Tusk to Tail 2014: Half-priced tripe and gizzards and pricey beer
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"You get Nicholls State, no Coca Cola and no crowd. Enjoy," read Friday's Tusk to Tail headline. The line summarized Jack Clark's displeasure for Arkansas scheduling a small FCS opponent after Razorback Stadium replaced the Southern soda with Pepsi.
These factors plus the Razorbacks' 10-game losing streak, combined with a steady stream of rain showers, may have kept Clark and thousands of other ticket holders dry at home. But for the rest of Tusk to Tail, Saturday was like a family reunion, bringing us together for food and fellowship before watching the Hogs paste the hapless Colonels.
The tailgate began coming together before sunrise when Greg Houser dropped his daughter off at her Fayetteville cross country meet, pulling his trailer loaded with supplies. Team Little Rock, sans Clark, assembled at the home of Craig May at 6:30 a.m. before heading up the hill.
May, known for his lead foot, was soon passed by a car on Interstate 40 outside of Maumelle. Was it a Ferrari, you may be wondering, a Lamborghini? Nope, just a Honda, barely going over the speed limit while May settled in for the first Fayetteville trip of the season. Later the friend of May's son requested a restroom stop, something our own children know better than to ask on game days. But to our dismay, Craig granted the unprecedented request. It was clear that this wasn't a typical SEC Saturday.
It seemed like old times as we pulled up to our tailgate tents at Victory Village North. Master planner Dale Cullins directed a team of Houser, Scott Audrain, Sam Atkinson, and Clay Curtner through setting up, while May, Mark Wagner, and I unloaded the car. Craig jumped in to hang and connect our two televisions while Audrain made everyone the morning's first cocktail. It was not quite 10 a.m.
The infrastructure was in place, including the construction of our portable bar, by the time the ladies of Tusk to Tail arrived to get us organized. I was deep into cubing Velveeta when I groggily greeted Kara Woody by the wrong name, despite knowing her for years. This was no time for apologies, however. The cheese dip wasn't going to make itself.
Before long the tables were set, bratwursts were grilling, and our guests began to arrive. May had already driven his car down to his parking lot south off the stadium before we realized that Wagner failed to get his box of Shipley's donuts out. Adding this gaffe to his series of mishaps last week, and it appears Mark wants to steal Sean Casey's title as "The Rookie."
Nonetheless, the Tusk to Tailgate was in midseason form. Guests from Farmington to California gorged on chicken tenders, dips, and desserts while our bartender popped shots and poured drinks for the masses. Our two HDTVs broadcast the Tennessee, Missouri, and Oklahoma games.
There was just one problem: the rain wouldn't stop. Luckily we added a second 20' x 20' tent this year, stretching our covered space to 800 square feet of dry fun. Though the weather finally cleared long before kickoff, for the second straight week it prevented Wagner from capturing any tailgating photos outside of our tent.
It was a tough week to forego photos, as former Razorback golfer John Daly was just a couple of tents away promoting his signature brand of alcoholic tea and lemonade. While it would have been fun to get a picture with the PGA party legend, the opportunity was lost once Mark left to check in before shooting the game. Our friend John Scott was able to get a selfie with Daly, creating a bizarre moral juxtaposition to the shot he got with the clean-living Tim Tebow last week at Auburn.
Before long, it was time for the rest of us to cross the street to the stadium, where big things were afoot. Athletic Director Jeff Long has hired two associate directors in as many years responsible for "gameday environment" and "fan development." As far as I can tell, their primary focus is figuring how to fill the stadium despite this weekend's two teams suffering a combined 17-game losing streak.
One solution was to offer half-priced tickets in the upper deck for non-conference games. Of course this offer was made once the remaining season ticket holders had paid full price. But what's the difference? Half-priced tripe and gizzards are still tripe and gizzards.
Another gimmick is to begin selling beer and wine in the club levels to the appropriate ticket holders. Tusk to Tail clearly has no problem with this one. There should probably be a 2-drink minimum just to watch this team.
I secured a ticket to the club at halftime, intent on purchasing school-sanctioned alcohol – strictly for research purposes, of course. However, paying $8 for a tallboy can of domestic beer seemed a tad ridiculous, given that the Tusk to Tailgate just across the street had enough liquor to drown a cat.
The school also ripped out the student section's "death bleachers" high above the South end zone to create a "Razorback Rooftop" student party club. According to a University press release, the club features "a live DJ, couches, TVs, high-top tables, with grab-and-go concession items available for purchase." In other words, the party deck is a place at a football game designed not to feel like you're at a football game. If this trend continues, I suspect they'll one day force our team to play in the parking lot to erect a roller coaster on the field.
Finally, this season saw the introduction of the Hog Pen, a stainless steel gate from which the Razorbacks enter the field before running through the band's historic “A formation.” Tusk to Tail had high hopes for this one, and the introduction no doubt beats running through the half-limp inflated Hog head from a few years ago. But the Hog Pen's execution seemed like a whole lot of smoke and not much sizzle.
The game itself was nothing but highlights, as the Hogs scored touchdowns on each of their first two plays, adding a third three plays later, and a total of 8 TDs in the first half alone. It was embarrassing for hapless Nicholls State, but at least there was little risk of injury, since nobody was getting tackled. Backup quarterback Austin Allen entered the game afterward, but any chance of creating a quarterback controversy was squashed when he continued the Allen family tradition of throwing an interception.
Most of the stadium cleared out shortly afterward, while the backup players continued to pulverize the poor Colonels. While it's nice to see our boys get their swagger back following their string of losses, it seems there was better competition in the annual Red-White scrimmage.
Once the tailgate was torn down, our group returned to the car for the ride back to The Rock. We listened to more college football games on our way home before stopping at a half-empty Feltner's Whattaburger in Russellville, something you would never see following a typical Razorback game. Among the day's results, Big Ten powerhouses #5 Ohio State, Michigan, and #8 Michigan State all lost to teams from other conferences, while #19 Nebraska barely squeaked by FCS McNeese State.
What does that have to do with Arkansas? Our former Big 10 coach is modeling the Razorbacks after their brand of football.
Better raise the drink minimum to three.
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