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Extreme Tailgating
SJ fans take pre-game rituals as seriously (maybe more?) as the actual events 
By Anna Lockhart

You’ve probably seen it cruising around town: a giant mini-bus covered in scenes of the Eagle’s glorious Superbowl win. The digital photo printed on the bus shows a hand clasping the coveted Lombardi trophy, Jason Kelce in full Mummers mode and tickertape falling like snow. You may have smiled when you saw it, maybe even honked or waved.  

It’s a reaction Moorestown resident Scott Aschoff gets a lot. He takes great pride in his Eagles tribute, and has no problem if you want to call him an extreme tailgater.  

“My wife would probably say I’m too dedicated,” he says. 

Since he and three friends purchased the heavy van 20 years ago, Aschoff has missed just one game. For all the others, he leaves the house hours before kick-off and hauls the heavy vehicle across the Walt Whitman Bridge for a long day in the lot.  

Inside the bus, there are Tupperware containers as well as stacks and boxes of plates. It may look messy, but it is a part of a precisely planned, tried and tested ritual.  The tailgaters arrive as early 7 am, no matter the official start time. The van is stocked up to serve breakfast, lunch and often dinner, and a satellite TV is set to pre-game coverageWhile most of the revelers are season ticket holders and will eventually leave the lot to go into the actual game, some are just there for a bite and the camaraderie 

There are no packaged hot dogs and solo cups here. They opt for top-shelf wine pairings and creative shot concoctions, taken from the ceremonial “shotsky” board – a wooden board with shot glasses mounted to it, for group shots.   

Though the core group is constant, the bus welcomes a wide swath of folks – kids, grandkids and their friends have grown up tailgating (not always staying for the entire game) with the group, which includes around 20 people, usually more. The group is constant, and people bring in guests and additions, but additions to it do happen, like Mike Leese, a Moorsetown neighbor. The parking lot security gets fed every game, too – and passersby get waved in to fill up a plate, too 

“I’ve never seen anyone else tailgate with stemware,” says Leese.  

Yes, this group takes its pre-game party seriously. But the Moorestown contingent has rivals in South Jersey when it comes to going to the extreme. And, as it turns out, tailgating has a proud history in New Jersey, where some say it was invented.  

There’s Cherry Hill resident Jay Pearson, who’s bus pulls in at 5 or 6 am – as early as it opens – to get a spot in the F2 lot, the closest parking to the Lincoln Financial Center and the biggest lot for tailgating.  In the pre-game hourshe explains, this is where the action is. F2 becomes a frenetic caravan of buses and RVs crammed with partiers who bleed green. Impromptu marching bands and drum circles, music and libations make it extra lively.  

“Tailgating is very territorial,” Pearson says. He parks in the same spot every game, and if he is running late, he has someone hold his spot. He knows a lot of the regular big time tailgaters, but there can be surprises.  

“It’s Eagles Woodstock,” adds Mike Barnes, who hasn’t missed a home game in 20 years and tailgates with the Pearson crew. “A sea of green, midnight green, it’s like a festival. The tailgate almost overshadows the game.”  

Their ride is a former New Jersey Transit shuttle bus Pearson bought for cheap, revamped and lovingly painted. He and his wifeLaurenalways come equipped with food for the long day ahead, attracting 50 to 100 people to the repurposed vehicle 

Their signature tradition, a shot of Fireball every hour on the hour, is accompanied by honking the bus horns and an E-A-G-L-E-S chant. A big screen TV broadcasts the game, and booming speakers (installed under the bus facing toward the pavement, for optimal projection) keep the party feel going.  

Then there are those who have branched out from football. Gina Goetschius, of Winslow Township, considers her tailgating as an identity, a way of life, and a brand. Armed with her Jeep and a crockpot of comfort foods (think crawfish loaded fries or hearty dips and stews), Goetschius tailgates sports events, concerts – really anywhere she can pull up her truck and pop open her tent. In fact, her tailgating has taken her to places some might think a little strange. 

“I’m always packed and prepped for a tailgate,” she says. “I even tailgated a funeral. A sad friend needed a beer, food and a cigar. Here comes me.” 

And there was the time she pulled up to a wine festival with her truck ready to party.  

“My friend didn’t like the wine and wanted beer, and we brought our own food. True story,” Goetschius says.  

Her love of tailgating inspired “A Tailgater’s Life,” a brand she created to share tailgating recipes and tips via social media.  

So here’s a history lesson, and how it all ties to the Garden State. The modern tailgate likely originated with college football: a game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869, according to Stephen Linn, author of The Ultimate Tailgater’s Handbook. Football spectators geared up for the game by grilling sausages at the “tail end” of a horse.  

With no stables to be found at lot F2, this tradition fell out of fashion. In modern times, car culture (hence the “tailgate”), the invention of the gas grill and portable coolers have all made the tailgate easier and more luxurious.  

Aschoff’s tailgating crew has their process down to the science. 

 “Nothing goes wrong,” jokes Aschoff. “Because we know what we’re doing.” 

Tales of things going wrong are now memories that become funnier over time. The biggest fiasco the group can recall was when Vic Bobadilla tried to bring an inflatable pool and tanks of hot water for a makeshift hot tub at the Linc. Unfortunately, parking lot security asked them to pack it up.   

Aschoff’s success is in part due to dedication – but also to delegation. 

The regulars rotate food duties, trying to outdo one another. Robert Sliwowski, aka Bobby Chez, owner of the South Jersey crab cake franchise, might bring a special seafood concoction. Aschoff specializes in a chili he cooks for three days. Steaks, shrimp, or gourmet cheesecakes, could be on the menu. Another of their friends chooses a wine to pair with their main dish from his collection. Bobadilla crafts a special shot concoction for the shotsky board, and everyone pitches in with snacks and finger foods, and helps with the mad dash of cleanup before the game starts.  

Organization is key too. The group has an email list for people to sign up for food duty, coordinate arrival time and keep everyone in the loop.  

For Pearson, being known as major-league tailgater brings bigtime responsibility.  

“I’ve learned over the years that you can’t please everyone,” he says. “You can’t try to make food for every single person who is going to be there.”  

He has developed tailgating tips that keep it fun for him and his crew. A few of the rules he follows include staying away from the common habit of charging for people who drop by your tailgate. “People will expect too much and get upset.”  

Also on his list: know your audience when it comes to music, and stop playing the aggressive party music when its time to clean up (or people won’t leave) 

AschoffGoetschius and Pearson agree that tailgating is about much more than pre-game libations. Pearson started bigtime tailgating when his dad, a big time Eagles fan, got seriously ill a few years ago and could no longer attend entire games in the stadium.  

“For me, it was about celebrating family and being together, and that’s what we still try to do,” he says. “People know, even if I haven’t seen them in 20 years, they can come by F2 at any game and we will be there.” 

“Tailgating for us is about seeing other each week, being in each other’s lives,” adds Barnes. Some days we might leave the parking lot cursing, but we’re cursing together. That’s what it’s all about.” 

September 2019
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