weekend game with some measure of food and plenty of booze. Yes, there are photos of me with my hand in the mini-liquor bottle draw-and-drink bucket more than once.
I’m going to miss that camaraderie, as this is our first fall without soccer. Don’t get me wrong. By the end of the whole thing, we were capital-D Done with it all. However, there are parts of it I will miss.
Which brings me, in my usual charming yet circuitous way, to our topic this month: the tailgate.
Alas, most theorizing about the beginning of the tailgate party begins with the Civil War, before folks realized that war is not a spectator sport and they brought out the picnic baskets to observe the troops during the Battle of Bull Run. There are also theories about the chuckwagon, which is the OG food truck for cowboys, at one time being used during the very first college football game between Princeton and Rutgers, during which fans first discovered the joy of eating and drinking together, prior to cheering on their favorite teams.
But the term “tailgating” was coined by none other than fans of the Green Bay Packers in 1919. These fans would park their trucks around the field, flip down the tailgates, bring out the beer and brats, and thus a tradition was born.
Mind you, some places take this simple form of self-entertainment and opportunity for mild ribbing of fans of the opposite team to a new level. If you’ve tailgated at schools like Vanderbilt, Auburn, or Old Miss, you know that your jeans and school color sweatshirt won’t cut it. But for most of us, the concept of a tailgate party before a sporting event is something that conjures up images of grill smoke, beer cans, and perhaps the odd jello shot, slurped while trying to aim a small bean bag at a board filled with holes an impossible number of yards away.
Personally, my tailgate experiences vary widely, but since I lived for almost 20 years in a college town known for the breadth and depth of its pre-game experiences, I can say that most of my favorite ones occurred at or near the corner of Stadium and S. Main Streets in Ann Arbor. Some Michigan fans (don’t ask if I am one; it’s the “home team,” so I typically cheered for them. If you are a devoted follower of my monthly booze-infused chats here, you know for whom I cheer on the regular) have adopted entire houses near the Big House for their weekly tailgate events and begin early, especially for those dastardly noon kick-off games. I’ve had some seriously delicious grilled breakfasts to go with my Bloody Mary with these fine folks.
Whether you’re a Big Ten, SEC, or a pro football fan, there tends to be an order of drinking to a proper tailgate. If you’re a Seriously Serious Fan, you start early enough to set up a nice Bloody Mary bar. Bring some decent chilled vodka, a lot of ice, a couple of options for mixes (spicy and not-so-much), plus a boat-load of garnishes — the basics being limes, olives, pickles, and celery, but you can get super creative with some crispy bacon, jumbo shrimp (one of my personal favorite oxymorons), cheese cubes, anchovies, smoked salmon, etc. Heck, nowadays it seems as though anything goes with Bloody Mary garnishes. My favorite version is one with either Ugly Dog or Lake Life from New Holland vodka, chilled way down over a lot of ice. Top that with McClure’s Bloody Mary Mix, which is heavy on the pickle brine (yum!). I keep the garnishes simple, but I want the olive stuffed with blue cheese and the bacon apple-smoked. No, I’m not high maintenance; I just know what I like.
And you haven’t lived until you’ve paired that first early-in-the-day Bloody with a grilled chorizo breakfast burrito. Nope. You have not.
Once that stage of drinking is done, it’s time to move on, and for me that means a session-able (read: low ABV) beer with a bit of bite to it. My Michigan go-to’s in this category include (lately) Crescent Fresh from Ellison Brewing and All Day from Founders. Other fun, lighter-side options include Cerveza Delray from Brew Detroit, Pils from Old Nation, and now from Bell’s, a low calorie/ABV version of their famous Two-Hearted — “light-hearted” for my fellow hopheads.
As for food pairings, well…that’s the beauty of a tailgate. Most anything goes, really. Some folks, including a family on my daughter’s college soccer team, broke out the grill each time, treating us to sliders, corn, smoked pulled pork, you name it. Others go the covered dish route — pre-made sandwiches, chips, fruit plate, the ubiquitous veggie platter. But the food isn’t the point. It’s the opportunity to hang out, drink a beverage or two with like-minded fans, and prep for the sports event to come.
What I suggest — not knowing, as I sit and write this, what the situation will be regarding college or pro football, soccer, or any other sport this year — is to fire up grills in backyards, make those Bloody Mary bars, fill the coolers with ice-cold brews, and have a tailgate party with your quarantine family and friends. For me, the actual game or match was just as enjoyable on TV (unless your kid is playing, which as we have already established is no longer on my parental support agenda) once the tailgating has ended. And I know folks who bring television screens to their tailgates to watch, even as the real thing is happening a few blocks away.
So even if we can’t go into the stadiums, we can still tailgate together!
Cheers and stay safe everyone!
Amazon best-selling author, mom of three, brewery founder, beer and wine consultant, and avid sports fan, Liz Crowe is a Kentucky native and graduate of the University of Louisville currently living in Ann Arbor. She has decades of experience in sales, public relations, and fundraising, plus an eight-year stint as a three-continent, ex-pat trailing spouse, all of which provide ongoing idea fodder for novels and other projects. She helped found and is the current president of Fermenta Michigan, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and employment of women in the fermented industries.
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