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.
In Joe Cahn’s world, home is where the football stadium parking lot is. Or, as the 62-year-old calls it, “the last great American neighborhood.”
Cahn is the “Commissioner of Tailgating” and he visits up to four “neighborhoods” each weekend, tasting local delicacies and serving pots of jambalaya to college and pro fans, USA TODAY reported.
As commissioner, Cahn will preside over the Bing National Tailgating Championship – a regional competition combining cooking, parking lot athletics, team spirit and trivia.
A native of New Orleans, Cahn, is partial to the Saints, but dons the jersey of the local team. “Wherever I am, I’m always at home.” he says.
USA TODAY caught up with Cahn as he piloted his 40-foot “Joemobile” motorhome the day after a Redskins-Colts game outside Washington – one of the 650 “home” games on an 800,000-mile, 15-season journey.
How do you define tailgating?
It’s not just the food … I refer to tailgating as the last great American neighborhood. It’s the neighborhood that you can walk the streets and say hello to your neighbors. It is walking through thousands of backyards with no privacy fences. Everybody brings their kitchen out to the parking lot. We might not be able to punt, pass or kick but we certainly can grill and eat.
What was your job in the real world and how did you become a tailgater?
I started the New Orleans School of Cooking in 1980 and sold it in ’95 and started this journey in ’96 (to NFL stadiums). I wanted to do a television series – and the best I can describe it is a Charles Kuralt with food – traveling America looking for home cooking and why the food was cooked. In 15 years of the cooking school that I hadn’t really taken a vacation. If worse came to worse I was going to get to see the country and eat a lot of food.
How has tailgating changed in the last 15 years?
I think a lot of it has to do with the vehicles that we now have, with the pickups you can put a grill in a pickup truck. Now everything is collapsible and foldable – the popup tents, the folding grills. And the menus have changed – anything that we can cook at home we now can cook in a parking lot.
You say that there is a lack of socialization today, especially among students who can do much of their work on the Internet and don’t interact with others.
I think that no socialization – that yearning for human contact – is one of the big reasons why tailgating is getting so big. In the parking lot it is the ideal American neighborhood where you are not judged by your ethnic background, by your wealth, by your race, by your political views – you’re judged by one criteria – and that’s what color jersey you have on.
What’s the better atmosphere, college or pro?
It’s wherever you are. You are going to visit with friends you haven’t seen in a while and you’re going to visit with friends you didn’t know you had. In college, we start off with students, faculty, alumni – a campus (has) pageant and tradition. In the pros, we start off with an asphalt parking lot … and we affiliate with the team as a region (and) as a city. It’s not so much the Giants versus the Redskins, it’s New York versus Washington. In colleges, an Auburn fan isn’t going to go to an Alabama game just to watch a college football game.
You spend so much time tailgating, do you ever get to watch a game?
There’s a game after a tailgate? When did they start this? I’ve learned that it’s better that I make a fool of myself in private than in public.
As the gridiron rivalries heat up, so, too, will grills and appetites as college and NFL tailgaters converge at their favorite games, with their favorite gametime foods. Tailgaters hungry to impress will be turning to Grilled magazine for recipes and tips, and the Go RVing “Bring Your ‘A’ Game” full-page ad will be reaching its 500,000 readers, according to a news release.
On sale through a network of 165,000 national and specialty outlets including Wal-Mart, Target, and Barnes & Noble, the fall issue of Grilled includes an exclusive interview with the Commissioner of Tailgating, Joe Cahn, who has a long-time relationship doing media interviews from the comfort of his home-on-the-road RV.
Cahn is about to embark on a 17-week cross-country tailgating tour that will take him and his sports-themed motorhome to college and NFL games, culminating on Feb. 6, when he arrives at SuperTailgate XLV in Arlington, TX. Throughout his tour, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) will be helping to arrange media interviews with Cahn.
“This opportunity is part of Go RVing’s ongoing effort to reach tailgating enthusiasts who are a prime market for our message,” said Gary LaBella, RVIA vice president and chief marketing officer. “Coupling our ad in Grilled with a feature story about Joe Cahn is an example of the synergy between Go RVing and RVIA’s PR efforts to reach RVing prospects.”
Joe Cahn, self-proclaimed “Commissioner of Tailgating,” stars in “Tailgate Takedown” premiering at 10 p.m. EST Wednesday (Jan. 6) on TLC
Joe Cahn, former spokesman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), has traveled over 500,000 miles in his motorhome to 123 colleges to explore the exciting world of tailgate parties, according to a news release from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
Cahn explores a different college stadium each week, challenging three competing teams of local tailgaters in a spirited cooking competition.
“Hundreds of thousands of America’s RVers travel to tailgate parties every year,” said RVIA Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Gary LaBella. “For those who aren’t already into it, this show will surely whet their appetites, because no one tailgates better or has more fun doing it than Joe Cahn.”
Cahn canvasses the home team’s most fanatical fans to find the most talented tailgaters to compete in “Tailgate Takedown,” a no-holds barred cooking competition. Cahn introduces the three teams of tailgaters and takes viewers on a tour of their tricked-out RVs for a first hand look at the hard work, creativity, inventive technology and cooking skills that go into one-of-a-kind tailgate creations.
As each team prepares their signature spread, the commissioner will meet other tailgaters to learn about local tailgate tradition and cooking.