The tee shirt choice for the flight home was an easy one. There were only two options, and the first was wholly inappropriate given the circumstances. “Hammer Down,” a shirt bought in the December afterglow following Chad Morris’ introduction as the new head football coach of the Hogs, would have to wait.
A shirt like that has to be earned.
Besides, that phrase is already starting to feel like a hollow marketing slogan, as opposed to executable mission.
The other shirt, thrown in the bag at the last minute despite thinking, “Surely I won’t be needing this,” would have to be the one. “The Razorbacks Are Why I Drink,” proclaims the tee in bold, oversized type, and it’s earned a lot of wear.
The men of Tusk to Tail have been telling our story here since John L. Smith bumbled his way through 2012, and we were going to games and tailgating together long before that. We’ve witnessed blown leads and disappointing losses from coast to coast, sea to shining sea. There was the putrid performance in Piscataway, N.J., where at one point the Hogs’ leading passer against Rutgers was the punter, and the deep snapper was our leading receiver.
The Hogs’ massacre to USC at the Los Angeles Coliseum was so over the top, we were taunted for our team’s performance by a homeless man. Imagine a guy picking cigarette butts up off the ground to see if there’s another drag essentially telling you, “I may be going through a bit of a rough patch, but at least I’m not an Arkansas Razorbacks fan!”
Tusk to TaIl has seen more rebuilding stretches than Interstate 40. Morris is the fourth head coach of the Razorbacks since spring practice concluded in 2012, and we’ve been aimlessly wandering the football desert throughout each new tenure. Everyone knew this season would be a work in progress. We all expect to be at least a year away from being competitive in the SEC.
But Colorado State, from the inferior Mountain West Conference, has already lost twice. They are reportedly one of the youngest teams in the NCAA. Transitive logic rarely applies well to sports, but a loss to the Rams is basically an admission that your team is inferior to the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii.
As a 13-point favorite, it seemed a foregone conclusion the Razorbacks would roll. We believed it was good fortune to be favored in Fort Collins, or FoCo as the locals call it, and not having our asses handed to us in Ann Arbor, Mich. The matchup with Colorado State had been hastily planned once Michigan cancelled its scheduled series with Arkansas.
It seems that the further we follow the Hogs, the more guests we have who rely on us to host the get-together. More than 30 friends and fellow travelers joined us Saturday to erect a miniature tent city on the lawn in front of the Hilton, just a couple of blocks from the stadium.
It was clear from the get-go that college football is a lower priority high in the Rocky Mountains than across the SEC kingdom. It’s not unusual for TTT to represent our colors when going out for a taste of the town. It generally leads to some good natured jeers from the home fans.
Fort Collins was different.
Members of our group were repeatedly approached by locals asking what had brought us to town Friday, even though some of us were adorned with 37 pieces of Razorbacks flair. A disturbingly large set of people were completely unaware there was a game at all, much less who the Rams were playing.
Tailgating at the Hilton was a direct byproduct of Colorado State’s laid-back approach to college football. When scouting party locations for our traveling road show, we were told CSU tailgating areas did not open until four hours before kickoff. By comparison, Arkansas begins diverting traffic away from the stadium the same four hours before kickoff, effectively characterizing that as the last opportunity to get in and tailgate. Clearly CSU’s tailgating policy was incompatible with our football routine. There will be hell to pay if the godfather of tailgating Craig May doesn’t have a drink in his hand by the time Lee Corso puts on a mascot head at the end of College Game Day,
Dale Cullins and Greg Houser had driven a pickup truckload of gear up from Arkansas with Sam Atkinson, and set up more than 200 square feet of shady tailgate oasis, complete with a fully stocked mobile bar, before I had even made it outside.
Our takeover of the Hilton green space quickly commanded the townsfolk’s attention. They appeared simultaneously amused and amazed by our tailgating acumen. Waves and welcoming words were the standard, a far cry from the intimidating “Tiger Bait” taunt that bombards you the second you step foot in Baton Rouge. By the time it took a CSU fan to finally flip us the bird, their Cajun counterparts would have already turned their attention to tipping port-a-potties.
When a student laid on the horn while zipping past our block party in his sporty import, Atkinson scoffed, “I’ve got golf carts with louder horns than that.”
Simply put, the Rams fans were not an imposing bunch.
“Maybe the nicest group of folks I’ve had the privilege of watching us choke against,” tweeted @jerkwheatery.
Which leads to wearing my “Razorbacks Are Why I Drink” shirt. I’ve seen this movie before. New coach, new scheme, same result. No lead is safe from preventing the Hogs to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Even the most optimistic fanboys had us getting a roughed up a few times this year, but it wasn’t supposed to happen in FoCo. Rushing for three hundred yards should mean victory. Choking away a 4th quarter lead? That was supposed to have been addressed by firing Bielema.
All I know is “Left lane, hammer down” comes off as shallow rhetoric when sending your punter on a crucial 4th and 1. And is it too much to ask to settle on one quarterback? If neither Cole Kelley or Ty Storey can handle the responsibility of starting, let’s find someone who can. In a season that looks like the losses will start piling up anyway, Morris should do whatever it takes to have this team competitive in the future.
I sit here in the Denver airport, surrounded by dozens of fellow passengers wearing red shirts and long faces. These are people who have traveled far and at great expense, hoping this is the year the Hogs get things back on track. Many stop to tell me how accurate my shirt is, sometimes following that up by explaining how they were recovering from Arkansas’ College World Series heartbreak.
Before the Razorbacks’ late collapse Saturday, the Fort Collins trip was an instant classic. The weather, the scenery, the food, and the people were all as nice as you could ever wish for.
Mark Twain is credited as saying, “Golf is a good walk spoiled,” and that is how I’m beginning to view the football program.
Arkansas Razorbacks Football is currently a good tailgate spoiled.
Editor’s note: Welcome to the seventh 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. Tusk to Tail is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by the River Valley Smile Center … because it’s another dang rebuilding year and you’re gonna need a good smile to get through the season. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter — @TuskToTail