Job one for Eagles tailgaters: Keep warm

Michael Clay fires a grill laden with sausages, chicken, and burgers for members of the Golden Glove Sports Tour.
Michael Clay fires a grill laden with sausages, chicken, and burgers for members of the Golden Glove Sports Tour. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 06, 2014

Flames from fire pits and charcoal grills licked the night air in parking lots at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday after the sun set and the pregame temperature plummeted for thousands of Eagles fans awaiting the team's playoff game against New Orleans.

"You can't waste a good fire when it's 20 degrees," said John Schwartz, tailgating with his two sons, John Jr. and Eddie. They brought steaks to grill, but while they waited, they piled the charcoals high and warmed their hands and feet over the open fire.

Schwartz marveled at the contrast with the Dec. 22 game against Chicago, when daytime temperatures reached a high of 68 degrees.

"It's hard to believe that two weeks ago we couldn't keep the beers cold, and today we can't keep them from freezing," he said.

How had he prepared for one of the coldest nights of the year in the Lincoln Financial Field? Long johns. Three sweatshirts. A North Face jacket. Hand warmers. Toe warmers.

Schwartz, 52, from Yardley, Bucks County, a season-ticket holder since 1979, said he did not think this would be the coldest Eagles game he had attended. That, he said, would be the 1981 NFC championship game against the Cowboys.

How cold was that one? Schwartz didn't remember the temperature, but "I know we won," he said. (The Eagles beat the Cowboys, 20-7, at Veterans Stadium, where the game-time temperature was 12 degrees, with a windchill factor of 3 below zero.)

Nearby, Bob Caton and Jeff Carr, both of Mechanicsburg, began tailgating about 2 p.m. They had burned through a case of Duraflame logs in their portable fire pit. About 10 people - all of them strangers - had gathered around the two, warming hands over the fire.

"No matter what team you're rooting for, the British Thermal Unit is the common denominator," Caton cheerily observed. Anticipating the temperature would dip during the game, Caton prepared himself by wearing polar-rated long johns, fleece-lined jeans, windproof hoodie, and Cabela's Iditarod boots.

Against a backdrop of snow mounds from Friday's storm, the revelers in John Catania's tailgate party incautiously poured lighter fluid on a small grill so its flame shot several feet into the air. Catania, a disc jockey from Newtown Square, called it a "Delco party," with 85 to 100 young adults. Everyone was having fun, but the group had no music - "it's too cold," he said.

Not everyone agreed that it was too cold for music. But tunes aside, tailgating almost always involves food and drink. Those in charge of food have to worry about both their temperature and the food's.

"I've got my layers on, brother," said Dan Kukral, as he toiled over a long table full of trays of food next to an old school bus painted Eagles green. Barbecue smoke and rock-and-roll music filled the air.

Kukral, a pharmaceuticals scientist from Mount Laurel, wearing a chef's jacket with Eagles logos, said he was preparing food for nearly 300 friends, as he has at Eagles home games for about a decade.

"I've got pig roasts. I have seafood soup. I have smoked ribs. I have crabmeat quesadillas, hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, pulled pork, french fries, and buffalo wings," Kukral said, without taking a breath.

Danny Burke, who called himself the organizer of Kukral's tailgate crew, said he had bought all the food and beverages. Each of the approximately 275 guests would kick in about $20, he said.

"We have three rules," Burke said. "Put your drink in a cup, don't be an idiot, and have a great time."

Asked about the cold weather, Burke chuckled and pointed. "We have a 350,000-BTU heater over there to keep us warm when the sun goes down."

Mike Young, of Norwood, Delaware County, who tailgates with 30 to 50 friends at all Eagles home games, stirred a large aluminum tray of food.

"This is gator gumbo," Young said, pointing at the steaming mixture with a large serving spoon. He said he had picked it up at a local Cajun cafe.

"I brought it because we're playing New Orleans," he said, adding that he usually includes a dish in honor of the opposing team.

"If we play Buffalo, I bring buffalo wings. If we play Baltimore, I have crab cakes."


vclark@phillynews.com

215-854-5717

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