Bowls of chili, cold beverages and good friends ... so what was missing from making it the perfect wintry Sunday afternoon?
Football, of course.
Chili is the official food of watching football, right? Whether it's a cold Saturday afternoon with your favorite college football team playing for a trip to a bowl or the NFL playoffs on a Sunday, chili seems to make the day complete. Certainly other foods go hand-in-hand with watching a game -- popcorn, nachos, etc. -- but chili has the football vibe.
Had there been a game on a big screen in the Hall of Fame room at Quincy University, Sunday's Mart Heinen Chili Cookoff would have been over the top. Without football, it was still an overwhelming success as fans of chili and supporters of QU athletics packed the Health and Fitness Center breezeway and the Hall of Fame room for the afternoon festivities.
Quality chili made it worthwhile for everyone.
Trusted to be one of the judges for at least the sixth time since the event's inception, I was pleasantly surprised with the overall quality of all the entries. Some were more meaty, others more soupy. Some had a unique spin on ingredients, others stayed more traditional.
All had a hint of spice. None were too fiery.
All of them made me think I could enjoy a full bowl or two while watching a game.
Football may have the closest link to chili, but every sport has its tie to food.
When you think baseball, you think hot dogs and brats.
A basketball game without a bag a popcorn isn't really a basketball game, is it?
My former radio cohort, Chuck Mahon, would agree with that. He knew which gyms had the best popcorn on the Illinois prep basketball scene, and he made sure he sampled a bag before every game. Heck, we had a popcorn rating system one season, and if memory isn't failing, Moline's Wharton Field House may have served the best bag in the Western Big Six Conference.
Concession stands have changed over the years to include more variety. Walking tacos are a big hit these days and offer a little more sustenance than popcorn and candy.
Tailgate food has changed, too. A grill, some meat and some snacks were often enough to complement the cold drinks in the cooler. Now, tailgating is a true party, especially at college football games. Hors d'oeuvres, dips, extravagant desserts ... you can pretty much find anything you desire if you roam through the tailgate lots.
Wings used to be game day food. Now they're everyday food. Still, they are part of the sports culture. Could you imagine a Super Bowl party without wings being served?
Restaurants serving wings will be busy come Sunday. Grocery stores better have all the fixings available for nachos, bean dip, vegetable trays and whatever else goes with the most watched football game of the season. Liquor stores will have a run on the sale of spirits.
I'll be loading up the crock pot for a low, slow cook on a pot of chili. By the time it's ready, the aroma of a few dashes of Tabasco, some Colorado chili powder and chopped garlic will fill the air. It will be piping hot for kickoff.
That's the way the game is supposed to be played.