Saturday, December 30, 2006

Bow down, party people

From: Los Angeles Daily News

PASADENA - It was three days until the big game, but Joe Cahn's RV was already in line Friday morning outside the Rose Bowl.

He'd been near the front since arriving late Thursday from the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl in San Diego, 15 hours before the parking lot would open for a weekend of tailgating for the Rose Bowl game between Michigan and USC.

Cahn does not bleed maize and blue, or cardinal and gold. He doesn't have a ticket for Monday's game - and he doesn't want one, either.

In the same way that David Stern isn't an ordinary basketball executive and William Bratton isn't simply a police officer, Cahn is not just another football fan.

"The first year after going to every stadium in the NFL," Cahn said of 1996, "I was declared the King of Tailgating."

By whom, he is asked.

"By myself."

Cahn goes by a different title now. Kings can be overthrown and presidents voted out, but commissioners are appointed for life.

And so Joe Cahn, a 58-year-old retiree who has tailgated at 44 collegiate and professional football games this fall - sometimes four in a weekend - has branded himself the Commissioner of Tailgating.

"I think every man would aspire to such a job, but there's only room for one. And I don't know if anybody could really fill Joe's shoes," said Bill North, one of Ford Field's "tubgaters" in Detroit. "He's too good at it for anybody else to try to compete with him."

Short, stocky and resembling actor-director Rob Reiner, the commish is a bit of a comedian. He promoted himself in 2004 as a write-in candidate for president.

"I felt the Republican Party is a good party and the Democratic Party is a good party, but there is no party as good as the Tailgate Party - because that is a party," he said.

"I'm still contesting the election. There were a lot of ballots smeared with mustard and barbecue sauce."

Cahn began his journey in 1996, a year after divorcing Karen Cahn, whom he is engaged to remarry next Nov. 16 - their original wedding date.

After visiting all 29 National Football League stadiums, Cahn found a calling. He's since become an ambassador for weekend warriors, a fan's favorite in scores of cities, big and small.

But his status in tailgating isn't universally known or accepted. A quick survey at the Rose Bowl demonstrated that much.

"Do you know how I know the Commissioner of Tailgating?" asked Alan Meda. "Because that is him right there."

Meda was referring to fellow University of Michigan alum Dave Moen. Meda reversed course, however, after being told of the man who drives the land in search of the best pre-game parties.

Cahn's nomadic nature has left him without a hometown.

His house on wheels is a 40-foot silver Country Coach. The top-of-the-line recreational vehicle is complete with slides that expand the coach's center into a spacious living room, with a couch on one side and a cherry-wood desk on the other. A plasma TV hooked to satellite and showing the NFL Network hangs above the leather captain's seats.

"In Southern California and New York, people say, `My God, it's bigger than my apartment,"' Cahn said.

He paid $250,000 for the RV last year and has driven it 72,000 miles; this year he's burned through 12,834 gallons of diesel fuel.

He doesn't like to talk money, but said he gets by on a few corporate sponsorships (Stanley Thermos bottles and the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association), occasional speaking engagements (the upcoming Colorado RV Adventure Travel Show) and savings from the New Orleans School of Cooking, which he sold in 1993 for "well under $10 million - well under $10 million."

Surprisingly, he's attended only four games this year - 10 percent of those at which he's tailgated. Tickets are expensive and so is the food and beer.

Besides, Cahn views his role as a conservator of "the last great American neighborhood," which he finds on Thursdays and Saturdays and Sundays and Mondays on blacktops and grassy knolls.

"It is the job that everybody wants. Forget about the perks of being the commissioner of football," he said. "The perks of the parking lot are the best - the perks of family, food and football."