In Search of America’s Best NFL Tailgating

A California family hits the road to taste tailgating at NFL stadiums across America

It’s not that the DiEugenio family are football crazies. They don’t follow their favorite teams as if they’re rock stars. No dressing up as mascots or bizarre body painting. They just know a great party when they meet one.

That’s what led them to hit the road in a diesel motorhome, determined to sample the tailgating scene at every NFL game in the nation.

In August, Jay and Karen DiEugenio and their three sons, Nick-14, Luc-12, and Franki-5, left their lives in California and began chasing a dream, attempting to hit every NFL stadium in the NFC to check out the pro-football tailgating scene – seeking the best parties in the country.

In the process, they logged 28,000 miles and indulged in more than a little field research, gathering great recipes and friends along the way, all toward the goal of writing an NFL tailgating cookbook.

After a brief hiatus, they’re at it again. Now the family is wrapping up the second leg of their adventure, as they taste the tailgating scene at all 16 AFC stadium parking lots.

If it sounds like a strange – and perhaps wonderful – ambition, you should first consider that Jay and Karen go way back with their love of tailgating. We caught up with them on the road in New York state, just before a New York Jets and New England Patriots match-up. Jay DiEugenio was just finishing some laundry and working with their boys on the day’s home-school lessons.

“My wife and I went to Eastern Washington University, which is in Cheney, WA. – a town of about 9,000 people when school is in session,” he explained. “So the whole town was pretty much involved. That’s where we fell in love with tailgating. Festivities started up in town on a Thursday with pep rallies, dinners and then tailgating, both before and after the game.”

Fast forward a few years. After college, the couple find themselves raising a family of three sons – all very avid sports fans. “They’ve always been around it; they’ve always loved it,” Jay said. “Every time I’m going to any kind of a game – baseball, football or hockey – I take one, or all, of the boys with me.”

Today, as fate would have it, everyone in the family roots for a different football team, “which is frustrating for me,” Jay chuckles. “I’m a Seahawks fan, my wife is a Saints fan, Nick is a Minnesota fan, Luc is a Giants fan and Frankie cheers for the Packers and Indianapolis. But really, I love football in general – doesn’t matter who’s playing, I’m watching,” he added.

The idea of pursuing a family adventure took seed before they even had any notion of how they would achieve it. Karen is a writer, and the couple had long thought it would be fun to try and produce a cookbook dedicated to “blacktop’s best cooks,” those die-hard NFL fans to whom tailgating is more than just a mere past time.

“We went down to San Diego to test the waters, to see if the fans would be interested,” Jay recalled. “What we found was that the scene wasn’t about John Madden or Emeril Lagasse sharing their recipes. Tailgating is a lifestyle. The fans we met have their own specialties, get out and spend several days preparing for their weekend tailgate party. We decided that we just had to get out there and find a way to make it work,” he said.

After some research, they decided a motorhome would be the most convenient and economical route to go. Then, sitting in Southern California traffic one day, Jay glanced at some commercial signage on a nearby car and had an epiphany. In a word, “sponsorships.”

With backing from Fleetwood motorhomes, Camp Chef, and Go RVing (gorving.com), the family set the wheels in motion. The Fleetwood luxury motorhome boasts a gourmet kitchen, large master bedroom with a full bath, and a large living room outfitted with a complete home entertainment system including flat-screen TV and surround sound.

But the motorhome was more than just a stylish ride. It became a surrogate house, restaurant and schoolroom, in addition to mere transportation. Setting a blistering pace, the DiEugenios began to cross the nation chasing tailgate parties – sometimes; they would never even set foot inside the NFL stadium.

At every stop, they went out and met tailgaters, often recruiting them to participate in an on-the-spot tailgate taste-off, judged by fellow fans. The experience, Jay said, was uniformly terrific – even for rookie RVers.

“We’ve been tent camping all our live,” Jay said. “So we’re used to the outdoors, camping and grilling outside. That side of things camp easy.

“The RV side was a very quick learning curve. We went out on a couple weekend trips to test it, which helped a lot. But the good thing is that there are a bunch of RV websites out there that can really help, including (www.gorving.com).”

Jay is a teacher by training and helps supervise the boys’ lesson plans in conjunction with their school district. And he loves the idea that this trip itself is part of a massive American classroom.

“The best part is watching them learn the history, what America is all about, and then feeling yourself falling in love with it all over again,” he said.

The DiEugenios completed their personal mission. Their blacktop research yielded publication of “I Got Your Tailgate Party Right Here: The Best of the NFL, NFC Edition”. They even have a companion publication focusing on the AFC.

When we spoke, the DiEugenios were within eight stadiums of completing the quest to take in tailgaters at all 32 of America’s NFL stadiums. And in the process of tracking down all the football fanatics and talented “blacktop chefs,” the family discovered something about themselves along the way.

“It really was a bonding experience,” Jay said. “We didn’t just find bratwurst and crazy fans. We found each other. We were always close, but the trip really brought us closer.”

Other tips? “As a family, we’ve learned that after a couple of hours of driving, we need to pull over and get out and do something. It doesn’t matter if you’re in an airplane or a cruise ship – we learned that we can still live together, have fun and share experiences.”

They add that they would literally be lost without their computer access for quick information, resources and reference.

So what NFL stadium puts on the best party? Either Jay DiEugenio is too polite – or too smart – to name a top winner. “My favorite stadium is whichever one I’m at,” he laughed. “As far as just the stadium itself, I love Seattle. You have a beautiful stadium, a good shot of the Seattle skyline.

“There’s a common misconception that tailgate parties are all drunken frat parties. They’re not. The people we’ve met? These people know what they’re doing. They’re professionals.

“Joe Chan, the “Commissioner of Tailgating,” has said that tailgating creates ‘the last great American neighborhood.” It doesn’t matter what race you are, your socio-economic background. If you’re in the parking lot, you’re part of the family.”

How about crazy fans? Oh, they’re out there, all right. “Every place is really different,” Jay said. “This year, Cleveland was really fun, crazy wild. They don’t have a very good football team this year, but the fans are still out there doing it. It’s just amazing to see.”

 

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