It’s that time of year when households become divided, friendships are put on the line and stress levels are elevated. Yep, it’s football season.
Whether it’s an NFL team, college team or both that you support, watching your team in action is one of the greatest adrenaline rushes around.
While the actual game is where all the magic happens, tailgates are what get us amped up to cheer our team to victory.
What exactly makes for a great tailgating experience? We asked Panthers fans in Charlotte what they feel are the keys to a lit pre-game experience.
(1) The booze
This one is only for the 21-and up-crowd, but adding a little alcohol into your tailgate mix often makes things more fun.
Depending on your team, you may have a special cocktail or adult punch that you put together on game days.
Panther’s fan Charmeen Wilkes shared with us her favorite game day cocktail. The Carolina Panther Punch was created by the mom of Lindsey Concher, who writes the blog lifeloveandsugar.com. The punch, which is the perfect shade of Panthers blue, is made from Blue Curacao, Mango vodka, lemonade and Sprite — and lemon slices are optional.
For Morgan Conroy and her friends, adding a little booze-inspired artwork helps them start their football season each year.
“Every year for the first kickoff game, I do an ice luge with my friends,” Conroy said. “Its an ice sculpture, but you can make it so that there is a funnel to take shots.”
Many local breweries also welcome crowds of fans each Sunday who come in to get their pre-game started.
South End favorites like The Suffolk Punch, Sycamore Brewing and Wooden Robot sit just a few steps away from the Lynx blue rail. This gives fans a safe and convenient way to get to the stadium to cheer on their team at game time.
(2) The food
This is a given. What’s a tailgate without great food? Whether you pull out a grill and cook yourself, or you rely on a local restaurant, having good eats is essential.
“A charred hotdog with ketchup and mustard on a warm toasted bun is the ultimate tailgate food for me,” Charlotte resident Jenelle Kellam told CharlotteFive.
Tailgaters begin setting up in nearby parking lots hours before the game starts to ensure they get their spread just right. Some can be seen with buffet-style tables lined up under a tent with plenty of dishes to keep the crowd happy well into the game and after.
Picking up a party pack as you head to your pre-game festivities works just as well.
Midwood Smokehouse offers a variety of meal bundles that include options like pulled chicken or chopped pork, sides of BBQ baked beans and coleslaw, or desserts such as banana pudding and brownies. Wings are another game day staple sure to please a crowd.
Of course, being in North Carolina, you’ve likely stopped by your nearest Bojangles at some point to pick up the popular “Bo Box” Jumbo Tailgate, full of chicken and biscuits. This local staple has saved many tailgates over the years.
Close to Bank of America Stadium, Rhino Market & Deli has a variety of sandwiches — including vegetarian options — and plenty of grab-and-go sides. While you’re there you can pick up a few craft beers, too.
(3) The music
No matter what genre you’re into, when you combine food, family and friends with great music, your tailgate automatically becomes better.
Sure, chatting it up with friends is great, but there’s something about adding music that elevates the entire experience. It’s almost as though there are a dozens of mini block parties going on all at once.
Fans can be found blasting their favorite songs over loud speakers all throughout uptown Charlotte. Some take it as far as hiring a DJ for the festivities.
(4) The people
Who you choose to tailgate with can take your experience to the next level. When some of your closest friends are also fans of the same team, it creates a special bond. You all can chat it up about what’s needed for you team to walk away with the ‘W’ that day.
It’s also a time for many to just catch up after a busy week. “Everyone comes in their jerseys and team gear to eat and hang out before the game,” Corey Wilkins explained.
But many Charlotteans pointed out that being around fans of the opposing team can be pretty fun, too.
“Having opposing team fans within earshot who are down for a little friendly arguing is key,” Panthers fan Kwame Opata said.
What are some of your favorite tailgate essentials? Let us know in the comments.