Drive down to the stadiums on Sunday morning before an afternoon home game and you’ll find parking lots full of elaborate tailgate setups: RVs outfitted with flat-screen TVs; midnight-green moon chairs; blasting speakers hooked up to pickup trucks; and grills loaded with sausages, burgers, and hot dogs.
If you’re a fledgling tailgater, it can all be a bit intimidating. So we talked to some seasoned pros about how to make the most of your pregame.
Don’t freeze your tail off
The weather is getting colder this weekend. And there’s only so much room around that grill to warm your fingertips.
Do it better: Layers, boots, and hand warmers
The No. 1 tip for fighting off the cold: Layers. “Layers, layers, layers, more layers,“ says Alex Klein. “Always bring extra layers.”
“Good boots are a must," says Mark Stahly, of Coopersburg Pa. "If your feet get cold, you have lost the battle.”
Inquirer Staff Writer Cassie Owens swears by her fleece-lined leggings — and lip balm (to ward off the inevitable chapping).
Greg Klock keeps it simple: “Hand warmers in my pocket, cold beer in a koozie.“
And as important: what not to do. “Never get in a warm vehicle to warm up," says Jim Slabik, who’s been tailgating for three decades. "After you return outside, you will feel colder.”
Keep it all organized
Throwing a tailgate involves a lot of moving parts. You need to keep track of your grilling tools and what you’re planning to cook. And you have to be able to break down your setup quickly in time for kickoff.
The best experts on staying organized: Game-goers who travel long distances.
Do it better: Bins and Ziploc bags
Irma Infante and Beto Trejo fly to Philly from Texas four times a year for Eagles games. Trejo, a native Texan, became a Birds fan as a kid. The couple has been tailgating at Eagles games for eight years.
“It’s all about bins for us,” Infante said. They keep two ready to go: one with prep stuff, including foil and paper towels, and another with grilling supplies. And it’s easy to pack up: "After we cook, we put our dirty stuff into the grilling-supplies bin.” So you don’t end up with mustard everywhere.
Infante and Trejo keep their tailgating supplies in a storage unit here. (One thing they bring from Texas: meat for the grill.) When they land at Philadelphia International Airport, Infante has a mental list of what they need to grab.
“We always have to make that last-minute Costco run,” Infante said with a laugh.
Mike Mercurio, who drives up from Baltimore to tailgate every year, says Ziploc bags are the key to a successful setup. They not only keep him organized; they speed everything up: It’s easy to throw food on the grill, and collapse it all in about five minutes when it’s game time.
You can class it up
You can go beyond brats and beer and still stay on-brand for the Birds. According to one longtime tailgater, you can add class and stay classic.
Do it better: Think beyond beer
In a sea of shiny Miller Lite cans, John Heil’s tailgate sticks out. There’s not a cheap beer in sight.
“We always have wine,” said Heil, who was born and raised in the Philadelphia area. “You have to have something for the people who don’t like drinking beer."
In addition to nice vintages, Heil does tablecloths. (They’re green, of course.) "Tablecloths are details that just make it feel nicer.”
Make sure people can find you
This may seem like a no-brainer — of course you want your friends to be able to find your tailgate — but it’s not always easy to do.
According to longtime fans, there are two ways about it: Be early or be really, really visible.
Do it better: Grab the same spot (and get there early)
Cars start lining up at the Linc about five hours before kickoff, so being early for a 1 o’clock game means getting there at 7:30 a.m.
A season ticket-holder, Tom Kilroy started going to Eagles games when he was 10. He now throws one of the most impressive-looking tailgates in the lot, in a refurbished school bus (painted Eagles green) he purchased from a local body shop.
“You’ll find us here every home game,” said Kilroy, who commutes from Cinnaminson for his tailgates.
Kilroy is often one of the first people to park after the gates open. He’s usually whipping up breakfast sandwiches in the exact same spot by 8 a.m.
Be a good fan
The more, the merrier (really). Sure, someone probably should’ve told this to the fan at this year’s season opener who got into a scuffle with the Sixers’ reserve forward, Mike Scott, who showed up in a Washington jersey. But for the most part, Philadelphians will welcome other football fans.
Do it better: Include other fans (seriously)
Eagles fan Stephan Meszaros threw one of the biggest tailgates in the lot ahead of the 2019 season kickoff, with around 150 fans attending — including those cheering for the Redskins.
“I’m blessed to have so many family and friends here today,” Meszaros said, while his son, decked out in Redskins gear, chatted with friends a few feet away. “People need to understand that there are things that bring us together, and this is one of them.”