Dan Brown and Melanie Corbett gather around their Thanksgiving table with a group of about 15 others, who all hold hands and say a blessing before diving into the meal. The spread is a mix of traditional favorites: pre-carved turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie. With heads bowed and the shadow of AT&T Stadium in the backdrop, the group shares thanks for the fortunes of the last year and pray for a Dallas Cowboys win.
Brown has been a Cowboys season ticket holder since 1989, and while attending the Thanksgiving game with his brothers, Steve and Paul, has always been tradition, the exuberant tailgate has not.
Brown is one of seven children, and the rest of family used to wait until the boys got home to sit down to dinner. That changed on the snowy holiday in 1993, he says, when Leon Lett infamously doomed the Cowboys chance of winning. Traffic leaving the game was gridlocked and that year was the straw that broke his mother's patience.
"We probably ate Thanksgiving dinner at 11 p.m.," Brown says with a laugh. "Now my family does Thanksgiving on a day other than Thanksgiving."
With that obligation off the table, the brothers began cooking at the former Texas Stadium in Irving on game day. This was back when you could fry a turkey in the parking lot, Brown recalls, and that's what they did for several years. A "rotating cast of one-timers" would join each holiday and bring potluck-style sides. And when Steve got married, his wife Denise, became part of the core crew.
When the new AT&T Stadium in Arlington opened in 2009, however, it shook up tradition. Because parking is structured differently, much the Browns' tailgating group was split up. Some of them opted not to renew their season tickets at all. Another new rule: No hot pots of oil for frying turkeys allowed.
But the opportunity to claim a new tailgating spot also welcomed new friendships. It was around this time that Brown met Corbett and her husband, Don, who live in Fredericksberg, Texas, and drive to North Texas every weekend there's a home game with their two grills, pop-up tents, chairs, tables, generator, and propane tanks in tow.
"I'm not a big camper, but you have to think like you're a camper," says Corbett of packing for tailgates. "I have this rolling toolbox I use as a picnic basket."
The Corbetts' signature Thanksgiving dishes used to be pheasant -- they had a neighbor who would hunt it in Iowa and gift them the extras. But that neighbor has since moved away; Melanie is going to bake a Kahlua-pecan pie this year.
Brown's signature has also changed; people count on him for beef tenderloin each holiday. Another couple is known for bringing Jell-O shots. Blue ones to show team spirit, of course.
Thanksgiving game day 2016 is on track to live up to tradition. The Corbetts will get to AT&T Stadium before staff begins letting cars in, so Melanie can hop out on foot and claim their usual spot.
"We're in parking lot 11, right where Jerry [Jones] flies his helicopter over to get to the game," she says.
There they'll set up the tents and tables, and wait for others in the tailgating group to trickle in. The generator powers a flat-screen TV on which they'll watch the Detroit Lions take on the Minnesota Vikings while sipping beers and bubbly. The weather should be on the tailgaters' side this year -- huddling under the tents during a rain storm in 2015 was memorable, but not nearly as fun as sprawling out beneath the autumn sun.
And once the food has warmed and the group is hungry, they'll hold hands around the table and pray for a Dallas Cowboys win. This year, they might just get one.