With just three weeks standing between NFL fans and the start of the 2013 season, it’s time to begin preparing for the best matchup of all: football and tailgating. Every team has its own tailgating rituals and policies, but the tailgate is universally one of the most important parts of the game day experience.
Many tailgating rules at NFL stadiums remain the same across the board. For example, tailgating equipment is typically restricted to one parking space containing your vehicle so as to leave space for traffic in case of an emergency. Open fires and glass containers are typically prohibited for safety reasons, but where grilling is permitted, all coals and ash must be thrown away into designated containers within the parking lots. Parking lots at most stadiums open roughly 4-5 hours before kickoff.
We’ve highlighted a handful of notable NFL tailgates below, as well as recapped the league’s new bag policy, and some recent stadium name changes.
Chicago Bears – Soldier Field Rain or shine, stagnant heat or icy winds, you’ll find dedicated Chicago Bears fans in the lots surrounding Chicago’s Soldier Field. Aside from views of the spectacular Windy City skyline, you’ll see plenty of grilled brats and sausages and hear plenty of opinions on the current state of the team, and likely Chicago sports in general.
Dallas Cowboys – AT&T Stadium The Dallas Cowboys might have less space for tailgating in the stadium-owned lots, but the designated grassy spaces for large tents, lawn chairs, and picnic tables give this massive football arena a cozy, laid-back environment. Food options often find inspiration from Tex-Mex staples, but fans are most famous for drinking margaritas and hot toddies on game day.
Green Bay Packers - Lambeau Field Wisconsin is indisputably the nation’s capital of beer, brats, and cheese, so not surprisingly; this football town really shines in the food section during tailgates. Mix in a sea of friendly Midwestern faces and a “Wisconsin lei” (literally a necklace of sausage and cheese wedges) and you’re set to enjoy the full Green Bay Packers pre-game experience.
Houston Texans – Reliant Stadium Though they’re one of the younger franchises in the league, the Houston Texans have become famous for Reliant Stadium’s rowdy pre-game festivities. From piñatas and football-themed games to steaks and bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers, the Texans tailgate offers plenty of options to keep kids and adults happy in the hours before kickoff.
Kansas City Chiefs – Arrowhead Stadium No matter how the team is performing, Kansas City Chiefs fans show up in droves to share in the city’s tradition of barbeque outside of Arrowhead Stadium. Plenty of fans buy parking passes just to partake in the tailgate, some arriving hours before gates open to socialize early.
New England Patriots – Gillette Stadium An East Coast meal is never complete without a taste of seafood, and a tailgate is no exception. New England Patriots fans are renowned for cooking “wicked good” clams, lobsters, shrimp, and salmon before the game, and the seafood is a welcome change-up from the typical brat and burger fare you’ll find across the country.
New Orleans Saints – Mercedes-Benz Superdome Tailgating might not be allowed in the New Orleans Saints' stadium parking garages, but it became an awful lot easier at this Big Easy stadium following the team’s 2010 Super Bowl win when the organization constructed Champions Square. The free tailgate is full of the live jazz and local eats that have made the city a top destination the world over.
Oakland Raiders – O.co Coliseum If only for the people watching, the Oakland Raiders tailgate has to be one of the best NFL parties. Nationally recognized for having arguably the most insanely dedicated fan bases in the league, the Raiders boast parking lots full of imposing, costumed fans—a sea of black and silver that would terrify any opposing team’s fan base.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Heinz Field The Steel City is known for its cultural diversity, and the melting pot of the city really shows during Pittsburgh Steelers tailgates. With selections of kielbasa, pierogi, chili, and more, fans can take in enough energy to wave their “Terrible Towels” throughout the game.
San Francisco 49ers – Candlestick Park This is the last year fans have to tailgate at this historic stadium in San Francisco proper, and that makes the pre-game experience all the more bittersweet. Offerings in the San Francisco 49ers' coastal stadium run the gamut of cultural influences surrounding the Golden State, and dishes like Carne Asada Tacos and Hawaiian-style barbecue are widespread in the parking lots.
New NFL Bag Policy As a reminder for the 2013 NFL season, a new rule has been applied for stadiums across the board to ensure the safety of all fans. The new NFL bag policy currently in place states that only clear plastic, vinyl, or PVC bags may be brought into the stadium, so long as they are not larger than 12”x6”x12.” This includes gallon-sized clear plastic bags (e.g. Ziploc). Fans are also allowed to bring small clutch purses, but no large purses, backpacks, fanny packs, suit cases, brief cases, or coolers are permitted. Any guests that need a different bag for medical purposes will be permitted only after special inspection at the gate.
Note that seat cushions are also no longer allowed in stadiums as they could be considered a security threat. Guests can still bring blankets in cold weather, and these can be carried into the stadium separately (e.g. over the shoulder or arm). In the event you need to bring diapers or other materials for children, the league reminds that each guest—including children—is allowed one bag at the gates.
NFL Stadium Name Changes During the offseason, some NFL stadiums underwent name changes effective for the coming year. In Dallas, Cowboys Stadium will now be known as AT&T Stadium, a deal made with the Texas-based telecommunications corporation. The Cleveland Browns had chosen not to sell the naming rights for Cleveland Browns Stadium in over 10 years of eligibility, but with new owner Jimmy Haslam, the franchise decided to take on the name FirstEnergy Stadium after the Akron, Ohio-based energy provider.
Finally, in May, the San Francisco 49ers announced that their new stadium—located in Santa Clara, Calif., and expected to open for the 2014 season—will take the name Levi’s Stadium. In the same month, the state-of-the-art, environmentally sustainable venue was also chosen as the future host of Super Bowl L, which is scheduled for February 2016. Levi’s Stadium will cost an estimated $1.2 billion to build, but is expected to add more concessions areas, restrooms, parking spaces, and scoreboard space, as well as adding 9,000 club seats (in contrast to Candlestick Park’s zero).