America: land of the free. And if you can’t use that freedom to get wrecked in a stadium parking lot, what good is it?
For the past decade, the best part of watching the Buffalo Bills play football for three hours has been the four hours of tailgating before the game—the ritual of beer, food, friends, more beer, losing your friends because you drank too much beer, and beer with your new friends.
It was never pretty. On Sunday afternoons, you’d walk through the parking lot and swear you could hear the sound of human evolution giving up: “Screw it. I’ve done all I can for you people.” Bottles were hurled. Flaming debris spilled from garbage cans. Men (and at least one woman—I will always remember this woman) used porta-potties by peeing against them, not inside them. It was the kind of bleak dystopian hellscape that would have made the guy in Mad Max feel better about his situation.
Still, I’ve been happily going to Bills games since I was a teenager. In recent years, I’ve started to bring along my two sons. Thanks to our fellow tailgaters, I’ve been able to teach the boys life lessons such as “Don’t Step in That” and “This Nice Man’s Head Wound Will Probably Heal.”
But recently came word of new tailgating policies. This season, there will be more uniformed and undercover cops. There will also be more “guest services team members” who will “roam the parking lots sharing Fan Code of Conduct messaging.” Because that’s definitely why football fans wake up early to go tailgating—so we can engage in discourse with stadium personnel and ascertain the parameters of institutionally approved “fun-having.” Fingers crossed that they distribute pamphlets!
The whole vibe is changing. Gluttony and excess are getting a bad rap. A Buffalo TV station even ran a feature on healthy eating options for tailgaters: “When making pasta salad, be sure to use 100 percent whole-wheat macaroni. This could cut down your risk of coronary artery disease.”
Where I come from, bringing whole-wheat macaroni will not just make you the “healthy” person at your tailgate. It will make you the “only” person at your tailgate.
I’ve saved the most distressing news for last, partly because I’m still reeling: “No binge drinking will be permitted in the parking lots.” You read that right—no binge drinking at a Buffalo Bills game. That’s like walking into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and seeing a sign: “A Guitar-Free Building.” A ban on bingeing means no kegs or funnels—which means goodbye to the Octobong, a breathtaking feat of human achievement that enables eight people to chug 16 beers in a coordinated symphony of intemperance, inebriation and a certain amount of falling down.
The way things are going, we’re at most a couple of years away from the following scenario playing out:
Tailgater (nursing a Coke Zero): Woooo! Fun! YAAAAY!
Security: Excuse me, sir, does that sausage bun contain gluten? Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to STEP AWAY FROM THE SAUSAGE BUN.
This past spring, some friends and I tailgated with our kids before an Ottawa Senators playoff game. During those three hours, we were visited approximately 4,290 times by security officers who nosed around to make sure we weren’t doing anything illegal, such as enjoying ourselves. We laughed it off because, hey, that’s Canada. Our national bond would surely have been fractured had I sullied our collective morals by drinking a Heineken in public.
But for this kind of clampdown to happen in the U.S.! Let us urge our American friends: Think of your history! Your forebears crossed an ocean so they’d have the freedom to practise their religion, chase their dreams and spend their autumn Sundays overeating, overdrinking and maybe pooping themselves a little bit.
These inalienable rights are yours to defend: that all are created thirsty, that the Octobong was endowed by its creator with eight hoses and that everyone is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of an absolute screamer of a Monday-morning hangover.
This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.