The game doesn’t kick off until 1 p.m., but the fun starts much earlier for tailgaters in any football town. At about 10 a.m., lot after lot near M&T Bank Stadium is jam-packed with cars, SUVs, grills, beer coolers, and fans clad in purple. But that’s a description of the landscape before you factor in George Christas and his massive feasts made for about 100 people, where anyone is invited free of charge.
Christas owns a catering company called Big George’s Strikes and Spares, and he takes full advantage of using his resources to craft tailgating feasts akin to a Thanksgiving dinner. The funny thing is, George isn’t a Baltimorean, although his fandom seems to argue that. Christas is part of a “Ravens Roost” fan club based in York, Pa., and he travels with his family to Baltimore every Sunday morning.
“We leave York at about 7 am and get here at about 8 to set up tailgating for a 1 o’clock game,” Christas says matter-of-factly. Come 10 a.m., the corner of the tailgating lot right outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards is inhabited by two trucks, two beer kegs, a buffet line, and anywhere from 50 to 100 purple-clad Ravens fans of all ages eating and chatting it up. It's all in a day's work for Christas, and he's been doing this for 10 years at every single Ravens home game.
Everything may be all fun and games at Big George’s tailgating parties, but there’s a deeper purpose behind pure fun. The raffle tickets Christas and friends sell to any willing buyers form a pot of money in which he distributes half to the winner and half to Work Access Shelter, a shelter for battered women and children. Not only that, but Christas has donated a large sum of money he accumulated throughout the 2005 NFL season to the Hurricane Katrina Fund.
“After three games, we’ve given them $1,250,” Christas says.
Ask a random 100 Ravens tailgaters whether tailgating or the game itself is more fun, and you’ll probably receive an array of diverse responses. Christas admits that while the game itself is the “important” part, his primary aim is to make sure everyone is having a good time.
“We even invite fans of other teams to our tailgating parties,” Christas admits. “Rivalries are good and all but it doesn’t matter who you root for, just that you enjoy yourself.”
In 2005, the Ravens are struggling mightily, but the atmosphere at Big George’s tailgating party doesn’t change a bit. The focus is still on fun and philanthropy throughout.
“A lot of the real die-hard fans we see here are pretty dedicated,” Christas explains. “They come no matter how the team is doing.”
Away games don’t prevent the Christas family from dedicating Sundays to football, not by a long shot. They and their friends usually meet in a local bar in York, Pa, or in some cases, even in another city.
“We’ve been to Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Cincinnati, and Cleveland on different occasions, and Green Bay’s awesome. That’s one of the best," Christas explains. “As for the other places, in other teams’ environments, it’s usually more upbeat than here.”
Ultimately, no matter where the location, if it’s an upbeat atmosphere you’re looking for, George Christas’ tailgate parties before Ravens home games is a definite stop. He brings the complete package to the table: passion, intelligence, and selflessness.