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
We’ve all had that feeling. It’s common enough that its uncommon name, déjà vu, is part of everyday conversation. Yogi Berra’s redundant quote about it is pure sports cliche. Yet Tusk to Tail’s Fort Worth trip felt hauntingly familiar, like we’ve been there before. This weekend constantly felt that, all over again.
Part of the reason it felt like we had been there before is that we have literally been there before. We call Craig May the Godfather of Tailgating, since he has missed just one of the 215 Razorback football games since 1999. That often means shooting down I-30, sometimes as far as Lubbock, or Houston, and a whole lot of trips to the Dallas metroplex in between. The gang even stayed in Fort Worth for last year’s A&M game.
It’s not like we set out to duplicate past itineraries, but I noticed we had eaten burgers at the same joint in Texarkana and pumped gas at the same Rockwall Shell station in the past. It is quite likely pure coincidence that those previous stops had all surrounded victories. But being a Hog fan can mess with your head. Before long you start seeing this stuff as signs. When former coach Ken Hatfield walked up to our tailgate Saturday, looking just as we last saw him following the win over Texas Tech, I would have sworn it was an actual omen, sent from Frank Broyles on high.
Even the weather mirrored that lucky trip to Lubbock 24 months ago. Overnight thunderstorms had us setting up in rain jackets before clear blue skies sent some home with a sunburn. The temperamental climate of Texas influenced both its NFL teams to build domed stadiums, so of course a second straight week of highs in the mid-80s was welcomed by all. Four hundred feet of tent space gets pretty tight when your guest list starts to approach 100. The thick shady lawn surrounding TCU’s tennis center allowed the perfect overflow area for this week’s Tusk to Tailgate.
Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the bill for tailgating. The 20 square-foot tent cost nearly four times as much as it’s Fayetteville counterpart, despite being further removed from the stadium. TCU provided a few added benefits, including two large coolers of ice and personalized signage. Corporate contact information, including web addresses, is permitted on the banners, in stark contrast to what’s allowed by the Fayetteville tailgating Gestapo.
It stands to reason that if we must pay four times as much, TTT must party four times as hard. We’ve grown accustomed to throwing great get-togethers, but this one exceeded all of our expectations, particularly for a road game. Old friends like Little Rock’s Chris May, Jeff Laman from Atlanta, and Houston’s Craig Jones joined relative newcomers Brad and Karen Davis for a feast of fresh grilled fajitas and all the fixings. Brad fired up long strips of marinated steak and chicken, sauteed peppers and onions, and stirred a large pot of seasoned rice. The rest of us drank beer and watched. The quality of the meal provided by these friends exceeds just about anything we’ve had catered by restaurants.
Our tailgate area had a certain country club atmosphere, contributed by our proximity to TCU’s secluded purple tennis courts, as well as the Colonial Country Club, home of the famed PGA invitational event. We parked in the adjoining neighborhood after a couple of neighbors confirmed that we were safe from towing.
“You’re already here for the game? What do you do all day,” asked an older gentleman, taking a break from watering his hostas to look at his watch.
It was nearly eight hours before kickoff, so the question had merit. Greg Houser’s brief response sounded far less threatening than the grilled meat, liquor-fueled football orgy I envisioned getting under way.
In all actuality, most of the crew took it fairly easy Saturday. Mark Wagner may have been a little green around the gills after a few double bourbons the previous night downtown. Craig was trying to drink his way out of a cold, pouring large quantities of lemonade for the vitamin C, and vodka to kill the germs. I had a few Lost Forty beers, because Arkansas! When shots started pouring from the big bottle of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, I chose to bounce.
Playing our old Southwest Conference cousin was definitely a blast from the past. Amon G. Carter Stadium, with it’s 45,000 seat capacity, utilized the stadium’s historic skeleton to create a modern marvel of comfort. Despite a capacity less than half of many SEC fields, nearly every stadium detail seemed designed to enhance home field advantage. TCU even seats their students between the 20 yard lines, a move so negligent to maximizing profitability that I’m sure Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long had a private evil chuckle at their expense.
The TCU Horned Frogs have come a long way since we last played 25 years ago. They beat Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema’s Wisconsin Badgers in the 2011 Rose Bowl, and were ranked #15 coming into this game against the Hogs.
But if you are old enough to have followed Arkansas before they moved to the SEC, you know that they dominated the majority of their old SWC rivals. We had TCU’s number, beating them something like 30 of the last 33 times we played. If they beat you in 1981, you fired your coach in 1982. That’s just the way it was.
TCU had declared Saturday’s game a white-out, where fans wear the same color to highlight their unity. From my seat in the upper deck, the stunt seemed to have backfired. Large swaths of red-clad Razorbacks peppered and punctuated their blank canvas. It appeared that Hog fans had turned the Frog’s white-out into a crime scene.
Appropriately enough, the Arkansas linebackers continued their thieving ways on the field. Dre Greenlaw scooped up an early red zone fumble, and Brooks Ellis returned a Kenny Hill interception for a touchdown. Those turnovers led to 14 Arkansas points, each of which was crucial for the win.
There were several more moments of déjà vu throughout the game. I feel like I’ve seen our kicker hit the skinny goal posts as often as the space between. Dan Skipper can still get a big mitt on a field goal attempt, seemingly on command. And Hill, last seen as the QB at Texas A&M a couple of years ago, still appears to have the body of a race car, but the maturity of a tricycle. The penalty for his throat slash gesture following a late 4th quarter touchdown enabled our score to send the game to overtime.
Another thing that I’m growing used to seeing is a quarterback named Allen lead us to improbable victory, especially on the road. Brandon beat Tennessee, Ole Miss, and LSU away from home last year, and now Austin is picking up where big brother left off. When it was all said and done, another frog stomping was in the books.
There is one last thing that feels like I’ve seen before. It’s been so long ago, however, I really can’t be sure. As we were driving back from Fort Worth, word began to leak that Arkansas was ranked in both major college football polls for the first time in I don’t know when. The Hogs have earned their way to #24 in the AP and the Coaches Polls.
Bielema has instilled a culture of steady improvement, and now the results are finally paying dividends with national recognition in the polls. It is time to feel that pride in the Razorbacks all over again.