Something’s going on here. In the early afternoon, cops and city workers begin setting up cones in the road—clearing the traffic for an influx of pedestrians—and sandwich-board signs pop up on the curbs, shamelessly advertising $50 parking. It must be football season.
When the gates to these empty fields-turned-parking lots open, cars and pickup trucks line up to hand over a fistful of cash to parking attendants. Today, at the Patriots’ first preseason game, Christopher Morgan drives his pickup into the back corner of one of these lots. From the side doors of his truck, a handful of close friends spill out; from the bed comes a barbecue, a cooler, a folding picnic table, a shade tent and bottles of liquor.
When Morgan and his friends finish with the setup, they all sit down and reach for something to drink. Out comes the beer.
The group of friends, who have been Patriots season-ticket holders since the mid-1970s, have been tailgating before games since they were teenagers. Over time, they’ve evolved from a rowdy group of Pats fans to tailgating masters. “We’ve gotten better at it,” says Morgan. “In the old days, we were just drunks.”
Along with Morgan is longtime friend Michael Ogiba. The two worked at the same supermarket in Waltham, Mass., and remained close even after Ogiba moved to New Hampshire. They get together every football season to catch up with each other’s families and cheer on the Patriots. With a group that Morgan says can reach up to 30 people in their corner of the lot, they share stories and beers long before kickoff.
“I think the socializing is a big part of it,” says Ogiba. “Some of us don’t see each other until we come to the games. We’re all grown now, married and have our families. That’s why we get here four hours before the game.”
Today, the picnic table is loaded with sandwiches and snacks, alongside liquor and beer. Morgan will soon add the hot dogs and hamburgers that are cooking on the grill.
Morgan and Ogiba have brought cans of Budweiser Select with them because, they say, it was convenient to grab from a local liquor store. Ogiba also explained that, like the Patriots, the tailgaters were just getting warmed up for the season. When the rest of the group arrives, they’re expected to bring with them different types of food and brews for the party to enjoy. But for this crowd, beer-tasting is a far departure from the binge-drinking tendencies of their youth.
“Now we don’t drink to get drunk. As you can see, it’s more social. Everyone brings food and everyone who comes here now has their own different beer that they find in the store,” says Ogiba. “They’ll find beers, bring them back and we’ll share them. We’re into more of the tasting now, and the social aspect, rather than the drunkfest of way back when.”
Ogiba’s interest in beer was cultivated at tailgate parties, which led him to start brewing his own, calling himself a “beer snob,” albeit with a laugh and a Bud Select in hand. When his friends arrive later, Ogiba will once again welcome them back to the customary spot in the parking lot where the’ll catch up on family details, the offseason moves of the Patriots and of course, the beer they’re drinking.
In another lot just up the road from the Morgan/Ogiba spot, fans are filling in paved parking spaces and unloading their own grills and beer coolers.
Behind his car, Steve Malone is tending to a smoking grill, while his wife Debbie, daughter Kat and nephew Andrew Gerry all chat and wait for the food. The Patriots jerseys on their backs signify that they’re anxious to file into Gillette Stadium; the beers in their hands signify they’re ready to tailgate. The Malone family is drinking from a Samuel Adams variety pack and enjoying the moment.
“I just like Sam Adams, it’s my favorite beer,” says Kat. “I think it has the most flavor out of everything else.”
Debbie and Steve, who were visiting Kat from Virginia, had other reasons for buying the Boston-based beer for their first trip to Gillette Stadium. “Being up in New England, it just seemed like we had to go for the Sam Adams,” says Steve.
Walking around the Rodman Ford parking lot, which doubles as a tailgating lot on game days, it’s clear to see that beer is ubiquitous. It’s probably the only thing in the lot more common than Tom Brady jerseys or a football. For the past 13 years, Brian Dern, who helps control the parking at the dealership, has seen his share of tailgaters—and along with them, plenty of beer. It isn’t surprising that with most fans looking to enjoy more than one beer prior to kickoff, the usual brews of choice fall into the category of session beers.
Dern walks around to meet new people and revisit familiar faces that set up camp at the same spot year after year. When he does, the friendly tailgaters are likely to offer him something from the grill, a mixed drink or a beer. The food varies from traditional hot dogs and burgers to regional seafood and beef. According to Dern, “They bring everything up here.” That includes the beer too, as fans can be seen drinking Bud Light from a can, Sam Adams from a bottle or a Chimay Grand Reserve from a glass.
When done properly, tailgating is so much more than grabbing a bite to eat before the game. For some, it’s a chance to catch up with old friends, show off homebrew and try new beers. For others, it’s a party to celebrate the return of football season and a perfect excuse to drink a locally brewed favorite. The football and food are essential, but the beer is critical. Yet the most important thing isn’t inside the cooler; it’s the friends that introduce fellow “beer geeks” to new brews, and who let a self-proclaimed geek reach for a Budweiser Select to wash down a kielbasa.
The food, and certainly the beer, makes it a tailgate—the friends make it a party. ■