It’s Grillin’ Time

Jonathan Garthwaite
|
Posted: Feb 04, 2007 12:00 AM
It’s Grillin’ Time

We’re banning grilling to stop terrorists! … Say again?

Last week, the National Football League officially announced that tailgating was prohibited at Super Bowl XLI in Miami.

Tailgating wasn’t specifically banned at the game but the NFL’s “items banned from stadium grounds” list certainly resembled the “items required for a successful tailgate party” recommended by the American Tailgaters Association – and yes, there really is a lobbying group for tailgater rights.

Concerns about terrorist threats in a post-9/11 world have caused the NFL to decide that “stadium grounds” at Super Bowl XLI means a security fence one to three miles out from the stadium and no beer cans, coolers, umbrellas, backpacks, footballs or frisbees allowed anywhere near the stadium.

It didn’t take long for every Colts and Bears fan with a hibachi grill and a RV on the way to Miami to start complaining – ranting how another American pastime is dead. Stories of disheartened tailgaters started popping up on the web and then, in comes an email from an ABC producer – “would love a comment on [the tailgating ban].”

After realizing that it wasn’t a story about yet another nanny-state regulation on trans-fats, my first thought was, so what! I haven’t been a card-carrying member of the tailgater club since college. I happen to think the big game looks better on my hi-def big-screen anyway. Not a 70 inch plasma – anything over 35 inches will do. And it’s certainly better than the view from any Super Bowl seat I could afford a ticket to sit in. On top of that, most of the tailgaters kvetching about the ban aren’t even planning to attend the game. They’ll simply pack up their beer, brats, and relish and stroll into the closest Hooters sports bar to watch the game. American pastime?

I’m sure I’ll catch some flak for it, but honestly, I could care less. I love football as much as the next person. And nothing beats a burger or bratwurst off the grill. But I just can’t seem to muster any passion to march down the streets demanding hibachi rights for all. Tailgating looks like its days are numbered.

Unless…

Unless that’s what the terrorists want.

I’m still not going to sit here and proclaim a constitutional right to grill – even though the Hearth, Patio, and Barbeque Association would love nothing more.

But I do think the wing-tipped suits at the NFL need to stand up from their cashmere covered luxury-box seats and start thinking about the fans that keep the NFL owners rolling in money. Each Fall, millions of fans stream into stadiums across the country to watch their favorite teams. They spend hundreds of dollars on tickets, paint their faces, wear elaborate costumes, and spend $8 on plastic cups of warm beer.

So if 40,000 die-hard Colts and Bears fans want to trek down to Miami to hang-out, enjoy the pre-game festivities, and watch the game with friends, the NFL should do more to accommodate them. It’s the least the owners should do before they take their corporate jet home after the game while some tailgater is fixing a flat tire alongside Interstate 75.

Last year, over 140 million people watched the Super Bowl on television. The Super Bowl occupies the top ten slots on the most-watched-television-events-in-history list. The fans make it possible and the fans dedicated enough to travel with the team are the leagues most loyal of all.

These fans deserve better. And they deserve more that brochure-ready rules and absurd contraband lists.

The NFL could learn a lesson or two from the mistakes being made at airports everywhere as they strip search grandma and ban bottles of water and toothpaste while passengers acting in an overtly suspicious manner are given the royal treatment thanks to political correctness.

Install metal-detectors, look inside coolers and hibachi grills. Sure. Confiscate items that don’t belong at a pre-game party. Sure. Patrol the grounds and make sure the fun stays fun. But don’t take away the excitement of the biggest game on the face of the earth and pretend it’s going to make anyone safer.

The error of symbolism over substance in security is going to result in another tragedy some day and the sooner officials in charge of events like this realize it, the sooner Americans can get back to enjoying the American dream with an acceptable degree of safety. And yes, for some, this includes traveling across the country to root for their home team.

So, let the tailgaters in, reasonable precautions and let the game begin.

If we stop grilling, the terrorists win.