As the NFL’s “Commissioner of Tailgating,” Joe Cahn has attended tailgates at all 32 NFL stadiums, more than 120 collegiate venues and nine NASCAR race tracks, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In all, the New Orleans native figures he’s traveled more than 800,000 miles to about 800 parking lot parties since 1996, a lip-smacking journey that has included several stops in Western Pennsylvania, most recently this past January for the NHL’s Winter Classic at Heinz Field.
Cahn, who previously served as a spokesperson for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), has discovered that Pittsburghers are a passionate bunch when it comes to supporting their sports teams.
“They’re just incredible fans,” he said. “Even if they’re playing out of town, they take over a parking lot.”
This Sunday (Oct. 9), Cahn once again will be battling the crowds at Heinz Field as part of a 17-city tour of NFL stadiums. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say he’ll be outside the field in the parking lot where, as spokesman for the Aluminum Association’s first “can crusade,” he’ll be reminding fans that aluminum cans are the smartest choice in tailgating beverages.
The nationwide campaign touting the benefits of aluminum kicked off with the season on Sept. 7 at the Brown County Fairgrounds near Green Bay, Wis. In 24 hours, Cahn and a group of 60 volunteers broke an eight-year Guinness world record for the longest can train by stringing together 66,343 cans, creating a chain nearly 5 miles long.
If that sounds like a lot, consider this: Fans actually leave behind more than 200,000 cans and bottles at each game, Cahn said. Hence, the importance of recycling initiatives such as the one launched last year at Heinz Field and funded by the Alcoa Foundation. In just five games, the “Let’s Tackle Recycling” campaign kept nearly 8 tons of recyclables out of local landfills.
But on to what’s really on Steelers’ fans minds as the team prepares to take on the Tennessee Titans: the tailgate itself.
With so many events under Cahn’s apron, it’s safe to say this former cooking-school owner has a playbook of ideas for how to plan a great game-day party. He says it’s simple, really, as long as you “get there early, be a good neighbor, wear your colors and do all your prep work at home.”
Above all, he advises tailgate chefs to keep the menu simple — in terms of the number of dishes served and the amount of cooking involved once you set up shop — so you have as much time as possible to hang out with family and friends.
Given the fancy spreads some sports fans lay out, you might think tailgating lives and dies by the food. Yet in Cahn’s opinion, the pre-game ritual is about so much more than who makes the tastiest hot sausage sandwich or gourmet chocolate chip cookie.
“It’s the new American social,” he said, “the last great American neighborhood where people get together and socialize. Tailgating is the original Facebook, except when you ‘friend’ someone in the parking lot, you get to eat.”
Before embarking on his tailgating career, Cahn was a Creole/Cajun cook, and a pretty good one, teaching thousands the basics of Louisiana cuisine as owner of the New Orleans School of Cooking from 1980 from 1994. During his first year on the road in 1996, Cahn would serve up pot after pot of his homemade jambalaya to fans from the back of his 40-foot “Joemobile” RV.