Hallelujah! The time has come! Somebody grab the frozen pizza rolls and fill the cooler with ice and beer. Dust off the team jersey that’s been suffocating in the back of the closet. It’s been a long, hard drought of weekend afternoon Double Reverses and Flea Flickers since the Super Bowl ended the football season on February 7. Thank goodness the 2016 preseason has arrived, with a whole regular season of gridiron glory yet to come on the pro and college fields alike.
Want to take the tailgating up a notch? Cruise to a game by boat. It’s logistically possible at a number of pro and college stadiums, and it will keep you out of the vehicular traffic snarl. All the other fans will be sitting behind the wheels of their cars, cursing the crowds both coming and going, while you’ll be hanging out on the aft deck, shouting “Hail to the Redskins!” or “Bully for Ol’ Mizzou!” (Well, that’s what you’ll be chanting if it’s my boat, anyway…)
The Pittsburgh Steelers are legendary in great part because their beefy linemen block and tackle in the kind of weather that freezes fingers and guarantees fumbles (remember “The Ice Bowl” of 1975, when they shut out the Oakland Raiders in a 16-degree snowstorm). That kind of forecast may not make you think of Pittsburgh when it comes to a boater-friendly NFL stadium, but the truth is that average daytime temperatures range from 50 to 74 degrees during most of the regular-season months in Pittsburgh. It’s not exactly the Caribbean, but it’s not Antarctica, either. For a true football fan, it’s manageable with a comfy team jacket and hat, and the stadium is right on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, on the Allegheny River. Slips at the public docks are first-come, first-served, so cruise in early on game day. More info is at BoatLocal.
If you’re of increasingly middle-aged vintage, it’s hard to think of the Chicago Bears without hearing “The Super Bowl Shuffle” in your head and remembering how Jim McMahon and William “The Refrigerator” Perry somehow became stars on MTV, right alongside Starship singing “We Built This City.” I always do my best to mentally shove that flashback aside and instead think about the nearly 80 times that Walter Payton rushed for more than 100 yards in various games. (“Sweetness” was a decent rapper on MTV, but he was a far better runner.) Even better, think of sitting on the hook ahead of Jay Cutler and crew taking the field this season. Book a slip at Burnham Harbor on Lake Michigan anytime before October, when it closes, and you can combine boat-gating with game day fun. Look for details at Chicago Harbors.
No fans in the world love their local team as much as fans of the Cleveland Browns. I can still remember driving through Cleveland in 1995, the year the team owner decided to move his franchise to Baltimore. I heard the same song played at least three times on my car radio in the span of an hour. Its lyrics were, “Go to hell, Art Modell.” That’s how angry the whole city of Cleveland was that their beloved tradition of Sunday football was being torn from their proud Ohio bosom. Today, of course, the iconic orange Browns helmets are back, and fans have returned to the seating section known as the Dawg Pound, where things tend to get, shall we say, passionate. You can join the fun by docking at the North Coast Harbor transient marina, known locally as the “Rock and Dock” for its proximity to downtown and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Expect to pay a slip premium on game days. Reserve your spot by visiting the North Coast Harbor Marina.
M&T Bank Stadium
Okay, so if you read the bit about Cleveland, then you know how the Baltimore Ravens came to be. They’ve shown true grit the past 20 years, having won two Super Bowls and producing some of the toughest defensive lines in the history of the game. Chirp all you want about the rivalry, Steelers fans, but the Baltimore Ravens have won the past three matchups. Plus, Coach John Harbaugh has new options this year for protecting the movie-famous “blind side” where the real-life Michael Oher used to line up, and the rookies battling for the starting job at left-side tackle and guard look tough. Go see for yourself (and remember to eat some crab cakes!) by docking at the Inner Harbor, within walking distance of M&T Bank Stadium. Score a slip at the Baltimore Marine Center.
So, yeah, the Jacksonville Jaguars have yet to win a Super Bowl. And yeah, they went a pathetic 5-11 last year. And it’s true that their mascot, Jaxson de Ville, acts like the prep-school brat of some parents down the street who give him too much sugar and encourage him to rappel off the stadium scoreboard (that actually happened). But let’s look at the bright side: Even if the team blows the 2016 season the way they fell down on the job more than half the Sundays they played last year, you can still have fun watching to see what Jaxson will do next, right? It is Florida, after all. The weather’s warm and the beer is cold—and Metropolitan Park Marina is near the stadium on the banks of the St. Johns River. Slip reservations are required on Jaguars game day. Go here to make yours.
Oakland Alameda Coliseum
The way that legendary commentator and former coach John Madden used to spit the words “Oakland Raiders” through his grizzled teeth during Monday Night Football broadcasts would make half the football fans in America want to join the Raider Nation. (Nowadays, of course, we all sit on our rear ends and give ourselves carpal-tunnel by playing Madden NFL, but that’s a whole other story.) The Raiders are the kind of team that you either love or hate, but that you tend to respect and take seriously no matter what week of the schedule you’re playing. Raider black and silver are the wardrobe colors of choice on the toughest streets in nearby Los Angeles, as evidenced by rap star Ice Cube having once famously told reporters that he was going to use his income from “Straight Outta Compton” to buy more Raider gear. You can get yours on game day at Oakland Alameda Coliseum after docking anywhere in the marina district across the water in San Francisco, at the spot the locals call San Francisco Marina (its real name is SF Marina Small Craft Harbor). Take the $7 BART train from there straight to the game, no driving required. See the route here.
Alaska Airlines at Husky Stadium
College football stadiums don’t get much more accessible to boaters than Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium, home not only to the University of Washington’s team, but also to some of the best game-day views you’ll find in any stadium, anywhere. The Cascade Range and Lake Washington are all right there—along with tons of boats that turn the lake into a bona fide “Husky Harbor” when the team is playing at home. So many boaters arrive for games via the water that shuttles are available for anybody who doesn’t want to to deal with their own dinghy. It’s the raft-up stuff of dreams for college-football lovers. Find more details at Washington Football.
The University of Tennessee’s Volunteers play at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, right on the banks of the Tennessee River. Neyland is not your average college-football stadium; it holds more than 100,000 people, making it the fifth-largest stadium in America and one heck of a place to take in a football game. (By comparison, MetLife Stadium, where the New York Giants play, and AT&T Stadium, where the Dallas Cowboys play, each hold about 80,000 people.) You can book a slip at Volunteer Landing, which also has a visitor’s center, shopping, and restaurants. It’s right downtown, which is abuzz with Volunteer fans dressed in orange chanting “Fight, Vols, Fight!” on game weekends. Look for slips at Volunteer Landing.
Let’s all give three cheers for Baylor University, which has fans of the Bears actually going out and buying boats for game-day fun because McLane Stadium was built adjacent to Baylor Basin, right off the Brazos River. There is such a thing as the Baylor Bearmada, an armada of fans who have their own website, Facebook, and Twitter page to coordinate boat-gating on weekends when the Bears are playing at home. Check out the lay of the land, and the basin, in this great promo video for the stadium.
Call early for slips at Baylor Basin—they sometimes sell out for the whole season. More information is at the Baylor Bears.