It’s been a long, slow offseason. The mood around the team has been dour at times, and projections from the national media are pretty unfavorable in terms of Atlanta’s chances of making noise in the playoffs — or even getting to the postseason. The 2022 NFL season is getting closer and closer, however, and that means NFL game days are coming.
Regardless of how good the Atlanta Falcons (or the actual games) are, the game day experience is always a fun time. Whether you’re watching from your couch, at a venue or bar with your buddies, or at Mercedes-Benz Stadium itself, there’s nothing quite like the atmosphere around an NFL game. One of the best ways to do it, of course, is with a classic tailgating experience.
I’ve never actually been to a tailgate at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, though I must say the green area outside always looks inviting and fun. Now that I live in upstate New York, I’ve been tempted to go check out an infamous Buffalo Bills tailgate — I need to see someone get thrown through a table — but I haven’t made it over there yet. In general though, my tailgating involves a more low-key “backyard BBQ” sort of vibe with a few friends and family present.
There are three keys to a great tailgate, in my humble opinion: 1) the company, 2) the location, and 3) the food and beverage spread. Obviously, if the ensuing game after the tailgate is good, that helps things in hindsight. But that’s pretty difficult to figure out beforehand, particularly when the Falcons are involved.
The first key, the company, is usually the easiest to achieve. You just have to convince your best buddies and family members to join you for a morning/afternoon of pre-football entertainment. I like to have a mix of “football junkie” friends to talk shop with alongside some more casual fans that we can impress (or annoy) with the depth of our football knowledge. But really, the company is up to you. Hell, sometimes the best way to do it is to just to have a cookout for one while cracking a cold one.
Second, location, can be tricky. The temptation is always to “go big” and tailgate somewhere fancy, like a nice park or even at the stadium itself. I can’t speak to what it’s like at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but I imagine it’s either expensive or difficult to reserve space there. So I tend to lean towards the simplistic backyard/deck tailgate.
Obviously, this is heavily dependent on your setup—those without a backyard, for instance, might have a tough time grilling or entertaining outside. Even though the vibe is a bit different, an “indoor tailgate” is often a great call in the more difficult months (winter up here in the frozen north, summer down south). You can tailgate year-round in a climate-controlled setting, and it makes the eventual transition to the game super easy.
Third, and arguably the most important, is the food and beverage selection. Generally, my expectation is for guests to bring along a little something to spice things up. Either a choice six-pack, side dish, or snacks. It’s not a requirement, but it’s nice. For the main course, there are a lot of options. As a wing-lover, I absolutely must have at least one flavor of wings at the tailgate. The more the better, however, as I think we can all appreciate a good spread of flavors.
If the grill is coming out, I’m partial to bratwursts and andouille sausages with a big pan of sautéed onions, peppers, and jalapenos for topping and as a tasty side dish. Brats and andouille are both pretty forgiving on the grill, so they’re a good choice if you’re distracted by conversations with friends or your beverage. Just make sure they’re fully cooked—no medium-rare sausage, folks. The same is true for the onion and pepper mixture. I usually just do a little butter, garlic, salt, and pepper, but you can spice it up with your favorite seasonings as well. Cook until the onions are transparent and the peppers are tender. Good old-fashioned burgers are also a strong choice.
Ultimately, the quality of the tailgate comes down to whether or not you had a good time. There’s a lot of ways to do it well, and even a barebones spread can be a good experience as long as the company is good. My advice is to have fun, because the season is nearly here. I can’t wait to enjoy it with all of you. I’ll be tailgating with you in spirit!