Mauch on Sports: Get a taste of TCU – in the parking lot

Daniel Hale shows off his TCU pride while tailgating with his new smoker before a TCU football game.

As a writer of sports, there are few things in this world more appealing than a free meal. Want us to cover your event, tell us there will be food in the press box and we’ll clamor over each other for press credentials.

It is not uncommon among our ilk to have entire conversations built around what press box served the best fare. For some it’s barbecue, others Tex-Mex, and we all love the ones that offer a plethora of delicacies from chicken sandwiches to pizza and every combination of sweet goodies our taste buds can imagine.

The TCU Press Box usually serves Tex-Mex, and it is delicious, for the record.

But the absolute best food to be found is in the parking lot before a college game – and at TCU they tailgate with the absolute best of them. In fact, they ARE the best of them. Horned Frogs fans know how to make a lot more than just hot dogs – though you can certainly find those as well.

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“You’re out here with fans, family, friends, all hanging out before a game, it’s just the best atmosphere,” said Jesse Putnam, 31, whose tailgating extravaganza included barbecue, cookies, deviled eggs, and of course, beer.

Like most, Putnam gets to the parking lot well in advance of the game, usually around six hours. They set up, complete with a tent, an assortment of chairs, all of the necessary cooking devices and utensils, and, of course, a large TV.

Some, like Evan Lawson, 35, have more than one TV. After all, there’s more than the Horned Frogs playing.

“I can either watch the game on my couch or out here where it’s happening,” Lawson said. “And one TV just doesn’t do it. There’s just too much coverage. You have to have at least two. I operate one off my I-Pad and the other off a portable dish.”

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And the food? This day it was fajitas and jalapeno sausage, but he’s also partial to brisket (who isn’t), and if it’s an early game, you can count on breakfast tacos.

And while tents are a must at any tailgate, Lawson even brings an extra one. You never know when an overflow of folks will stop by, and of course no one wants to get wet when it’s raining.

“It’s party time, the group gets together, and Evan makes it fun,” said his mother, long-time Horned Frogs fan Ann Lawson.

Some has even been known to serve such exotic (well, to a tailgate gathering, at least) dishes as fish tacos and lobster. My luck there were no such items on any of the menus on either of the particular days I was doing interviews for this column, but you can best believe I’m on the lookout now every time I go from my vehicle to the stadium. Heck, that might be worth another column in its own right.

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But I have enjoyed my fair share of tailgate cuisine, especially while doing the aforementioned parking lot research. It’s amazing how many hot wings, brats, and even lasagna folks will offer you when you tell them they might be in your column. There was no shortage of alcohol opportunities either, from the finest of bourbon to the cheapest of beers and everything in between is readily available – none of which I accepted, because I was working, and besides it would have left less room for the mountains of food I felt obligated to sample.

“The best thing about tailgating is prep for the game. It helps build excitement,” said Bon Casas, 32, who is actually a Tarleton grad, but loves nothing more than partying in the lot waiting for the Horned Frogs to kick off.

“Plus, maybe the best part is we get to socialize,” Casas added.

Actually, Bon, the best part is the food. The folks are certainly fun, but what was I about to write? My thinking was distracted by that delicious batch of hot wings that just passed by my nose.

Dale Smith, a 1999 TCU grad, like many, takes pride in his tailgate preparations. On this day he was serving buffalo chicken tenderloins – and to say they were hot would be like saying Alabama knows how to put a whuppin’ on a team.

“I cut them up into bite-size pieces. It’s a tailgate favorite,” he said, adding with a laugh. “They (his friends) make me do it. I’m sweating my ass off, but everyone’s happy.”

And indeed, they seemed to be, albeit always keeping a beverage handy. Like I said, those wings were hot, and I’m sure there were other reasons for keeping a cold one nearby.

“The fall of ’03 was the first year we commenced doing this, and now I can’t think of doing anything else at a home game,” Smith said.

Daniel Hale’s tailgate menu regularly includes an assortment from burgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, mac and cheese, and potato salad. He’s been perfecting his tailgating craft for a while now.

“This is the first year we’ve had the smoker. We’ve tried to add something new each of the five years we’ve been doing this,” he said. “Come back next year and see what we’ve added.”

Daniel, that smells so good, I’m not even sure I can until next week, much less next year.

With the University of Texas Longhorns in town this weekend, my guess is brisket will be plentiful throughout the parking lot. And while it might not taste as good to Horned Frogs fans as a win over UT would feel, I’m going to see if I can wrangle a sandwich for myself before the game.

That way, no matter what happens, the game will be a delicious experience.