Tailgating is as much a part of football as any other sports tradition, especially with college football. However, as the saying goes, "With great tailgating comes great responsibility." OK, so I ripped that line from a Spider-Man comic. But it's still a good credo to live by if you want a successful tailgating event.
There are several things to consider before, during, and after a tailgating event if you want to do it the right way.
The following is a list of my top 25 tips to good tailgating. All of these tips are solely my opinions and based on personal experience.
1. Get prepared on Thursday - Most college football games start on Saturday. You might feel like giving yourself just one day in advance (meaning Friday) might be time enough to get ready. But I have found that preparing a couple of days in advance is one of the best ways to nip unexpected problems early. If you can pack a few things, do it. If you can marinate those steaks, or go to the store to pick extra items, then do it. The earlier you can have things done, the better.
2. Make a list - One of the best ways to manage your tasks is to make a list to keep yourself organized. It could be a list of food items, a list of things to do, or a list of scheduled activity leading up to the game. The list can be whatever your situation needs. It can act as a strict, timed agenda, or it can be a loose skeleton that you only refer to if you get lost in the craziness of the day.
3. Designate Responsibilities - You don't have to tackle all the responsibilities of tailgating by yourself. Your friends are you friends for a reason. Recruit the ones that you feel are the most responsible to help you with getting things together.
4. Do what you know - If you have a list (see No. 2), then it might be a good idea to pass along a few of those items to friends and family who you feel confident can do the tasks. If there are things that you feel you aren't good at like grilling or getting driving directions, hand those things off to others in your party. However, be careful not to become the "supervisor" who is controlling, or only assigns people tasks without having any.
5. Find Parking Early - Be ready for an early day, because that's what it's going to take for you to land your perfect parking space. You might be planning to host events like sack racing where you'll need to be near large, open spaces. Perhaps there's a public grill that you're planning to call dibs on. None of those things will be possible if you do not secure good parking.
6. Do a dry run - If this is your first tailgating event, or if your team is playing on the road, one thing that might work is going to the site of the game and scouting out the place. This will help you with the lay of the land so that you'll know where you're going and where you might be on gameday.
7. Park Respectfully - Whether you're successful in finding a great parking space or not, you need to park your vehicle in a way that's respectful to those around you. Don't park your van or SUV over two parking spaces just so you'll have more room to yourself. If you can help it, don't block anyone into his space. You never know what emergency may come up. If you're running late, don't take your frustration out on the guy that took your perfect spot.
8. Know where you're going - This has more to do with people tailgating for the first time or if your team is on the road. Make sure you have a working GPS device the day before the game. If it's a phone or tablet app, then make sure that it's a dependable one. If it typically gives you funky directions, then my suggestion is find a better one, or don't use one at all.
9. Get hard copies of your directions - Devices malfunction. So it might be a good idea to print out a hard copy of the directions. Of course, if you have family or friends who have been to the site before, trail them instead.
10. Vehicles - If you're tailgating with a lot of people, make sure that you or someone in your party has a vehicle large enough for all of the various items you may be planning to bring.
11. Food - When people think of tailgating, they think of the food: hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks, chicken wings. Those are just the staples, but the list of dishes available can literally stretch on forever. Take requests early. Find out as soon as possible if there are people in your tailgating party that have food allergies so that you can prepare accordingly. This should be a given, but the best cook should be the one preparing the food or manning the grill.
12. Download a Sports app - Typically, we tailgate at the games that our favorite team is playing in. That doesn't mean, however, that you can't keep up with other games that are important to you. This is where having a smartphone or a tablet device comes in handy. Yahoo! Sportacular and ESPN Scorecenter apps are great ways to keep up with other games going on. Depending on the app, you might even be able to watch live feeds of those games while you're waiting for your game to start.
13. Music - We all love music, so you may end up playing a few tunes. Take requests, but use common sense. Don't play music with vulgar lyrics that might offend others around you. Be courteous with your volume levels, also.
14. Have games ready to play - Another staple tradition of tailgating are the games. Bring cards to play and footballs to throw around. Again, use good judgment. If you have people in your party that don't drink, playing three hours of beer pong might not be the best idea.
15. Dress appropriately - This could mean different things, depending on what region you live in or the game you're attending. As far as fandom goes, however, I offer this: If you're going to paint any part of your body (face, chest, hair), be prepared for some teasing. It might be good natured or it might be malicious. Grow thick skin either way.
16. Keep cool when things go wrong - It's inevitable. Someone's going to forget something or forget someone. You might get lost getting to the site, regardless of your efforts to prevent this. Someone might get to your parking spot. Whatever the case, be prepare for things to go bad. Tailgating is supposed to be fun. Don't let a bad situation ruin your day.
17. Have spare chargers - In the digital/social media world we live in, it's going to be very hard to have a day without using technology. On a busy tailgating weekend, your phone and tablet hours may double. So make sure you have your devices charged and get a spare charger for the car in case you run low.
18. Have a designated ticket holder/spot - Before you begin your tailgating festivities, make sure you know where your tickets are. Whether this means you have someone who holds everybody else's tickets or you have a safe place you want to keep them, it's important to know where those tickets are. The last thing you want near the end of your tailgating fun is ticket drama.
19. Be civilized - There's a good chance you might end up parking close by another group of people who are cheering for the opposing team you came to support. There's nothing wrong with a little good-natured razzing. But passion for college sports can run deep and light conversations can become heated debates. If a situation become too aggressive, use common sense and do your best to avoid it.
20. Have a backup plans - This is an extension of No. 16. If there's a way to make a Plan B for food, grills, entertainment, then do it. Better safe than sorry.
21. Be as portable as possible - Grills, food, generators. Make sure these things can be easily loaded and unloaded.
22. Bathrooms - If you're not into using porta potties, then it might be a good idea to come by the site early and scope out where the nearest public bathrooms are.
23. Bring appropriate weather gear - We all know how bad the weather man can screw up. Even if the forecast is for clear, sunny skies, bring a few umbrellas and some jackets. You don't want to be left fending for the cheap ponchos that universities hand out if the rain comes.
24. Respect Your Environment - Please don't liter. Not only is it hazardous to others, but it's against the law. Either find a place close by where you can throw things away or bring strong garbage bags with you so that you can dispose of your trash later.
25. Wrap up your food - Do your best to wrap up your food so that when you get back from the game, your vehicle won't reeked too much. The priority, in my opinion, would be onions and other strong-smelling condiments.
Aaron David Harris is a graduate of the University of Michigan (Class of 2007). He also covered sports in Michigan for four years at The Battle Creek Enquirer (in Battle Creek, MI). Visit him at www.aarondavidharris.com.