Tusk to Tail 2014: Let there be bagels, biscuits and booze. Rejoice and call the Hogs
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Early kickoff, weak non-conference opponent, and the Hogs were riding a new four-game losing streak. There were myriad reasons why tens of thousands of Arkansas fans may have chosen to stay home Saturday. But those who came out to watch the Razorbacks' homecoming victory over the Alabama-Birmingham Blazers enjoyed themselves to the fullest on a beautiful warm fall afternoon.
This is the day The Lord has made. Let us rejoice and call the Hogs.
This week's Tusk to Tailgate only hosted about 50 guests. We had a bigger crowd for last year's Rutgers game, and that was in Piscataway, New Jersey. Jack Clark and Sean Casey had to skip this week's festivities to attend their respective children's sporting events. Even the Godfather of Tailgating Craig May's 12-year old son, who has his own streak of consecutive games that is longer than most adults, had to miss Saturday to play baseball and attend Cotillon.
Big time opponents like Alabama and LSU can attract up to three or four times the tailgate attendance of a middling midseason matchup like this. A capacity crowd may amplify the atmosphere, but can also become overwhelming. I can't help but question the motives of some who attend only one or two games a year, wondering who is there to see football, and who is there to be seen by those who came to watch football.
Games like this are different. Those that come to a morning matchup with UAB are there because they want to be there. What the opponent lacks in star power is made up by the chance to see the Hogs work out the frustrations of getting thumped weekly by their conference foes.
The smaller fetes are Tusk to Tail's time to shine. By the time I arrived around 8:30 a.m., an entire table was covered by a bevy of bagels, biscuits, and boxes of Shipley's kolaches. The breakfast casserole prepared by our First Lady of Tailgating Kara Cullins was an obvious hit, completely disappearing almost instantaneously. Casey Huselton's sinful cinnamon rolls were outstanding, each one big enough to require serious commitment. Bacon, sausage patties and links, and a trey of chicken nuggets provided the morning protein.
The hot corner of our tailgate tent hosted the bar, where Huselton helped Cullins sling mimosas and Bloody Marys to thirsty fans looking for something different from our usual blend of sweet tea vodka and lemonade. A carafe of hot Starbucks coffee added a caffeinated alternative to water and soft drinks. Most of our guests were able to polish off a plate and wash it down with a round or two before heading across the street to the stadium.
Attendance at the game was reported to be just under 62,000, the 7th smallest crowd to see a game in Fayetteville since the stadium expanded in 2001, and it looked like far fewer. Even tickets in the premium club section were being given away by the handful, allowing fans more room to rage. May and John Scott seemed to enjoy the club level's chairback seats in the shade. I'm sure the fact that beer and wine is available in the club was merely icing on the cake.
Presumably due to the plethora of cheap and free tickets, many fans used the opportunity to bring their small children to see the Razorbacks play. The sunshine and 85 degree temperatures may have sent some fans packing early, but the Hogs had the game well in control by then.
The turnovers and penalties that undid the Razorbacks against Georgia were absent as the Hogs scored touchdowns on each of their first five drives, and were penalized only twice for nine yards. Of course the running backs were masters of their domain. Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins, and Kody Walker each scored a rushing touchdown in the first half, with Williams adding a TD reception as well.
New place kicker Adam McFain earned a standing ovation by kicking an unblocked extra point, followed by five more and a 49-yard field goal, the longest by Arkansas all season. Special teams scoring was a recurring theme. After offensive lineman Sebastian Tretola threw a touchdown pass to long snapper Alan D'Appollonio on a first half fake field goal, the Blazers returned the favor by taking a kickoff to the house in the second.
By that point, most of Tusk to Tail was gathering back under the Big Top, heating up some breakfast and holding up the bar. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the stadium.
Ice cold beverages were just what the doctor ordered, as long as the doctor has a designated driver. Though I'm no stranger to pre-game cocktails, game time is typically used to sober up. So after draining a couple of second half cocktails while watching the end of the game on TV, it became apparent that I was in no condition to operate heavy equipment once the tailgate was broken down.
Luckily, I was able to catch a ride with Mark Wagner, who was parched from spending the day shooting the game from the field. The destination was Farrell's on Dickson Street, perfect for the gang to reconvene and watch more football. We enjoyed the dramatic end of the Mississippi State-Kentucky game, as well as the heated first halves of Ole Miss-LSU and South Carolina at Auburn. There aren't many advantages to playing the morning game, but the ability to see all the primetime SEC battles is a definite plus.
Some ordered beers, but most of us drank multiple glasses of water to replenish our lost fluids. When it came time to order food, one of Farrell's signature burgers was calling my name. The “Hangover” adds a fried egg, bacon, and hash browns to their thick juicy patty, and was more than enough to set me straight to watch more sports with my family at home before calling it a night.
Looking back, a day that started with liquor and football and ended with a hangover breakfast seems upside down. But on a victorious fall Homecoming Saturday, everything seemed right with the world.
Say Hallelujah and pass the ibuprofen.