For them, kickoff is just dessert


It's football season, you have tickets to the big game and for once you'd like to throw a tailgate party that involves something more than beer, Doritos and a few hotdogs withering on the hibachi.

For tips on throwing a first-class tailgate party, we headed to the legendary bash hosted before every Ravens home game by the Poe Brothers, who are really affable brothers Marc and Gary Scher.

Held in parking lot G at M&T Bank Stadium, this is the Mount Everest of all tailgate parties, a lavish, but not pretentious, affair for some 50 guests highlighted by a Maryland crab soup so good you'd push your mother out of the way for the last bowlful, and a crab dip delicious enough to make grown men weep.

The Poe Brothers have been tailgating since the Ravens hit town in 1996, when they played at old Memorial Stadium and tailgaters were banished to the macadam Elba of a nearby school parking lot.

"We started with subs and a six-pack of beer," recalled Gary Scher, 45, a medical device sales manager who lives in Ellicott City with his wife, Barbara, and two kids. "The second year we got a Smokey Joe [grill]."

The gig has come a long way since then: It's been voted the top tailgate party by Ravens Radio, and the Weather Channel has used it as a backdrop for weather segments during football season.

These days, the Poe Brothers fire up a grill the size of a shuffleboard court - 600 square inches, eight burners, two propane tanks - and the menu includes all sorts of appetizers, ribs, Buffalo wings, spiral ham, meatballs, corned-beef brisket and lasagna.

"We're both chef wannabe's," said Gary Scher with a laugh. "We love this stuff."

Before last Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Marc Scher, who runs Scher's Bridal Shop in Pocomoke City and lives in that Eastern Shore town with his wife, Judy, and three daughters, was also grilling his Tailgate Tenderloin, which won first place in a recent tailgate-food contest.

So when these guys talk, would-be top-of-the-line tailgaters ought to pay attention. Whether you are heading to an NFL game, to your alma mater for homecoming, or to your kid's high school game, centscm+RDmgray:Anyway, what followshere are the five top tips from the Poe Brothers for making your tailgate party a memorable one:

Don't get too fancy: In other words, be sure to serve tailgate-friendly food. Avoid anything that has to be cut with knife and fork, or foods that are a hassle to eat.

"This is tailgating, it's not sit-down dining," said Marc Scher. "Most people are standing and eating ... [so] you want something you can hold with one hand."

Ham on fresh rolls, meaty ribs, big crackers that can be raked through the crab dip - these are all proven winners. They allow people to eat and talk football at the same time.

"Some [tailgaters] will have crabs," said Gary Scher. "But that's a social thing. When you eat crabs, you're concentrating on crabs. But this is about Ravens football."

In a sense, the Poe Brothers' menu philosophy can be summed up in two words: no fondue.

"We tried it once - it didn't work," said Marc Scher. "Too messy. Too hard to keep hot."

Don't be predictable: Try to come up with a new wrinkle for each tailgate party.

For the Poe Brothers, this often involves a surprise on their menu. Marc's Tailgate Tenderloin was a recent surprise - and a big hit - as were the fried oysters and flank steak they've also trotted out.

Around Thanksgiving, they might even serve turkey with all the trimmings.

"We like to keep [guests] guessing," said Gary Scher.

Don't forget your guests: A tailgate party is about more than just the food. It's also a great social event.

"We always mingle with our guests," said Gary Scher. "We try to give everyone a little personal attention."

This extends down to the 20-ounce plastic beer cup that each guest receives, complete with his or her nickname and jersey number on it.

Show your colors: Remember: This particular social event revolves around football.

It's hard to forget that at a Poe Brothers party. The brothers themselves, and most of the regulars, are decked out in purple T-shirts and purple sweatshirts emblazoned with "Poe Brothers Tailgate: Go Ravens" on the front.

They eat from purple plates, use purple napkins, tablecloths and utensils. Kids throw around purple Ravens footballs (mercifully, no one was sporting purple face-paint before Sunday's game).

"Gary's really into purple," Marc said. "If Gary's wife sees something purple in the store, she'll try to block his vision. Because if he sees it, he'll buy it."

If the fact that this is a Ravens bash should escape anyone, there is always this: Around 10:50 in the morning before every home game, Ravens coach Brian Billick walks down the Hamburg Street Bridge directly behind them, shooting a fist into the air to the raucous cheers of the fans.

Be prepared for foul weather: Especially as fall turns to winter, the elements can change at any moment.

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