Tusk to Tail: Morning tailgating glory

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 110 views 

What a beautiful morning.

Saturday may have been the Hogs' fourth 11 a.m. kickoff in the past five games, but it was the first early game in Fayetteville this year. Tusk to Tail was prepared, providing a lavish brunch that may have been more memorable than the game itself.

Due to the early start, our entire tailgating fraternity spent Friday night in Fayetteville for the first time ever. Dale Cullins hosted Craig May, Jack Clark, and their sons for a Tusk to Tail sleepover following dinner at Herman's Rib House.

My son had a commitment in Little Rock, pushing our Fayetteville arrival back until almost midnight Friday. Headlights and the bright moon illuminated dozens of deer feeding beside the interstate and a few that had chosen an unfortunate time to attempt to cross. We passed two different vehicles pulled over after gruesome collisions, highlighting the need to travel before dark in the future.

Saturday morning came early. By the time I arrived at 8:30 a.m., the entire tailgate was set up. Dale was frying sausage and bacon while Craig got the televisions dialed into the correct satellite frequencies. I poured a cup of Starbucks Thanksgiving blend, adding some Irish Cream and whiskey to ease the transition from half-asleep to half-drunk.

Beginning three hours before kickoff, Razorback Road is restricted to northbound traffic only, and a parking pass is required on all streets surrounding the stadium. This never affects us on  later kickoffs. But when fellow tailgater Scott Audrain was asked to present his pass, he was incredulous.

"The Hogs are three and five," he shouted to the officer, "and it's eight o'clock in the damn morning!"

The cop was unfazed until it was explained that the car was unloading at Victory Village.

"Have a pass ready next time," the officer advised.

My parking pass allows us to park in Lot 57, which also includes 57A, but apparently does not include 57B even though it was completely empty just two hours before game time. I obtained this information by waking the parking attendant.

I took this opportunity to teach my son a lesson.

"If we had just pulled into a space, we would already be parked, and he would have never known nor cared. Sometimes it is better to act like you know what you are doing than to ask for permission."

The boy took a moment to process this sage advice before asking, "Can we go to the Hog Heaven store?"

It appears that the Razorbacks have begun to abandon some of the new uniform combinations. Upon entering Hog Heaven, we found authentic anthracite jerseys for $225, white helmets for $350, and pre-worn helmets in the new matte red color for $450. The boy was sad to hear that there was no budget for relics from the lost season.

"What about Christmas, Dad?"

"It's not in Santa Claus's budget, either."

It was time for another Irish coffee.

Returning to our tailgate, we stopped to visit with the self-proclaimed mayor of the Apple Hog/River Valley tailgate, previous winner of our Show Us Your Tents contest. The early hour did not deter this group from throwing another huge party. It was no surprise when it was announced on the stadium's giant video screen that they had won this week's Ain't it Great to Tailgate contest as well.

Despite previous complaints about morning kickoffs, Saturday's tailgate could not have gone any better. The array of pastry, casseroles, meats, and breads was better than what is available at most restaurants, and Irish coffee has become my new favorite blend of stimulants and depressants. The sunny weather was absolutely gorgeous with temperatures in the low 60s.

A good party got better as our guests began to arrive. Visiting with friends and family, I was surprised by Grant Smith, my best friend from growing up in Hot Springs. Grant and his father-in-law were on the way to the game when he recognized the Tusk to Tail logo on our tent from our articles and Facebook page. It was the first time to see Grant since his daughter was born five months ago, and we had a ball catching up.

After such a fun tailgate, the game itself seemed anticlimactic. The players continue to try hard, particularly the Texarkana tandem of Dennis Johnson and Cobi Hamilton.

Our defense tightened up, allowing only 3 points over the second half, but the win over Tulsa never felt like one for the ages, especially compared to primetime matchups like Oregon-USC and Bama-LSU.

The post-game atmosphere at our tent seemed even more electric than that morning, perhaps aided by the fact that it was late enough to be socially acceptable for more people to drink alcohol. Jim Harris and his wife Tricia stopped by, following Jim's first trip to Fayetteville outside of the press box in years. He seemed to enjoy being able to spend time with his family rather than racing to file a story on this particular Saturday.

Maybe that was what prompted my change of heart for the early kickoff. While it may not be easy getting to the stadium that early, at least we had the rest of the day to spend how we wish.

Considering this was the last home tailgate before the season finale against LSU, most of us chose to stay outside and party as long as we could.