The temperatures were low as the sun climbed high into the crisp blue autumn sky Saturday morning. SEC Nation, the traveling football hype machine for ESPN’s SEC Network, was beaming live from in front of Bud Walton Arena, against a backdrop of Reynolds Razorback Stadium’s south endzone.
Exuberant fans didn’t let the cold front nor the increasing threat of a record setting 10-loss season chill the mood. They hoisted signs proclaiming,“[LSU] Coach O eats sushi with a fork” and “I still hate Texas,” while others repurposed the classic “L S Who?”
The idyllic fanfare contained all the passion and energy that make college football so wonderful. It was equal parts Norman Rockwell painting and Woodstock music festival. Quite simply, it was a beautiful day for the Hogs to get their asses kicked.
Further up the hill, Tusk to Tail was setting up the final home tailgate of the season. The weather prompted Dale Cullins, who has perfected the art of tailgating to the point that we’ve begun to call it Dale-gating, to push back our load-in until 9:30 a.m, when temperatures would reach the high-twenties.
The gear was unloaded and assembled, and Godfather of Tailgating Craig May had our two satellite TVs up and running. Now it was time to sit back and relax before our guests began to arrive. It was still nearly nine hours until kickoff, a virtual windfall of party time in a season consumed by 11 a.m. starts.
In the past, SEC Nation had set up in the space behind our tent in Victory Village. It was the perfect spot looking down into the stadium, rather than facing a cold, gray facade. That space now belonged to notable Arkansas alumni Jerry and Stephen Jones, the owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys. They aren’t moving for anyone, not even the Worldwide Leader in Sports. Nobody puts Baby into a corner.
The inappropriately named Victory Village has become Jerry’s world this season. Passers-by gawk and crane their necks just to catch a glimpse of football royalty. Tusk to Tail used to joke that when it comes to tailgating, we make the Joneses keep up with us, but our new neighbors outclass us in nearly every regard. Our good friend Brad Davis sauteed shrimp, chicken, and duck breast for Cajun jambalaya, while their professional staff grilled off tomahawk ribeye steaks. We rent curtained walls to retain the heat from a pair of patio heaters. They bring a mobile trailer equipped with electricity and running water to furnish the portable restrooms inside.
I do think we had the most Jell-O shots, however.
Kara Woody and Whitney Key, two supporting pillars of the Farmington Mafia, prepared 120 servings of gelatinous booze in three different flavors. They said some were made of vodka, others Fireball, and some may have contained a combination of the two. The first one I tried tasted like prescription-strength cough syrup. Based on their high proof, it was a wonder they were able to congeal. Scraping remnants of spiked Jell-o from the serving cup likely sterilized my fingers to the point that I could perform surgery.
We have made a conscious effort to keep Fireball away from our tailgate this season. The cinnamon whisky adds something to the aquarium that negatively impacts the species. But once the mercury begins to drop, the Devil Juice always seems to find its way back. I didn’t see many guests taking shots outside of the Jell-o, but mixing with hot apple cider drained a large bottle fairly quickly. We offered an array of hot toddies in addition to our usual assortment of cocktails. We had Irish Cream for coffee and Schnapps to mix with hot chocolate. As the sun went down and space heaters were ignited, our party inside the Big Top was truly lit.
The last home game of the season is a total liquidation, red tag event for Tusk to Tail. Everything must go. I’m not trying to glorify alcohol, but this was a sub-freezing night game for a two-win team. Nearly everyone but the players and coaches were drinking Saturday, and to be honest, I have my doubts about a few of them.
How else could you explain that performance for the first three quarters? My wife, nestled in front of our fireplace back home, said one of the announcers pointed out that the Razorbacks’ total yardage was even lower than the temperature.
Arkansas runs were quashed at the line of scrimmage, and Ty Storey’s pass attempts didn’t go much further. Storey hardly attempted to throw downfield, due in part to the constant pressure he was under from the Tigers’ defense. Storey was sacked, hurried, or knocked down at a rate that would have affected Drew Brees.
The first six Arkansas possessions yielded six Arkansas punts, nearly all of the three-and-out variety. A short field resulting from a recovered fumble led to a Connor Limpert field goal before half time, cutting the deficit to 14-3.
Most of the evening was a comedy of errors. What appeared to be nearly 10 yards of LSU pass interference resulted in a Cole Kelley pass clanging off tight end Cheyenne O’Grady’s helmet. Storey took a cringeworthy sack on 4th and 6. A designed reverse led to a backfield collision between Rakeem Boyd and Jordan Jones. We literally could not get out of our own way.
And yet, somehow the team kept battling, managing to make the 24-17 final score a little more palatable, thanks to a pair of 4th quarter O’Grady touchdowns. I hate looking for moral victories in yet another humbling loss, but at least Coach Morris’ players are not giving up. The same can’t be said for former Head Hog Bobby Petrino, who was liberated of his employment by Louisville Sunday morning following another blowout loss by his 2-8 Cardinals.
I have little doubt brighter days are ahead for Morris and the Hogs. Four-star defensive back recruit Devin Bush committed to play for Arkansas on Sunday, bumping this class ranking into the Top Ten.
Better players should lead to more wins. More wins should result in more night games. And more night games mean more all-day tailgates like the one we finally got to enjoy Saturday.
We are going to need more Jell-o.
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