Only the most serious tailgaters were in the Meadowlands Sports Complex parking lot at 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning before the New York Giants took on the Buffalo Bills and that’s exactly where I found Joe Cahn, the “Commissioner of Tailgating.”
Cahn travels the country tailgating and is now in his 16th season as the self-proclaimed commissioner. He has had a host of sponsors over the years, making him quite possibly America’s only professional tailgater.
“It’s the last great American neighborhood,” Cahn said about tailgating. “It’s like walking through thousands of backyards with no privacy fences.”
Sunday – Bills vs. Giants
The first stop for the Commish is to a group he’s seen over the years during his stops in New York. A good-sized tent and an impressive grill setup are the first things that catch your eye and Cahn immediately begins gushing about this tailgate.
“This is the best group in the NFL,” he said. “Most people do two or three dishes, these guys do 18 to 20 and they could compete with any restaurant.”
Only a handful of the 100 people the party will serve throughout the day are there at this hour but the ones in attendance are enjoying a variety of breakfast sandwiches.
“I eat a lot of regional foods when I travel but New York has everything. Here, it is the world, every type of food” Cahn says. He sounds like a politician at times, waxing poetic about the subject he’s dedicated his life to.
The Commissioner heads to a bus with an American flag and a Giants player painted onto the side. The group of guys drinking beer and playing cornhole outside stop their game when they see Cahn heading their way. “It’s the Commissioner!” one yells.
Joe trades some tailgating war stories with the New York fireman who owns the bus, poses for a few pictures, and is back on his tour around the parking lot.
Joe stops a state trooper to explain that he used to see a group of troopers tailgate at Giants games that had the best ribs and asks if he knows where they set up.
“I don’t know where they are but I’m going to be looking for them now,” the trooper replied.
Cahn continues to spread goodwill as a commissioner, stopping to chat people up at a handful of tailgates after the trooper pulled on. He has a way of putting people at ease and wearing the home team colors certainly helps. Most people are intrigued by Joe’s story and the Commish is always quick with a tailgating story, a tailgating tip, or one of his prepared bits. He was in the middle of a group of guys eating sausages when I heard him suddenly talking politics.
“The Democratic Party is not a good party,” he tells his new admirers. “The Republican Party is not a good party. The Tea Party is not a good party. The best party is the tailgate party.”
“Life is about pursing happiness. Are you pursuing happiness?” Joe asks one of the guys with a dramatic finger point. His response is a simple ‘Hell Yes’.
“Good, then join the party.”
It’s not long before we gravitate towards a big bus blaring U2’s “Beautiful Day.” The song seems fitting for the sunny, crisp October morning as the smell from thousands of grills fills the air.
Cahn takes some pictures of the massive grill loaded for his website. The tailgate is run by a group of guys from the same construction management group. They used to entertain clients at their tailgate, which cost the company about $20,000 every home game. The economy took away the company’s discretionary spending so now the employees get together once a year to tailgate with their friends and family.
Cahn starts talking about the difference between the club lot, which is empty, and the main lots, which are full of tailgaters. “And you see everything. Big grills, tiny grills, people just eating sandwiches out of the back of their car. And it’s every type of person. Nobody is unhappy at a tailgate.”
Almost on cue, a woman yells Cahn’s name as we’re walking through the lot. Two women from a tailgating group start talking to him about some of the people he used to see in their group over the years.
“I always say that the biggest reason we tailgate is the camaraderie,” the woman says, talking to me now. “These people are like my second family.”
We spend the next hour sampling a variety of meats and finger foods with a trio of groups he’s seen in the lot over the years. Everyone seems honored to have the Commissioner of Tailgating at his or her party and offer us everything short of the keys to their cars. Cahn doesn’t go to the games, as he prefers to stay in the parking lot, but he gets more than a handful of ticket offers as we eat our way through the lot.
Joe meets a new group and it’s not long before he goes back into his “The Republican Party is not a good party,” stump speech and quickly earns the vote of everyone in the area. Someone opens a bottle of champagne after Cahn professes to be “the only candidate willing to grill and be grilled.” Another admirer interrupts the party.
“Oh sh*t, it’s the commissioner,” a heavy-set man yells while wedging himself between the row of cars. “Do you have any of that seasoning? I’m almost out and that sh*t is the best!”
Cahn has containers of his seasoning that he gives out to fans. “It’s my edible business card,” he says. The three of us walk back to Cahn’s rental car to grab him some.
After getting his seasoning and a quick picture, the man is gone, back to tend a grill on the other side of the lot. Cahn goes back to his group of voters, handing each a bottle of the seasoning. Joe continues to work the lot as fans start to wrap up their parties, break down their tables and tents, and move towards the stadium for the 1 p.m. kickoff.
As the fans head into the game and the grills go cold, the Commissioner’s work is done for the day.
Mark Chalifoux is a contributor to CBS Digital. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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