Tusk to Tail 2014: Any freakin’ chance there is a Moral Victory Bowl?

When Arkansas running back Kody Walker crossed the goal line without the ball early in the first quarter, it wasn’t just foreshadowing a game of missed opportunities. It was also a critical point in Tusk to Tail history. For the first time I can remember, particularly for a game of this magnitude, more than half the gang was missing the game.

Of course the Godfather of Tailgating Craig May didn’t miss a play. His streak of 112 consecutive Razorback games, and 192 of the past 193, goes back to 1999, when the shine was still fresh on Houston Nutt. Besides, his brother Chris was back for another overnight fling with Razorback football before flying home to Philadelphia, and their father Gordon was attending his first game of the season, staying by his wife and “team Mom” Beverly’s side the past few weeks while she recovered from knee surgery.

Previously, the Godfather’s son had gone viral when a poster he was holding on the set of the SEC Network’s gameday program SEC Nation was called the sign of the day by esteemed SEC Blog Saturday Down South, “effectively trolling the women of Alabama.”

The sign depicted SEC Nation anchor Paul FInebaum’s infamous radio caller Phyllis from Mulga as the “Ten years later” version of former Miss USA Katherine Webb. Webb is of course the wife of the Bama quarterback of the past seventeen years, AJ McCarron. Finebaum himself retweeted a photo of the sign, sensing the extreme reaction the poster would garner across social media.

Mark Wagner gets to the stadium three hours before kickoff to shoot the action on the field with team photographer Walt Beazley. Obviously he took in every moment as our throwback Hogs, both in uniform and football philosophy, dominated the Tide in everything but the score.

Jack Clark was there long before kickoff as well. He came to the Tusk to Tailgate from Helena’s King Biscuit Blues Fest, stopping by his Little Rock home just long enough to pick up his 10-year old son. The Clarks spent the night with Jack’s brother in Springdale, marking the first time Jack had used a toilet other than a Port-a-John in five days.

But as Walker was dropping the ball, causing 73,000 red, white, and camouflage raingear striped Arkansas fans to simultaneously ask, “Where the hell is Alex Collins,” I watched it fall on one of our big screen tvs in our warm, dry Victory Village tent with Dale Cullins Greg Houser, and Sean Casey and a handful of others with sense enough to stay out of the rain.

I already had a little taste of the high definition lifestyle a couple of weeks earlier, skipping the Texas A&M game in Dallas to enjoy it on the patio of Clark’s outdoor kitchen. That miss broke my personal streak of about 15 consecutive games, which clearly pales in comparison to May, but stretches back to 2012 when John L. Smith’s hapless Hogs folded at South Carolina. You may remember another game from that day, when A&M’s Johnny Manziel became a household name by winning at Alabama. I really began to understand why someone would choose their sofa over metal bleachers last week, watching what seemed like half of the Top 10 fall to the two SEC schools in Mississippi.

Besides, why would anyone want to leave our party? Even though the biggest games in Fayetteville seem to invite the worst of weather, Tusk to Tail keeps it rolling. Our guest list was over 100 strong, bringing friends and family together for good food, fellowship, and enough liquor to flood the streets of Northwest Arkansas.

This week’s MVP was our friend Casey Huselton, who could teach Tom Cruise’s character in Cocktail a thing or two about bartending. I could tell everyone was having a good time when a few of our revelers reminded me that Farmington wasn’t the only word they knew that started with F. The entire affair was devoid of drama, because when all you do is eat, drink, and watch football, it would take a special kind of effort to mess that up.

But I had seen enough on television today.

“I can’t take it anymore,” I screamed, running across the street to the cold, wet confines of Razorback stadium by myself. Obviously run is a relative term, as I was also trying to finish a red Solo cup of beer, but trust me, the urgency was there.

My wife Rebecca, a former Mobile native who always cheers for the Tide as long as they are in contention for a title, was there with our son, Dale’s wife Kara, and their daughter. The kids’ signs had also made the SEC Nation broadcast that morning, with my boy’s “Fluffhead” poster incorporating the U of A logo getting some love from the cult of Phish phans.

Unfortunately, this story has no happy ending.

The Hogs lost 14-13, and I heard the refrain of “Come on, Brandon!” enough times to make it a Top 40 hit. Sure, we earned another moral victory, practically making us eligible for a Moral Victory Bowl if one existed. I was thrilled with the effort on the field, watching our team play like a band of wild Razorbacks that would have surely made the 1964 team of champions proud.

But this Arkansas team just doesn’t know how to win, leaving points on the field instead of the scoreboard. Take away the botched kicks, dropped interceptions, our inability to get the ball to wide open receivers at critical times, and a failure to convert turnovers into scores, and the Hogs are right back in this thing. Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

There is little question this team is getting better before our eyes, and we’re going to finally break that 15-game conference losing streak. It may even happen against a ranked Georgia team this weekend in Little Rock.

In the meantime, I was reminded of a valuable lesson. HDTV and a dry roof over your head have their merits, but give me a stadium with 70,000 of my closest friends, rain or shine, and Tusk to Tail is happier than a hog in slop.