Tusk to Tail 2013: Planes, buses and ‘Never Yield’ tailgating

The Arkansas Razorbacks are entering a new era. The Hogs have a new head football coach and staff. A new $40 million football facility was built for training, meeting, and just generally looking awesome.

Coach Bret Bielema promises a return to "normal American football," focusing on limiting mistakes while controlling the football and managing the clock.

Tusk To Tail looks forward to the new beginning. We are the new breed of Arkansas travelers, attending every game every season, and have learned that with change comes hope.

We learned that it is good to have Hope during our only road victory last year over Auburn. But though Jeff and Hope Laman plan to live happily ever after their offseason wedding, Tusk To Tail foresees a dreaded "rebuilding year" on the football field. Of course, rebuilding implies that a foundation remains from the past, which is yet to be seen.

Things seemed so different a year ago. Optimism soared after Coach Bobby Petrino's Razorbacks dismantled Kansas State and eventual 2012 Heisman finalist Collin Klein in the Cotton Bowl, leading to the Hog's first Top Five finish in decades.

But Petrino never coached another game here, wrecking his Arkansas coaching career along with his custom Harley-Davidson in an infamous April Fool's accident. Petrino's dismissal dropped Arkansas a few spots in preseason rankings, and led to the hire of former special teams coordinator John L. Smith as head coach.

At the time, Tusk To Tail felt that Smith's hire was the right one. The players and assistant coaches all knew and liked Smith, and he had prior head coaching experience at Michigan State and Louisville. Greg Houser even kept the hotel reservations he had made in South Beach for the  BCS Championship game, just in case Arkansas played its way in.

The rest of us may have felt like Petrino's absence could result in an extra loss or two, but the future still seemed bright with so many key veteran players returning. Quarterback Tyler Wilson, wide receiver Cobi Hamilton, and defensive standouts Tenarius "Tank" Wright and Alonzo Highsmith were all seniors, and All-SEC running back Knile Davis was returning for what seemed like his seventh season as a junior. It felt like Arkansas wasn't hiring a coach so much as handing him the keys to a Ferrari.  All John L. Smith had to do was keep it out of the ditch.

Unfortunately Smith took us to the ditch early and often. Tusk To Tail commonly referred to the season as a dumpster fire until Mark Wagner claimed that was an insult to most dumpsters. Now Tusk To Tail simply refers to last year's 4-8 debacle as "The Season From L."

All of that is behind us. The future is now. Tusk To Tail has answered the call, and will never yield. Our group of tailgaters refuses to remain part of a disgruntled fan base. We are all thoroughly gruntled.

It started last year when Tusk To Tail moved to the new tailgating area known as Victory Village. As victories became scarce, we dubbed the area Mount Mediocre, but we still kept coming. We were among the first to set up and the last to leave each week. One September tailgate even featured live music from Fayetteville's own Sara Morgan and Jason North.

Our party extends far beyond Fayetteville and Little Rock. Craig May, Tusk To Tail's Godfather of Tailgating, has attended 174 of the past 175 Razorback games since 1999. May is riding a streak of 94 straight games.

In a season requiring two flights (Rutgers and Florida), four of our seven core members will attend all 12 regular season games this year, plus the bowl game if Arkansas makes it to one. Nearly 30 of us will travel to Rutgers, and almost that many will climb aboard a private "party bus" we have chartered for the Ole Miss trip.

Of the Tusk To Tailgaters that will not make it to every game, most will not miss more than one or two. Jack Clark's 7 year old son will make it to 10 games, either showing our commitment to family values or brainwashing our children, depending on your perspective.

The only member of Tusk To Tail who won't make it to a double-digit number of games is Sean Casey, who we still call "The Rookie" years after joining our group. Casey is attending all of the Fayetteville games, and will travel to Rutgers, Alabama, and Ole Miss. Eight games in most circles may lead to adulation and respect. In Tusk To Tail, it leads to hazing and ridicule.

Our home tailgates keep getting bigger and better. Tusk To Tail graduated from the single 10-foot pop-up canopy long ago. We doubled up to a 400 square-foot pole tent at Victory Village, and now we are adding an additional 10' x 20' tent just for dining. Counting the overflow space we have around our tents, we figure our tailgating area is bigger than most student housing.

Once the season went south last year, we adopted the Ole Miss philosophy that our team may not win every game, but we will never lose a party. Each year, every Tusk To Tail member pitches in a few hundred dollars to ensure we have the latest tailgating gear. We make the Joneses keep up with us.

Dale Cullins write about the amenities under the tent in his Tusk To Tail columns focused on planning the perfect tailgate, but a quick rundown includes two big screen HD TVs and their accompanying receivers, speakers, and Tailgater mobile satellite dish.

We've got Bluetooth speakers to play music before and after the games, and an official Razorback bar, complete with matching umbrella, to keep the party going. Our food will be heated by a variety of crock pots, grills, and steam trays, while our drinks are cooled by a bevy of coolers. All of the gear will be transported by a mobile work trailer provided by Houser.

We have always said that Tusk To Tail loves the Razorbacks, football, and a good party. The fact we can combine all three in one gorgeous fall afternoon feels like winning no matter what the scoreboard says.

So come along as we wind our way through the SEC. Pull up a chair and pop a cold one. It is almost game time.