story by David Rice
Editor’s note: Welcome to the fifth season of Tusk to Tail – the sport of tailgating as organized, performed and perfected by a group of Hog fans who have been tailgating together sober and otherwise for more than a decade. Members of the Tusk to Tail Team are Sean Casey, Jack Clark, Dale Cullins, Greg Houser, Craig May, David Rice and Mark Wagner. Tusk to Tail is managed by Talk Business & Politics against the advice of attorneys and family. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter — @TuskToTail
As Jack Clark and I rolled into Mississippi State’s “Bully Grass” tailgating lot at noon on Saturday, it would be easy to question why we were there. Dale Cullins had already proclaimed Starkville “the lowest of all the ‘villes” and the two teams were projected to finish at the bottom of the SEC West.
State had kept its end of the bargain, needing a win against the Hogs to keep any hope of a bowl bid alive. Arkansas, on the other hand, was riding a bi-polar wave of overperforming and underperforming for the past two months, never winning or losing two consecutive games in that time.
Add that this is the 11th game in 12 weeks, and only the most ardent Tusk to Tailgaters considered the trip. “The Twelve Game Club,” the ones who never miss a Saturday show, is a silly milestone, though far more easily planned than executed. Clark, Cullins, Craig May, Mark Wagner, and myself head up the 2016 class of this not so exclusive fraternity.
Compared to May, who was seeing his 143rd straight and 223rd of the past 224 games since 1999, I don’t have much of a consecutive games streak. It’s a rare season I personally make it to all 12. Another trip to Starkville didn’t really seem all that alluring, so as of last Wednesday, I didn’t even have a ticket. But I clicked on StubHub. And found decent tickets in the same section as my friends.
For only six. dollars. each.
Consider that gas is only $1.75 a gallon, and Dale had booked a block of rooms just 20 minutes from the stadium for under a hundred dollars a night, and it was abundantly obvious. I couldn’t afford not to go.
Besides, my friends needed me. As Jack and I entered the tailgate lot, we were greeted by the open hood of May’s Tahoe. His back hatch had been left open for the television, causing the dome light to drain his battery. Clark gave him a jump, providing an important service before he had even pulled into his parking space.
That wasn’t the only near miss for our crew. Cullins had led the way Friday night, carrying additional gear on a rack extending from his trailer hitch while May followed closely behind with another carload. As Dale eased along the grass lot the following morning, he lost the load, rack and all. Turns out the pin used to hold the rack in place had never been secured.
Everything was recovered, and Craig even had an extra pin to keep the rack from dropping again. But the fact it happened in an open field with nobody behind him rather than the dark Mississippi highways shows that the tailgating gods are watching over us.
Tusk to Tail had erected an impressive tent city in the frosty Autumn daylight, complete with cold cocktails and hot tamales from Rhoda’s in Lake Village. Rhoda makes some of the tastiest tamales in the Delta, but she does not part with them easily. Every order requires equal measures patience and persistence. I have previously waited over an hour there, only to still leave empty handed.
Luckily Mark would not be denied. Before leaving Lake Village, Wagner had procured six dozen tamales, an order of chili, and pies of both the Pecan and Sweet Potato variety. Rhoda even put in her teeth to take a photograph with our group.
Our friend Jim Harris was our guest cheese dip chef, and he did not fade under the spotlight. He plans to enter the secret recipe in next year’s cheese dip competition in Little Rock. We enjoyed the feast while watching the dramatic conclusions to the Ohio State and LSU games, then stepped into the warm sunshine to chat with friends.
Suddenly I was surrounded by a dozen amazons, a horde of attractive athletes iced down after a long workout. It was the Razorback Volleyball team, practicing for their Sunday match against State. Inspired by our traveling enclave of Hog fans, the girls stopped to tweet a few photos with us. Tusk to Tail leads a charmed life, to be sure. We should count our blessings each day. But this was rare air even for us. How often has a cute group of athletes stopped to ask if they can take a picture with you?
Of course the football was pretty good, too. Getting an SEC road win is impressive, regardless of the competition. This one was especially important, given that Coach Bret Bielema had been previously winless against Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs.
What we watched was a video game come to life. The stats by Saturday’s stars were simply eye-popping. Tailback Rawleigh Williams ran for 205 yards and 4 touchdowns on only 16 carries. He lobbed a one-yard pass to tight end Austin Cantrell for good measure. Stablemate Devwah Whaley ground out another 112 yards and a score. Arkansas was never forced to punt, and only committed one penalty for 10 yards.
Amidst the victory’s afterglow I no longer questioned the decision to come to Starkville. Now I was questioning why I’d ever questioned the decision in the first place. Membership to the Twelve Game Club has its privileges.
Finally, while discussing how we got here, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention an old friend of Tusk to Tail. Our group had been tailgating together for years before Cullins met Patricia Brown at a dinner party back in 2012. Making small talk, Dale shared some of our adventures from the road with her.
Patricia was a founding partner of the media group that runs this website, known equally for her business acumen as her passion for life. She knew a good story when she heard one, and asked Cullins if we would share our tales on the site.
Tusk to Tail was born.
When we first met Patricia, her breast cancer was in remission. But not every story has a happy ending. Brown passed away Friday, Nov. 18.
Our group’s very existence is a product of the faith and foresight of Patricia Brown. Without her, these stories may never have been told. As the season comes to a close at Missouri on Friday, Tusk to Tail will be doing its thing for the 12h time this year.
Patricia’s legacy lives on.