As if football in December isn’t enough to bring out thousands of Eagles fans to stand in a parking lot and drink at 8 a.m. on a Sunday, the 72-degree weather didn’t hurt.
Sunday’s home game against the Buffalo Bills had a vibe rarely seen in the latter months of the professional football season. So it was the perfect time to hop between parking lot parties in search of the hands-down best.
Among the hidden treasures we found in the South Philly tailgate scenes: 4.5 liter bottles of vodka, freshly smoked beef brisket and photos of that time Jeff Lurie just casually decided to swing by a random tailgate put on by some die-hards from South Jersey. Here’s what we found:
Hulking over one of the back lots near Lincoln Financial Field is Ray Ratay and his full-size meat smoker that operates for hours, churning out succulent beef brisket, pulled pork and beef short ribs. Ratay, who heads up the cooking efforts for Bubba Q’s catering based in South Jersey, got to the lots at 7 a.m. to prep for party of 100 he’d cater.
Of course, his pre-game began at 4 a.m. and the meat smoking had begun the day before — his Texas-style brisket cooks for 30 hours before he serves it to hungry Eagles fans. Sunday’s matchup against the Bills was his third time catering a tailgate at the Linc this year, but he’s been in the business of meat-smoking for the last 17 years.
Ratay showed me around his set-up, which includes a full-size fire box still fully-lit by 10 a.m., as well as the cooker and smoker.
Also of note: This caterer knew what to bring for a 1 p.m. game — in addition to the full meat set-up and Texas barbecue, it also featured a steak and eggs breakfast.
Originally from Armenia, Mark Semergian says he doesn’t mess with beer. His large bar set-up (at least the first bar; there was another in the back) was fully stocked with only one thing: Vodka. And only two brands: Grey Goose and Tito’s. “We don’t do beer,” his friend chimed in.
The set-up by 10 a.m. Sunday featured a personalized bar with the name “Semergian” plastered on the side and an Eagles logo on the front, as well as two bumping speakers. Semergian said his 4.5-liter bottles of Grey Goose aren’t common and were imported in from out of the country.
A dozen or so men occupied the tailgate at that point, but Semergian promised next week’s tailgate, leading up to an 8:30 p.m. matchup against the Cardinals, would draw more than 100 people.
Maria Silva can’t remember exactly which game it was last year when Eagles owner Jeff Lurie casually dropped by. But she can remember who was there: Dozens of family, friends, friends of friends, and plenty of strangers crammed next to their Eagles RV decked out in team memorabilia. And she does have a photo. The one above shows her, Lurie and in between them, a perfect stranger — it’s no uncommon for this tailgate to pick up plenty of random party-goers.
“It can be fun, even when they’re losing,” Silva, of Medford, New Jersey, said Sunday inside her RV. “My mom and dad aren’t here this time, but when they are, it’s such a family affair.”
Inside the RV is Eagles gear that’s been amassed over the last decade, while Silva and her family had season tickets at Eagles games. It includes everything from Pope-Francis-wearing-a-jersey T-shirts to pictures from the infamous 2013 Snow Bowl to an eight-year-old photo of when tight end Brent Celek swung by their tailgate in his rookie season with the Birds.
One of the main reasons this RV — which Sunday featured fresh ribs on the grill — draws so much attention is the size. Sure, it’s a big RV. But in front are the perfect holiday decorations that Silva said consistently draw crowds.
The huge set-ups
Bob “Cav” Cavanaugh’s tailage that includes pickup trucks, an RV and a re-purposed miniature school bus features a stocked bar, a DJ and a full menu. On it for Sunday? The traditional grilled meats plus a generous seafood spread that included clams, shrimp and seafood pastas.
Since he started the 100-person tailgate 30 years ago (it was significantly smaller then), he’s turned his tailgate into a full catering service called Cav’s Catering that feeds dozens at every Eagles home game.
Cavanaugh’s tailgate in Jetro Lot N has won awards, been featured in both The Daily News and The Inquirer for its elaborate nature, and was even part of a spot on The Food Network. He’s also won the Jack Daniel’s Great American Tailgate Party award — three times.
The other side
Props where props are due. Richard Muolo of Perry, New York had a digital tailgate for the ages that had two flat-screens, massive speakers, an X-box and its own Wi-Fi hotspot. Inside a repurposed miniature school bus he’s taken to home and away games for the last year is 50 feet of LED lights and a touch screen DVD player that hooks up to yet another flat screen.
There was just one problem with Muolo’s tailgate: It was a bit too big, and event staff were scolding him Sunday morning because his blue and white tables were sticking out into the space where cars are supposed to be able to scoot through.
Guess that’s the problem with setting up in enemy territory.