Going to an NFL game in the stadium, for many, is more than seeing their favorite team play live. The event often takes on mythical significance as fans and fanatics use the opportunity to indulge in special team rituals. These displays of love and community can actually mean more than the game itself. We explored NFL game-day traditions, here are the results.
While game-day traditions are more common with high school and college football teams – with more homogeneous and closely knitted stadium-attending fan bases – some NFL traditions, like the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Terrible Towel, which has been the visible symbol of the team’s rallies and fans since 1975, have taken on a life of their own. (Steelers fans have carried the towel on patrols in Iraq, onto Mount Everest and the Great Wall of China, and even into space.)
Whether it’s engaging in fantasy football, tailgating, wearing a game jersey to the stadium, or something unique – such as playing Styx’s “Renegade” during a key Steelers defensive moment or the End Zone Militia firing a salute whenever the New England Patriots score – game-day traditions make the football-watching experience that much more rewarding.
Fanatics asked over 3,000 NFL fans about their beloved, broadly accepted game-day traditions for the favorite teams. The results show that while NFL Nation is a diverse community, there are some commonalities that create a great stadium experience.
The Ways NFL Fans Celebrate
Americans celebrate with food – and game day is no exception. In the tradition of Fourth of July and Memorial Day barbecues and Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts, football fans treat game days like holidays, which means they love to eat. Americans consume more calories per capita on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day, with the exception of Thanksgiving. Still, this tradition (at 4.86 percent) alone falls far behind others, such as drinking (9.85) and cheering (9.44).
For many, game day at the stadium is just an excuse to use the parking lot to combine several team traditions. 55.54 percent of all respondents said that their favorite game-day tradition is the tailgating. The notion of tailgating has grown so large that many franchises have made special arrangements and accommodations for tailgaters and the league itself published a tailgating cookbook in 2008.
Fifty-one years ago, the Anchor Bar of Buffalo, New York decided to fry chicken wings – which, at the time, was considered to be scraps only suitable for stocks – drench them in hot sauce, and serve them as bar food. This weird twist of fate turned Buffalo into a food mecca and gave birth to one of the most popular football snacks, the Buffalo wing.
So it’s of little surprise that the Buffalo Bills are king of tailgating fans. Aside from their traditional parking lot tailgates, the Buffalo Bills also host the largest indoor tailgating party in the league at the stadium’s ADPRO Sports Training Center. The party – known as Club Buffalo Bills – is family oriented with interactive games, face painting, a mascot meet and greet, and a rock-climbing wall. For those seeking more adult provisions, fans may often find people offering shots from a bowling ball, pizza cooked from an oven made from a filing cabinet, and meat cooked on a grill resting on the hood of a Ford Pinto.
Franchises with host towns that are typically thought to be foodie or cold-weather cities ranked highest on the list of top tailgating teams. These include the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears, the Dallas Cowboys, the New England Patriots, and the Philadelphia Eagles.
In American football, it’s rare to see a team’s fan base get so worked up that they commit hooliganism or even get into a battle of words, such as those during last year’s MLB pennant races. For the most part, American football fans are passionate about their game, but it’s not a passion typically shared or publicly expressed outside the stadium.
The exception to this is the game jersey. While jerseys were publicly available from selected retailers as early as the 1950s, the league’s decision to emphasize fan game attire as a revenue source in the 1980s changed the way diehard fans dressed for the stadium. While the idea of wearing a jersey to a game was once as off-putting as wearing the t-shirt of a band you are going to see in concert, now it is essential clothing for the serious fan. Wearing team colors has become such a big deal that some franchises have organizations centered around those hues and their fans, such as the Oakland Raiders’ Black Hole – which has chapters throughout California all the way to Philadelphia.
According to respondents, wearing team colors is a more important game-day tradition for the Oakland Raiders than it is for any other franchise. Donning team colors ranks high for the Seattle Seahawks, the Dallas Cowboys, the Indianapolis Colts, and the Minnesota Vikings.
There are many ways to enjoy the game in NFL Nation. Gridiron football is a game that many fans see as a celebration-worthy event, complete with its own traditions. And tradition is one of the things that makes football so great; it transcends the game itself and becomes an expression of community and American life.
Fanatics carry a complete line of jerseys, game memorabilia, and team colors to help you celebrate your own game-day traditions.
We surveyed 100 fans of every NFL team and asked about their favorite team traditions. We then analyzed the responses to find which types of traditions were most popular as well as which teams consider tailgating and wearing their team colors and jerseys their biggest tradition.
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