For Brian Crosby and his San Francisco 49ers pals, tailgating at Candlestick Park “is like a huge family picnic.” Crosby and his friends toss around a football, watch NFL games on John Cale’s portable satellite TV system, fire up the grill and sip some beer.
“Since we always tailgate in the same place, family and friends who might only go to one game a year always know where we are and stop by,” Crosby said. Crosby, Cale and their cohorts are bound to treat pretty much any tailgater like a member of their 49ers family. “Everyone, whether it’s friend or stranger, is willing to lend a hand or a spatula, or share a taste of what they are cooking,” said John Lessard, who tailgates with Cale and Crosby.
Crosby, Cale, Lessard and their tailgating family settle into the main Candlestick parking lot near the “S” pole in the last row along the chain-link fence near the RV parking. Two 49ers red awnings are set up – one for the food and the other for the satellite TV system. A Freedom Grill, touted as the “Official Grill of Tailgating,” is attached to the trailer hitch of Lessard’s pickup truck. The grill sports a custom red-and-gold paint job by Cale that makes it look like a 49ers helmet.
This tailgate team arrives about five hours before kickoff and spends about 4.5 hours tailgating. After the game, they put in another one to two hours of tailgating. “We always try to be the first ones into the parking lot when the gates open,” Crosby said. “Unfortunately, the 49ers were making that harder and harder with new rules, until this year they granted our group early tailgate passes so we can get in and set up an hour before everyone else.”
The group’s passion paid off earlier this season with the 49ers’ Tailgater of the Game honor. During tailgating, a portable flag pole now flies their 49ers and Tailgater of the Game flags. Crosby said he and his tailgating team will whip out a “secret weapon” toward the end of the season in pursuit of the 49ers’ Tailgater of the Year award. “I can’t tell you what it is,” Crosby said, “but in my 30 years of going to games, I’ve never seen it done before at Candlestick. I guarantee it will be the talk of the parking lot.”
For Cale and his tailgating comrades, the Candlestick parking lot feels like home. “It’s a ritual,” Cale said of tailgating, “and just as much a part of game day as the game itself. Some call it day camping and others can’t understand why we put so much time and energy into it. You won’t find anyone at Candlestick who doesn’t understand, though. It’s like being around family.”
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John Egan is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. His work can be found on Examiner.com.