A troubling trend has begun to develop. For the second straight week, Tusk to Tail has run out of Sweet Tea Vodka several hours before kickoff. For the second straight week, Razorback quarterback Brandon Allen threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Tusk to Tail has a recovery plan, of course. We vow to never run out of the magical potion again. If drinking vodka can help prevent turnovers, gentle reader, then we are here to help.
This was a weekend of celebration, and Tusk to Tail isn't going to let an ugly loss kill the vibe. Consider us as suspicious as a head coach that refuses to shed his long sleeve windbreaker on a steamy Florida night during his third consecutive loss because the windbreaker supposedly brings luck.
It all began as Jack Clark picked Mark Wagner and me up Friday morning for our first foray onto Allegiant Air. Allegiant offers fares between Arkansas and Orlando that can't be beaten on price. Of course the cost drives up if you check or even carry on bags, or require luxuries such as a seatbelt, window shade, or seat that doubles as a flotation device. But the low price helps offset inconveniences such as having to stay until Monday due to return services not being offered on Sunday. Tusk to Tail is all about value.
Craig May, Dale Cullins, and Jeff Laman flew more popular airlines to Tampa, landing early enough to beat us to the Gainesville La Quinta Inn. The hotel was old and run down, with years of grime covered by a new coat of paint every few years. But La Quinta is just a couple of miles from Florida's campus and stadium, so fans pay $200 per night during the fall football weekends. Sometimes convenience trumps value.
Once together, our celebration began. As you may have heard during his statewide media blitz, May was attending his 100th consecutive Razorback football game since missing his only game of the past fifteen seasons in 2005. The gang traveled to Embers steakhouse where we feasted on more than 7 pounds of grilled flesh to celebrate the accomplishments of The Godfather of Tailgating, which mainly include showing up to football games like it's his job. Most would agree it's a nice gig if you can get it.
It was a manly meal for manly men, who then proceeded to surprise May with framed photographs from previous games and a tee shirt declaring him the Hogfather. By the time our server delivered a rich chocolate torte with "Happy 100" spelled out in caramel on the plate, we were just a few helium balloons and a greeting card away from an atmosphere typically reserved for bridal showers or girls' night out. Time to head to the bar.
The Swamp's excellent patio provided an outdoor oasis for the rest of the weekend. We enjoyed ourselves there so much Friday night that we decided to head back to their brunch Saturday for some road game table-gating. You can't drink all day if you don't start in the morning.
On game day, the parking lot we used the night before increased their price by $50, and the items on The Swamp's menu rose at a similar rate. I paid as much for my first Bloody Mary as I pay for a full day of tailgating back home. But we were practically across the street from the stadium, and they had a full bar. That's convenience 2, value 1.
Several members of Razorback Nation visited The Swamp that afternoon. We had our picture taken with former defensive maniac Sacha Lancaster, and offered the parents of Arkansas center Travis Swanson space at our table. They turned down the offer, since doing so would have cut in front of those waiting to be seated before them.
"Their son is the center," explained our friend Jeremy Veteto.
"We are all sinners here," replied Matthew Boudreaux. This was shortly after we had drunk the last drop of Sweet Tea Vodka on the premises.
From The Swamp bar and restaurant, we left for Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, commonly known as The Swamp. There's not a lot of variety in this part off the Sunshine State.
But you can't fix what is not broken, and this ancient coliseum has hosted three national champions and the same number of Arkansas ass-whippings before this game began. That's why the game seemed like it could be over shortly after the Hogs lost the lead with Allen's pick-6 midway through the second quarter.
Of course the Hogs never recovered, allowing the Gators to reel off 24 straight points and 30 overall while we could only muster a field goal the rest of the game. This is a team that celebrated a moral victory the previous week for holding our opponent to 45 points. There are plenty of losses to come, Coach B, so take off your windbreaker and stay awhile.
But on a week of celebrations, I thought former Razorback coach Ken Hatfield summed it up best before boarding Cullins's flight to Fayetteville. The way Hatfield tells it, Florida had to come from behind to beat the Razorbacks. It's time to chalk up another moral victory.