Super Bowl Bound? Leave Your Hibachi at Home

Jan. 29, 2007 — -- Two classic NFL franchises battling it out in the Super Bowl.

One classic pastime missing from the parking lot.

The NFL has banned all tailgating within a one-mile radius of Miami's Dolphin Stadium prior to Sunday's showdown, a precautionary policy that has some enthusiasts crying foul.

No sizzling barbecues. No stocked coolers. No grown-ups dressed head to toe in Chicago Bears or Indianapolis Colts gear taunting one another.

"The 'No Fun League' has forgotten what football is all about," said Mike Baum, a Bears superfan and tailgater extraordinaire. "They've forgotten that tailgating is a lifestyle. These are the die-hards that make football go."

Baum, the owner of a property management company in Aurora, Ill., takes his tailgating seriously, from the famous prime rib recipe he grills to the school bus he bought and transformed into a "Bears" bus -- often the first vehicle inside the gates of Soldier Field at Bears home games.

When the Bears beat the New Orleans Saints to earn the trip to Miami, Baum's first instinct, naturally, was that it was time to put about 3,000 more clicks on his odometer.

The tailgate dream, Baum learned last week, would have to take a detour.

"We're very disappointed," said Jeff "Doc" Dockeray, vice president of member services for the American Tailgater Association. "Here, you have the Holy Grail of football and you're taking a major element out of the game-day experience."

Dockeray first heard about a rumored tailgate ban early last week when calls from concerned Bears and Colts fans began to stream into the organization's San Antonio headquarters.

A team spokesman for the Miami Dolphins then further fueled confusion by mistakenly debunking the rumor and promising a full-tilt parking lot party scene.

Finally, the NFL stepped in to confirm the no tailgating policy.

With so many fans packed into such a small area and the ever-present backdrop of a terrorist threat, the NFL, with the help of local and state police, will man a strict security perimeter around the South Florida stadium.

Only fans holding game tickets -- which are fetching an average of more than $4,000 apiece on the ticket brokerage Web site -- will be allowed inside the security perimeter.

An NFL spokesman said the league had actually first curbed Super Bowl tailgating after the Sept. 11 attacks.

But Joe "The Commish" Cahn, a professional tailgater who has attended the last 11 Super Bowls, said that an additional RV ban as well as Dolphin Stadium's layout -- typically a tailgater's paradise -- made this year's restriction a particular hardship.

"Miami has one of the best parking lots in the league," Cahn said while navigating his 40-foot Country Coach toward the Super Bowl host city. "The problem is space. The NFL Experience is put in the parking lot, the corporate tenting is put in the parking lot, so there's no room for tailgating."

The NFL Experience is a family friendly event area, sponsored by The Home Depot, which features interactive games, football clinics and player appearances.

Corporate tenting is, well, tented areas reserved for the Super Bowl by corporate sponsors, like Pepsi, a chief sponsor, for example.

Stadiums that sit within a city's downtown typically offer plenty of nearby lots with owners happy to charge a fee to host the spirited tailgate scene. Venues outside of downtown areas are usually flanked with additional parking that would fall just outside the NFL's security perimeter.

Dolphin Stadium, however, sits in Miami Gardens, a tightly clustered residential neighborhood 16 miles north of downtown Miami, far from the action of South Beach and with little defined room for tailgaters to set up shop nearby.

With an estimated 120,000 visitors traveling to Miami for the game -- 45,000 more fans than the stadium holds -- it's unlikely that tailgaters will find a common space.

"I wouldn't know where to go a mile away," a member of the Super Bowl host committee said when asked about alternative tailgating options.

That explains Cahn's early trip south, where he planned to scout the area in hopes of finding an industrial lot controlled by a reasonable, welcoming and fan-friendly owner.

As for Baum, he'll fly with about a dozen friends into Fort Lauderdale, where they've reserved an oversize van. His tailgate crew will stock up on supplies -- including a new grill -- and drive to an RV park they found about seven miles from the stadium.

Not that he's happy with the NFL about it.

"They accommodate everybody but the people who care the most," Baum said. "I think they've lost their way. It's all driven by money, not by fans."