What a difference a week makes. Following a rain-drenched throttling at Texas A&M last week, the Razorbacks prevailed on the plains of Auburn on what may have been one of the last hot and sunny days of the season.
The journey began early Friday as Dale Cullins and Greg Houser left Fayetteville in his brand new black Toyota Sequoia, which replaced the white one he bought just a couple of years ago. Dale's job requires some car travel, but these road trips obviously take their toll. After traveling approximately 1,800 miles round trip the past two weeks, perhaps Tusk to Tail should solicit sponsorship from Exxon Mobil.
Tusk to Tail was missing a couple of founding members this week, but Little Rock tailgating leader Jason Parker, his friend Jay Snider, and a carload of their cohorts joined our SUV caravan.
Bringing fresh blood into the mix always adds an interesting dynamic. Most Tusk to Tailgaters who drive to games every week tend to take a slow and steady approach to the weekend. But when you add a group on a guy's trip, all their eggs are in this one basket. By Sunday's long drive home, those eggs are generally fried.
Our traveling circus pulled out of Little Rock at approximately 9:30 a.m. Friday. Following a gluttonous stop in Memphis at the Rendezvous for ribs, we were Alabama bound. Unable to circumvent Birmingham traffic, we did not pull into Auburn until after 8 p.m., despite Dale's diligent navigation.
From there it was game on. We loaded up for The Bloodhound, a new restaurant and watering hole known for curing their own bacon.The first of many good omens came the moment we walked to the bar. Billy, the local Miller Coors representative and LSU fan, saw our red shirts and bought our crew of SEC travelers a round of their new Batch 19 beer.
It looked like our luck had taken a downturn when our server spilled a water glass down the back of Craig May. But most of the water rolled right off his lightweight poplin and mesh shirt, and the rest dried within minutes. He was given a complementary tee shirt to get us back to our winning ways.
We headed back to the hotel following dinner to rest up for game day. Once again, the Hogs were stuck with an 11 a.m. game time, the earliest in the country. To maximize our tailgating time, we agreed to depart at 7 a.m. One car stopped to pick up our tray of Chick-fil-A nuggets while another bought bags of ice. We parked by the intramural fields and set up our tent, tables, and television in front of the softball stadium.
For a traveling tailgate, Tusk to Tail did pretty well. We entertained about two dozen guests, including The City Wire sports writer Chris Rushing, and nobody seemed to be lacking a thing. It seemed like another good sign when longtime friend Jeff Laman introduced us to his girlfriend Hope. "Now we have Hope" became our unofficial motto of the day.
When the 116th ranked defense of Arkansas faced Auburn's 113th ranked offense, one side had to prevail, and Saturday that side was Arkansas. The Hogs dominated more than any point this season with eight sacks and some key takeaways. Even Auburn's famous "War Eagle" appeared uninspired, calling it quits after less than a complete circle of the stadium.
While basking on Auburn's sunny upper deck on Saturday, we began receiving text messages that sleet was falling in Fayetteville. Considering that we were witnessing a rare SEC road win aided by a Brandon Mitchell touchdown pass to Javontee Herndon, it seemed conceivable that Hell was freezing over.
But at Auburn, everything was going our way. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening watching football games at the Toomer's Corner bar district before calling it a night.
Hangovers seem to not hurt as badly on the ride home from road wins, but the 5:30 a.m. wake up call came early nonetheless. The drive to Memphis, where we stopped for Gus's fried chicken, was largely uneventful. However, something happened on the final leg that once again seemed to test our good fortune.
Detouring from the construction traffic on Interstate 40, both May's and Cullins's vehicles were speeding along Highway 70 when they passed a police car. Dread immediately set in as the officer turned around and signaled for us both to pull over.
Perhaps the officer recognized Snider from nearby Carlisle, or maybe he was still feeling the afterglow of the Razorbacks victory. Regardless, both drivers were let off with a warning, which influenced us to drive the speed limit the rest of the way home.
One thing had certainly become clear. Now we have Hope.