Ultimate Fan Guide: Our Tailgate

Don't head to the parking lot without this essential checklist.

Here in Pittsburgh, tailgating has been elevated to an art form. We love our teams, we love good food and drink, and we love gathering for some serious revelry. We’re also a practical bunch: Pregame tailgating is the perfect way to offset the staggering cost of NFL ticket prices.

Who wouldn’t want to extend a pricey three-hour experience into a celebratory eight-hour one?

Some fans spend hours each week shopping for tailgating groceries and supplies, coordinating the contributions of friends, and packing their trucks and cars with tables, hot plates and tents. There’s something about the effort and preparation that serious tailgating requires that meshes perfectly with Pittsburgh’s “If it’s hard to do, let us give it a shot” sensibility.

At Heinz Field, the parking lot spots are pre-sold, so the same families tend to come each week. Seeing the same people regularly means there are reputations to uphold, and that adds to the neighborly vibe found at a Pittsburgh tailgate session.

Games Fans Play

Tailgaters don’t leave all the fun to the athletes. Many of them bring along games of their own and stage epic competitions on the asphalt. They play:

★ Cornhole ★
Players score points by tossing beanbags (often filled with dried corn) into a hole in a large, rectangular wooden box that’s propped up at an angle. This is by far the most popular game at Steelers tailgates and at tailgates nationwide.

★ Washers ★
Same principle as Cornhole – though the board is generally square, often carpeted and a bit smaller. Players toss small metal washers, aiming to have them land in a specific spot. Tailgatewashers.com offers boards, accessories and even a battery-powered light for nighttime play!

★ Ladder Ball/Bolo Toss ★
Two weighted objects (often golf balls) are attached by a string to form a bolo, which is tossed toward a metal frame resembling a ladder. Each of the three rungs on the ladder has a different point value, so players aim to have their bolo wrap around one of these rungs.

★ Football/Frisbee ★
These are natural choices for pre-game entertainment, and you will see tailgaters tossing these items around. But with so many people crowded together in a parking lot, it’s tough to keep a projectile from landing in the middle of someone else’s party.

Tailgate Checklist

Don’t head to the parking lot without these essentials:

  • Small grill and charcoal
  • Dogs, burgers and buns
  • Prepared sides such as potato salad, macaroni, etc.
  • Ketchup and mustard (bonus points for relish)
  • Recyclable plastic utensils/paper plates
  • Beer (skip the hard liquor — we’re going for distance here)
  • Bottled water and soda (consider those who don’t drink)
  • A few favorite CDs/iPod with car hook-up (skip the fan tunes; we’ve all heard “Hear We Go” enough)
  • Football (it will get tossed, even by less-than-athletic revelers)
  • Change of clothes (in case of beer-and mustard-related mishaps)
  • Trash bags (be responsible!)
  • Game tickets (easy to forget!)

It’s a Black-and-Gold World

We looked around the globe for the best far-flung points of Steelers pride.

  • Members of the Steel City Mafia call themselves the “premiere fan club of the worldwide Steelers family.” The group is an international network that has its own “godfather,” emblem, bumper sticker and clothing line. Not to mention a mission statement.
  • A group of more than 20 Mexican Steelers fans refer to themselves as the “Boix Noix Acereros de Mexico Fan Club.” They convene in Mexico City for every game.
  • The owner of Buxy’s Salty Dog Saloon in Ocean City, Md., is a Steelers, Pirates and Penguins fan with a big sense of humor. The menu boasts a number of ’Burgh-themed menu items, including the Mean Joe Greens, the Chuck Noll-ettuce and the Bobby Bonilla Sandwich. Their website features a hilarious renovation of Grant Wood’s famous painting, “American Gothic.” The only difference? The man and woman are both decked out in Steelers gear.
  • The entrance to the Pittsburgh Bar and Restaurant of Belfast, Northern Ireland, boasts a giant Steelers Crest.
  • Rome’s La Botticella is a Pittsburgh paraphernalia-laden, peanut- and cocktail-serving home away from home — provided you’re lucky enough to call the ’Burgh home.
  • Feel like ordering pierogies and an Iron City while the DJ plays the opening drum solo of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” (just like at Heinz Field) right before kickoff? So does every die-hard Steelers fan packed into Manhattan’s No. 1 Steelers bar, The Irish Exit.
  • Chicago’s Durkin’s Tavern, filled to the brim with fans and more than a few “You’re in Steelers Country” banners, is both the city’s most fervent Steelers bar and the oldest watering hole on the city’s North Side.

— Charlie Sutherland

Photo illustration by Chuck Beard

Categories: Sports