Tusk to Tail 2014: Hogs lose, gravity wins, bowl prep begins and the road goes on …
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By mid-afternoon Thanksgiving day, the members of Tusk to Tail were stuffed with turkey, dressing, and all the other traditional sides and pies. We had each spent the day with our families, ruminating on the many blessings for which we are thankful. Now that we have finished that crap, it’s time to go to work.
The Hogs closed out the regular season Friday against new rival Missouri. This is the first time in our lives that Arkansas played in Columbia, the only SEC stadium that most of us had never visited. Two carloads from Little Rock and another couple from Northwest Arkansas kissed their families goodbye before winding through the hills to the Show Me State. Mark Wagner joined us from his Thanksgiving celebration in St. Louis Friday morning.
As one of the Southeastern Conference’s new kids along with Texas A&M, it is blatantly obvious that Mizzou is neither South nor East. This goes beyond simple geography. The people we encountered were frighteningly Midwestern in manner, appearance, and way they speak. Maybe it is the shorter growing season up there, but it’s like someone took a typical group of SEC coeds and replaced the time they spend in the sun wearing miniskirts and cowboy boots with eating cottage cheese.
Stranger still is their approach to football. Missouri plays in what has to be the conference’s most outdated stadium. My 12-year old son, who has been to seven of the conference’s stadia, scoffed at the size of their video screen. Typically known as a Jumbotron, my boy dubbed Mizzou’s screen the Minitron. The HDTV we watched at our tailgate almost seemed bigger.
Other outdated features include a stadium sunken below street level with rows of seats ascending at a much gentler slope than most. The remnants of an outdoor track around the field keep the fans even further removed from the action. Contrasted with the elegant new state of the art basketball arena, it seems as though college football may not be the first love of the long time Big Eight/Big XII cellar dweller. And yet the Tigers entered the Arkansas game needing just one more win to get to the SEC Championship game for the second year in a row.
There is no denying that Mizzou loves their new conference. There was practically as much apparel and signage promoting the SEC as there was for the home team throughout the tailgating grounds and parking lots. We ate at the Cheerleader Pub and Grill the night before the game, a sports bar whose menu and decor respectfully represented each team from the conference. One could order Razorback Pork Belly Sliders, Gamecock Grilled Chicken, or a Rebel Cajun Burger, and wash it all down with a raspberry Long Island tea known as a Razorback Handspring. Photographs and memorabilia from all 14 SEC teams adorned the walls.
Tusk to Tail came to this game expecting a fierce rivalry complete with jeering fans and violent threats like we encounter each time we visit LSU. Instead our hosts were completely hospitable, warmly welcoming us all. From the woman with grandma hair wearing a football necklace to their mascot Truman the Tiger, who posed for pictures unknowingly adorned with an original Uncle Heavy’s Hog hat, everyone we met represented their school with dignity and class.
After we had set up our two tailgating tents and fired up the big screen TV, Craig May’s son joined Ryan Glenn, my son, and me for a walk around the stadium. Ryan is a regular Razorback fashionista, decked out in an Arkansas tie and red blazer adorned with an embroidered Hog logo.
“My wife says I’m out of control,” Glenn says.
My wife would likely kill for a husband with this type of control.
While Ryan drinks from a bottle of Mountain Dew, Greg Houser begins tending bar. A few rounds of bloody marys and sweet tea vodkas precede the inevitable shots of the Devil’s juice, Fireball Cinnamon Whisky. Houser fills the disposable shot glasses so full, the sticky liquor runs down our hands. As Greg later begins mischievously pouring extra shots into unattended drinks, I comment that he is in rare form.
“Is it really that rare?” Kara Woody asked.
Once the Fireball comes out, the game of Man vs. Gravity begins. During the second half of this week’s game, gravity took a commanding 2-1 lead. The Hogs lined up to punt, signaling a long commercial break ahead, perfect for a bathroom break. As I turned the corner to dash down the exit ramp, Arkansas punter Sam Irwin-Hill took off running for a first down.
I had one eye on the field when I took a giant step down the ramp, unexpectedly encountering a long flight of stairs (they typically call them ramps for a reason). I found myself floating Crouching Tiger, Hidden Razorback-style down the entire flight, culminating in a collision with a man and his cheese fries. Neither stood a chance, and the fries went down in a gooey mess on the stairs.
A maniac smacking down another man’s supper rarely has a positive outcome. Since getting my ass kicked or winding up in the drunk tank were not on that day’s agenda, I asked my victim how I could make it right.
“Those fries cost $5,” he said matter of factly.
Keep the change, amigo. I’ve got Hogs to call.
We called them loud, early and often, but it wasn’t enough to prevent another Arkansas 4th quarter collapse. This time, the culprit appeared to be quarterback Brandon Allen’s injured oblique muscle, severely limiting his 2nd half accuracy. Several fans begin to loudly question why Allen wasn’t pulled to see what his brother Austin could do, but the coaches seemed to believe that BA gave us the best chance to win.
It would have been challenging for almost any quarterback to overcome the obstacles the Hogs faced on Friday. Arkansas had more penalties than in any other game, and the handful of turnovers did not make it any easier. Despite taking a 14-6 lead into the final period, the Hogs were dominated across the board statistically. We even lost the time of possession battle by nearly six minutes, virtually unheard of for a Bret Bielema team. There was little we could do besides watch the lead evaporate into a 21-14 loss.
So the regular season came to a disappointing end in Columbia Saturday. It is a season that has taken its toll on yours truly. An unsteady diet of cheese dip and Fireball has packed on the pounds. My vocal chords are shredded, and my latest battle with gravity left me limping like a zombie from The Walking Dead. But it’s all been worthwhile.
In a week, Arkansas learns its bowl game destiny. Memphis, Shreveport, and Birmingham seem to be the most likely destinations. Though not the most exotic locales to spend some time around the New Year, the game will afford our developing team the opportunity to practice for another month. By all accounts, the Hogs are ahead of schedule at rebuilding the shambles left by former coaches Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith, and additional practice time should only help them get better.
A bowl game will also give Tusk to Tail one more chance to get together and party down south.
These old vets don’t need practice, but would never consider missing the Razorbacks play in the post-season. As the Robert Earl Keen song says, “The road goes on forever and the party never ends.”
And it was also the only place in the SEC without a Chick Fil-A. What?