Tusk to Tail 2014: Factoids about ’17’ and selfies with Hogs and Fireball
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12:12 a.m., Sunday. The celebration is over. I’m already feeling the hangover and I haven’t even gone to bed. My eyes look like road maps, my head is pounding, and my tongue feels like a nine pound swab of cotton. But feeling bad has never felt so good.
Let’s rewind via a virtual running diary of a Tusk to Tailgate.
9:52 a.m. Saturday
The party begins to take shape rather groggily. The LSU game has the latest kickoff of the season, combined with sub-freezing temperatures to push our load-in back an hour or two.
Dale Cullins and Greg Houser have unloaded the trailer, including four propane-fueled patio heaters and an extra half-dozen LP tanks for backup. Craig May has hung the HD tvs and got the Tailgater and Pathway mobile satellite dishes up and running. Others are involved in various stages of prepping food, arranging tables and chairs, and just generally spiffying up the place with authentic football helmets, banners, and a mounted boar’s head. Jack Clark appears with a tub of homemade duck gumbo, and is disappointed to learn the crock pot won’t warm it enough to serve for over an hour.
I am at the makeshift bar, unloading bottles of liquor and mixers, slicing limes, and trying to make the table look presentable. We left the officially licensed mobile Razorback bar in Dale’s garage, deciding it would be one less thing to disassemble after the game, when the temperature had dropped into the twenties. We were also able to forego a few coolers that would typically store mixers, since the air’s chill was far cooler than a refrigerator.
Under the Big Top, things are heating up. The tent walls are zipped, with the exception of the corner used for an entrance, and the heaters are turned somewhere between “high” and “broil.” If you stand too close to one, your scalp will have grill marks before long. Almost none of us wear coats inside, and Mark Wagner is practically overheated by the time he could sit down after lugging his camera gear up Razorback Road.
Heat triggers thirst, so Wagner whips up a round of cocktails for the gang. Most opt for our signature blend of sweet tea flavored vodka and lemonade, but I mix regular vodka-flavored vodka with cranberry juice as we settle in to watch Florida-South Carolina on one screen, and Ohio State-Minnesota on the other. This is the latest I’ve poured my first drink all season, at an hour the less refined fan may not have decided what’s for lunch.
Our sons and their friends come in from playing football, warming up with cups of hot chocolate and hot apple cider. Warm beverages present the unique opportunity to serve hot toddies to our more mature guests (older, anyway) along with the requisite liquors and liqueurs. The drink menu includes Irish Coffee, hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps, and a new concoction mixing Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey with hot apple cider.
“That’s damn good,” said Wagner, “It tastes like apple pie.”
The drink was given the moniker Damgoode Pie in tribute to the chain of Arkansas-based pizza joints.
The combination of cold weather, warm liquor, and carbon monoxide from the heaters is taking its toll on Tusk to Tail. May is at least partially fatigued by his second round trip from Little Rock in three days, previously joining his wife and friends for Galactic’s Thursday night funk fest at George’s Majestic Lounge. Cullins and his wife Kara were also dragging ass, a product of celebrating a friend’s birthday on Dickson Street, culminating at Ben’s Apartment, the secret speakeasy-themed bar. The early games had all gone to halftime, and only a couple of guests had arrived this long before kickoff. The tailgate was quite subdued, to say the least.
And yet, ours was one of only a handful of tents that was occupied at all. Victory Village was a morgue, and the Lot 44 Pit was completely empty save for a smattering of cars. One tailgater was able to set up an LSU tent aside the Razorback walk, a gesture that hopefully motivated the team, or at least reminded the players that Tiger fans are generally soulless maggots.
I was a bit late to the Fireball party, but this stuff is my new jam. Mix it with apple cider, shoot it, or just massage it into your scalp. It’s a damned wonder tonic. Even Clark, the guy who stays sober so the rest of Tusk to Tail doesn’t have to, enjoys a Damgoode cup or two this afternoon.
Dale leaves to pick up the chicken tenders from Popeye’s, returning with boxes of chicken and a 5-gallon gas tank to top off the multiple generators that power the tailgate. Though one may typically find the protein and fossil fuel combination unsettling, a couple shots of cinnamon whiskey goes a long way toward generally not giving a shit.
The tent is filling up, 600 square feet of compressed humanity, roasting under space heaters. LSU fans are jeered for smelling like corn dogs. The Big Top certainly reeks of distilled spirits and optimism. Sean Casey is the only TTT member who didn’t pick Arkansas to win on Saturday, scarred by the Razorbacks’ squandered opportunities and failure to finish games this season.
Conventional Hog-fan wisdom (oxymoron noted) says that this game will be different. LSU just lost an overtime heartbreaker of their own to Alabama. Surely the Tigers would be drained physically and emotionally while Arkansas re-charged their batteries during the bye week.
Besides, the Bayou Bengals aren’t used to the arctic extreme of the Ozarks. Nobody likes a frozen corn dog.
The Big Top is a surging mass of elbows and assholes. We are at max capacity. That means one thing.
Let’s stand up and call. Those. Hogs.
I stand atop a table straddling a couple thousand dollars’ worth of audiovisual equipment, doing my best to incite a riot. I’ll be back up here again before kickoff. There should be a warning label on Fireball that it may lead one to taunt the laws of gravity.
Approximately 4:30 -6:30 p.m.
More people. More drinking. A round of entertaining games on TV. Several ranked teams were tested, including undefeated Florida State, and #1 Mississippi State lost to Bama. But now it’s go time. Time to lock and load. The gang sidles up to the bar to top off another round of red Solo cups.
Houser stays alone inside the Big Top. Someone’s got to protect our empire. The occasional visitor drops by to check the score or fix a plate of Kara’s shrimp creole, but for most of the game it is Houser alone, presumably using the patio heaters to work on his pole dancing routine in a Speedo.
Athletic Director Jeff Long escorts Jean and Gene Hudson through the ceremonial A-Walk of Honor. We are all completely shocked that Jack Clark was not invited to participate.
The Hogs are wearing red pants to match the red jerseys and helmets. It is so on.
7:00 – Approximately 10:00 p.m.
You saw the game. Everyone watched the game. You know the Hogs got off the schneid and won a 175-lb. trophy to boot. If you watched it on television, you were told interesting factoids like Arkansas gained 17 first downs while scoring 17 points to end the 17-game losing streak by beating #17 LSU.
If you were there, you will never forget the buzz of watching our defense pitch a shutout while the offense utilized a mobile pocket and effective run game to tame the Tigers. When Darius Philon recovered an LSU fumble late in the 4th quarter, Razorback Stadium was rocking harder than I’ve seen since the Sugar Bowl season of 2009. By the start of the second half, my vocal chords were shredded from constant cheering.
Fans are storming the field, producing mixed reactions across Arkansas. On the one hand, the Razorbacks finally got the monkey off their back, ending the nation’s longest losing streak by beating a ranked team. But is beating a mediocre battle-weary opponent worthy of such celebration? As a fan that attended 15 of the 17 losses, it sure felt good to let loose for once.
My 12-year son wants to join the party on the field.
“It’s on my bucket list,” he says.
These are the things you can tell your dad when he climbs up on tables and loses his voice for a football team. The players are having an absolute blast, stopping to pose for photographs with anyone that wants to take one. My son shot selfies with Denver Kirkland and AJ Derby, and his friends posed with DJ Dean and Martrell Spaight, among others.
If there was one phrase overheard among all others amidst the celebration on the field, it was “Dickson Street.” Good times beget more good times, and half the stadium is primed to burn the city down.
Unfortunately, we have a tailgate to break down. One of the first jobs is to turn off the heaters to allow them to cool down enough to travel. The temperature inside our tent plummets rapidly, but nobody seems to mind. A thrilling win soothes even the strongest sting. The most skeptical fans are now discussing bowl eligibility and how good this team can be as we inject more studs into units previously held together by glue and rubber bands.
A bowl game is an attainable goal for this team, needing at least one more win in their last two games against Ole Miss and Missouri. Going to a bowl would give this group of young players an extra month of practice, a luxury we have been lacking the past two years. It would also give Tusk to Tail one last chance to celebrate.
Time to stock up on Fireball.