- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ted Abela insists his wife, Erika, knew what she was getting into. The two got married in February, after dating for eight years. She’s known for a long time, he says, that he plans the holidays around Washington Redskins games.

“Usually when the schedule is out in April is when my wife can find out what we’re doing for Thanksgiving,” Mr. Abela said.

This year, the Abelas will be at FedEx Field to see the Redskins take on the New York Giants. But “Tailgate Ted” isn’t there just to watch the game — Mr. Abela, 38, is preparing a parking lot turkey day feast for 300.

For Mr. Abela, who heads a group of tailgaters known as “Hail BBQ,” that includes buying and preparing 20 turkeys that will be cooked six different ways and whipping up 10 Thanksgiving sides, something he calls a “dizzy pig pineapple head ham” and a “sous vide dizzy pig cow lick roast.”

Oh, and there will be four different types of pie, too.

On paper, Thursday night’s matchup between the 4-6 Redskins and the 2-8 Giants looks like reason aplenty for people to stay home on a brisk Thanksgiving night.

But diehard Burgundy-and-Gold fans like Mr. Abela wouldn’t have the holiday any other way. This is, after all, the first Redskins’ Thanksgiving game at FedEx.

“I am not going to fault you for not wanting to go out there, to want to spend it with your family and not want to spend it in that cold,” said the 38-year-old Mr. Abela, who has been hosting a tailgate since 2000. “But know that unlike a Capitals season, a Wizards season or a Nationals season — we get eight games. Eight games out of 52 weeks that matter.

“I’m not going to pass up a chance to be in those stands, yelling and screaming my head off to the point of I’ve got a migraine because ‘I’d rather sit on my couch in the warm than be at that stadium.’”

Mr. Abela’s day will begin early — arriving as soon as 9:30 a.m. for an 8:30 p.m. game — to start lining up and preparing food before the parking lots open at noon. Many other tailgaters will do the same.

Tailgating 101

Christie Lopez sees tailgating as a three-part process.

First comes the pre-game tailgate, which starts as early as 6 a.m for some games, with doughnuts and coffee while she waits for the Redskins lots to open.

Then comes the actual lead-up to the game, during which she helps run the tailgate group, “Extremeskins.”

After the game, she grills hot dogs while she waits for traffic to clear.

Mrs. Lopez, 42, knows tailgating inside and out, having run the Extremeskins for the last 12 years. She didn’t grow up a Redskins fan, but converted because of her husband Chris. Mr. Lopez was part of the “Hogettes” — a group of men who wore dresses, pig snouts and floppy hats.

“Our cars don’t fit in our garage due to smokers, cookers, fridges, freezers and tailgate gear,” Mrs. Lopez said.

Mrs. Lopez, Mr. Abela, and others praised the “family atmosphere” at the game-day feasts, where Redskins fans often break bread with out-of-towners — even Cowboys and Eagles fans.

Hail BBQ actually requires an RSVP list ahead of time for regulars. But don’t worry if you’re a fan from New York trying to get a free meal — Hail BBQ does allow fans from the opposing team, as long as you (vaguely) know someone with a Redskins connection.

The mingling of tribes creates unforgettable moments. One of Mr. Abela’s fondest memories while tailgating is seeing a pair of Green Bay Packers fans show up for the 2016 playoff game in just shorts. No shirt. Just shorts.

Mark Burch, 37, provides the entertainment for Hail BBQ’s tailgate and said he loves when the Redskins play the Cowboys because the group brings out a map of Texas and challenges any Dallas fan who walks by to point out where the city is located.

“Literally, like 99 percent of Dallas fans can’t point out where Dallas is,” Mr. Burch said. “It’s hysterical.”

Things can’t get too crazy. Fans are only allowed to take up one parking space and are encouraged to drink responsibly.

As for Mr. Burch, he’ll spend this Thanksgiving in the parking lot doing something special — filming a pregnancy announcement with his wife, Lisa. The couple is expecting twins and they haven’t announced it yet on social media. They wanted to use the game and the atmosphere of the game to let their friends know.

“We’re gonna have some signs. Instead of defense it’s just gonna be ‘TWINS’ and things like that,” Mr. Burch said.

“We kind of wanted to use that setting because our parents are going to be there,” he added. “We have some family members who are going to be there. We’ll basically do our Thanksgiving dinner there.”

This feast is a beast

Make no mistake, preparing for Thanksgiving at FedEx Field isn’t easy.

As he spoke with The Washington Times, Mr. Abela was on his way to pick up the 20 turkeys from Maple Lawn Farms. Mr. Abela has to begin his cooking process 48-50 hours beforehand, brining the turkeys and preparing some of them “sous vide,” which keeps them moist and tender until serving time.

Mr. Abela will cook the sides — Filipino fried rice stuffing, cornbread stuffing, mac and cheese, among them — at the game. Normally, Mr. Abella has multiple chefs working with him. On Thanksgiving, he’ll have just one other.

“I cannot express to you how stressed out I am right now,” Mr. Abela said. “I’ve fed 600-plus people at a game before. And prepping for that is a walk in the park versus Thanksgiving. Because I don’t know how many Redskins fans are going to show up, even though they RSVP’d. And I don’t know what time they’re going to get there.”

It’s understandable. Tickets on the secondary market are going for as low as $8. Even Mrs. Lopez acknowledged the struggle, voicing her slight frustration at having to miss Black Friday shopping at midnight with her mother.

Not everyone will be attending the tailgate for the full time, either. Fans Michael Baker and his fiancee Priscilla Doyle moved their Thanksgiving dinner to earlier in the afternoon and then, they’ll head to the game. Ryan Kelly, 26, planned on bringing leftovers to the tailgate.

“Mashed potatoes with gravy. [I’m a] big stuffing guy. And then we’ll probably have a little bit of turkey or some prime rib there as well,” Mr. Kelly said.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, the tailgaters aren’t cooking just for themselves either. Multiple tailgate groups said they were planning on serving first responders at the game. The groups routinely hold collection bins for charity, too.

But how exactly does one transport all this stuff to the game? Usually, a special vehicle is required. D.K. Williams, another avid tailgater who hosts his own group, purchased a bus he calls “the Diesel” — pimped out with TVs inside to watch other NFL games and places to sit.

Mrs. Lopez dubs herself “the Tetris master,” fitting all the supplies into her customized 2008 yellow Jeep Rubicon, complete with a horn that blasts “Hail to the Redskins.” (“You can hear it about a mile away,” she said.)

In October, Mr. Abela was featured on the NFL Network’s “Tackle My Ride” — getting a makeover for his 2005 Ford E-250 van. Ryan Kerrigan even presented him with the final version of his new flame-painted van.

“I just remember how passionate he is about the team,” the Redskins linebacker said. “It really struck me from the start. Hearing how he hadn’t missed the game in however many years and how him and his now-wife scheduled their wedding around our season.”

That’s true. Mr. Abela and his wife got married a week after the NFL season.

Like Thanksgiving, Mr. Abela had to check the schedule first.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide