This is Around the World With, a series in which we ask well-traveled people about the destinations they like best. This week: a special NFL Cities edition with former head coach Jon Gruden.
If you’ve watched football at some point in the past 20 years, you're probably familiar with one Jon Gruden.
A Super Bowl-winning coach and beloved on-air personality, Gruden has spent multiple decades traversing our nation's gridirons. And along the way, he's developed a sometimes wacky, sometimes critical, but always informed perspective on the game.
In addition to providing color commentary for ESPN's Monday Night Football, Gruden is now also offering up advice via the “Gruden Hotline” as part of a partnership with Corona Extra. Beyond tips about rocking a visor, grilling and the proper use of smart devices at games (read: none), fans who call the toll-free number (1-855-9-GRUDEN) have the chance to win a trip to the “Gruden QB Camp” in Orlando, along with plenty of Coronas and limes.
After dialing up the number for some advice on how to prep for game day, we spoke to Coach Gruden about his picks for where to go for tailgating, play-calling and seeing the two teams he says will be contesting Super Bowl LII.
From the Coach’s mouth to your ears, here’s the best NFL city to ...
Tailgate — if you want to drink: “To me, it’s a slam dunk, it’s Green Bay. I spent three years there and the weather is not a problem. They are committed, they’re loyal and their tailgates last forever — from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. What I love, for the most part, is there are always classic eats. The best brats you can find, great mustard, thick burgers and there’s good music. There’s a lot of classic rock in Green Bay that I can relate to, like AC/DC and Bachman Turner Overdrive. I see more iced-down Corona in the parking lot at Lambeau than I’ve seen anywhere. And they never forget the lime.”
Tailgate — if you want to eat: “You gotta go to Kansas City. When I was with the Raiders, I hated playing there. They were good, they were our rival and the smell from the parking lot was very distracting. I’m talking big, thick ribs, burgers and when it comes to BBQ sauce in Kansas City, it’s not something you buy out of a bottle. These people are making their own homemade sauce, and the aroma is fantastic.”
Get a beer inside the stadium: “That’s a good question. I love New Orleans. They used to call it the Superdome and I’m not sure if they still do, but it’s my most super place to have an ice-cold one and watch the game. That’s a traditional venue where some of the best fights, best Bowl games, best concerts and best pro football games have been played.”
Get some food inside the stadium: “I was offensive coordinator for the Eagles in Philadelphia — that place is pretty spectacular. The Philly cheesesteak on gameday, it’s all about the bun and the bread.”
Go to watch this year's Super Bowl winner: “You gotta go to New England, right? You have to go where Tom Brady goes. He’s got his own place up there that sells all sorts of stuff that’ll keep your legs young and fresh. Wherever Brady goes and wherever the Patriots go, if you’re interested in championships, that’s probably a good place to start. He’s pliable. That’s a three-syllable word I had to learn about when we did the broadcast up there.”
Go to see the this year's Super Bowl loser: “I like Green Bay a lot, and they could even win it. Coming out of the NFC, that quarterback is just too good and they’ve improved their defense as well. They’ve already got three good receivers and now when you add Martellus Bennett, that’s a huge winning edge for Green Bay. That’s a position they haven’t had recently.”
Go to see the worst team in the league: “I think the two teams that have the longest way to go right now are the Browns and the Jets. The Jets are still lost at the quarterback position and that’s going to be a lot to overcome. They have some good players, but they’ve lost a lot of veteran leadership and are going to struggle. Cleveland has started to put some pieces together, but they’re going to be starting a true rookie at quarterback and have a lot of unknowns in the secondary. Those teams will struggle, but they could prove us wrong.”
Work out with QB guru Jon Gruden: “I’ve done it in Tampa, but I’ve also really learned to love Orlando. We have a setup down there near Disney that is just unbelievable. If you just call the hotline number, you could end up back there at the facility getting hooked up with some Spider-2-Y-Banana gear.”
Go if you don't want to be recognized: “I like to go down to New York City and put a hat on. My wife and I like to go to lots of places and restaurants there. I’m like a tourist. I try everything and I can’t believe how much fun we have when we go there. There’s something about the water there that makes everything taste better.”
Call a play in September: “I loved it in Tampa because it was hot. We’d put the visiting team on the sun side so it’d bake them during the game while we got to be in the shade. There’s nothing like calling plays in Oakland either. When you have the Black Hole rooting for you in the end zone and you call a good play, it’s pretty awesome.”
Call a play in December: “I loved calling plays in Dallas. That new stadium they have there, if you haven’t been, you gotta put that on your bucket list. That’s the coolest venue for a football game I’ve ever seen. That is watching a football game on steroids. I called plays in the old stadium, though, and that place just reeked of tradition. Lambeau Field, too. Those were great places to call games on the road. Those were fun.”
Announce a game: “Seattle. There’s something about that place. The acoustics are phenomenal. I bet if you saw a concert there it’d be louder than it is at a regular stadium. The press box is beautiful. The whole scene there has a great football atmosphere and that’s a credit to them. Those fans there are the Gruden Grinders. They know when to let it rip and when to be quiet. Not a lot of fans do that collectively.”
Talk to the fans: “My favorite place is any place, brother. If you like football, I love talking with you. There’s nothing like somebody that has a genuine passion for football. I like guys who aren’t staring at their cellphones and people who like classic rock and going places where they’ve got burgers on the grill and ice-cold beers. If you like those things, we’ll get along fine.”
People watch: “Down in Miami is pretty cool. I was down there once and Jimmy Buffett was in town and I saw some bizarre outfits. I thought they were pretty cool. Philadelphia and Oakland do rival Miami, though. Those fan bases tend to really stretch your imagination, if you know what I mean.”
Get a steak: “Bern’s Steak House in Tampa. It’s phenomenal. There are no windows in this joint. It’s dark, old, got a great tradition and it’s got a heckuva menu with lots of different cuts. You can go in and have a drink at the bar before you decide which chop to buy. I try to go with porterhouse. I don’t eat as much red meat as I used to though. My wife’s got her eye on me.”
Gnaw on some chicken wings: “Buffalo is a good call, but Tampa has some too. I was one of the original workers at Hooters there when it came out. I worked at the first-ever Hooters in the mid-’80s and I was one of the great wing shakers of all time. We had mild, medium and hot, and if you ever saw me shake wings back in the day, they were never bruised. Any Hooters in any city, I recommend the mild or the medium 10-wing order with bleu cheese on the side.”
Dress up for Halloween: “Well, every year, as long as I'm in town, I dress up for Halloween and we have a party at my house. As long as Halloween falls on any night but Friday and Saturday, I'll be there. The kids in my neighborhood have seen me in the same costume for the last 18 years — it's a tradition at my house. I dress up as Chuckie, and no one is really is scared anymore. The kids hit the doorbell and say, ‘I know that's you, Gruden.’”
Go after winning the Super Bowl: “You can go anywhere after you win the Super Bowl and have a good time, can't you?! I just make sure I celebrate with my best friends and family, and my team.”
Inline image courtesy of Al Messerschmidt/Stringer