I’ve been to a few NFL games now, and as much as I enjoy the simple act of watching the sport live, it’s also quite an American cultural experience. Nowhere is that cultural experience on display more than in pregame tailgating.
Four years ago, my wife and I traveled to Chicago to see an early season Bears-Packers match up. With a wee bit of research, we found a tailgating group who welcomed us to hang out before kickoff. If you’re not familiar with tailgating, it’s basically a group of people who meet up in the parking lot prior to a football game, usually to grill some food, have a few drinks and talk some football before heading into the stadium. In Chicago, it looked like this:
This tailgating lot for Bears games is located about a 20 minute walk south of the stadium and, as you can see, it is cars and grills and plumes of delicious barbeque smoke as far as the eye can see. Through this maze, we found our specific spot nestled over to the side of the parking lot:
Most folks set up a small grill and cooler at the back of their parking space. The one we went to was a little grander in scale. The organizers had been doing this for more than 20 years and put on an incredible spread. Just for reference – here’s their grill filled with steaks, sausages, and hotdogs:
Now that’s a grill! This wasn’t your average pregame meal and I ate and drank very, very well. They had about six garbage cans filled with ice cold beer (sadly, Miller Lite and Bud, but when in Rome….) and a fully stocked bar that would be the envy of many bartenders:
So, in essence, we lucked out and were sitting in on the Taj Mahal of Chicago Bears tailgating. The food was truly incredible and was way beyond standard grilled fare. Here I am with a Chicago specialty: a very tasty Italian beef sandwich with peppers:
There were people from all over, including a few folks from Wisconsin who were welcomed with open arms even though they’d be cheering for the wrong team later that night. We met up with a couple from northern British Columbia who travel to NFL games and chatted with them for a while. All good things must come to an end, but before we started to make our way to the stadium, we got our new BC friends to snap this picture of us (my wife, ever so smart, even managed to dress in Bears colours):
Wanting to spend some extra time inside the stadium, we caught a ride over on a school bus that transports tailgaters to the game and were shortly inside Soldier Field. We wandered around and took a few minutes to see what 50 yard line seats might be like:
Soldier Field is a beautiful stadium inside and is very compact with excellent sight lines. It’s the smallest NFL stadium seating just under 62,000 and there really isn’t a bad seat in the house:
We ended up with a perfect night for football – clear skies and temperatures that started out around 15C only dropped a few degrees through the rest of the night:
Normally we pick up a couple of nosebleed seats, but for this game we went all out with some super swanky club seats on the 35 yard line. We had a pretty awesome view of this Monday Night Football tilt. Below is Aaron Rogers under centre just before a Green Bay offensive snap:
We may never have seats this good again. For an idea of how close we were, below, Jay Cutler is throwing an eventual touchdown pass over the middle to his TE Greg Olsen… you can see the ball in flight and Packers LB Clay Matthews trailing the receiver:
It was a fun game to watch. Both teams were a bit sloppy, the Bears turned the ball over a few times, and the Packers took a huge number of penalties. But there was great drama – a Devin Hester punt return TD (plus another long punt return to set up another score) electrified the crowd and a last second Bears field goal won the game 20-17. A great night left me only wishing the food inside the stadium was half as good as the food outside at our tailgating experience earlier that afternoon.