Tusk to Tail 2014: Notes from the Stankville trip (Or it could just be the bourbon talking)

Tusk to Tail is calling an audible. Every post-game casualty report you have read through now on these digital pages has been written live from the front. Our goal is to pull back the curtain of the Big Top to reveal the sights, sounds, and smells of Razorback tailgating, and on that point we have not wavered. We still share the thrilling taste of a Tusk to Tailgate.

But this week we were represented by a scant gang of four, ending an 18-hour day trip around 2 a.m. AFTER rolling the clock back for daylight savings. Asking one to add a stint of journalism to his day seemed cruel and unusual, so it was decided that this week’s story would be written locally based on dispatches from the road. This is that story, beamed though iPhones and a satellite tv, and filtered through bourbon to my couch in Little Rock.

Going through my notes, I must confess this whole thing feels like a weird dream. I’ve been there for the Hogs’ entire 16-game conference losing streak, which ESPN declared longest of all 128 schools in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). But Mississippi State has sucked for longer than we have. Now they are number freaking one?

Half of the Leghumpers’ long-haired offensive line look like they play guitar in Tesla. Quarterback Dak Prescott is a Heisman favorite in the TTT poll, but he came into Saturday on a bum wheel, wearing a walking boot throughout the week. So of course he had a career day, chucking it for 331 yards and running for 61 more to convert several crucial third downs.

Mark Wagner, reporting live from the field where he shoots the game, said it was the loudest stadium he has ever been in, and he has been to them all. "It’s a Mississippi agri-school with cowbells, and they just happen to be #1. What do you think?"

Most would think that if the best team in the land resides in Stankville, then surely the Razorbacks couldn’t get off the schneid this week on the road. So who was that in the classy white road unis, pressuring Prescott, forcing turnovers, and taking a 10-7 lead into halftime? We looked like we were in pretty good shape, despite a few early missed opportunities.

But you can’t dance with the champ, you gotta knock ‘em down. Without a knockout blow in their arsenal, the Hogs can’t afford to keep shooting themselves in the foot with costly penalties and failed red zone scoring opportunities.

Arkansas was in it until the final whistle. Brandon Allen was dropping 4th down passes into the tiniest of breadboxes one minute, then seizing the crown for the most times anybody has said "Bless his heart" on one’s behalf the next. It was a loss you could see coming from a mile away, notching our moral victory total high enough to go the Sugar Bowl.

This road trip was different before it ever began. As Wagner previewed, few fans willingly go all the way to Starkville, Mississippi, to watch the top-ranked team rip the hearts from the chests of the Hogs and stomp them on the field. I’m paraphrasing, but the fact remains that traveling to the bowels of Mississippi in Year 2 of The Bielema Project was not the highest priority for most of Tusk to Tail on Halloween weekend.

Craig May earned his title as the Godfather of Tailgating by only missing one of the 196 Razorback games played since 1999, and we usually provide a platoon of wing men. Dale Cullins had not missed a game since 2011 before this week, and Wagner has shot 73 of the past 74. Jack Clark had a streak of 54 consecutive before paring down a game or two the past couple of seasons, which is more in line with the 10 or so games most of the rest of us attend.

May, who last missed a game when some Arkansas starters were in third grade, was the youngest one in the car and drove every mile both ways. The game capped off quite a week that found the Godfather raging a Drive-By Truckers concert with his wife in Fayetteville and trick or treating the streets of The Heights with his kids.

The average age of passenger skyrocketed at every stop as May picked up Wagner, Sam Atkinson, and Clay Curtner. Since there were only three folding chairs for the gang of four at the tailgate, a suggestion was made to dole them out based on age or possibly even AARP Membership number.

In tiny Aberdeen, Mississippi, it became obvious that four white guys with enlarged prostates don't make a pit stop decked out in Hog gear there every day. The lady at the next pump asked the four fans, "Are y'all the coaches?"

Joining the party were fellow Little Rockers Jason Parker and Jay Snider. Parker has led our War Memorial tailgates for over a decade, and he and Snider were with us at Auburn for the Razorbacks' last conference road win in 2012.

New blood means a change to routine, but as we've heard from seemingly billions of election ads the past few months, if you're not satisfied with the status quo, change it up. Tusk to Tail took the message to heart. First, the ceremonial stop at the Rendezvous was eschewed for Interstate Barbecue in Memphis. Parker is an expert on all things Memphis and barbecue, and the switch to Interstate was a hit at the small makeshift gathering.

May also took an alternate route to Starkville through West Point. Whether the new road saved any time is irrelevant. Anything new was at least considered in hopes of getting the monkey off our back. Craig also gave his traditional aisle seat up to Curtner. This good deed not only shook up the mojo, but placed May next to Randy Cutting, one of the few Hog fans who has seen more games than the Godfather.

Of course all the hopey changey stuff led to the same result, as the Hogs found a way to snatch defeat from the grasp of victory yet again. I rarely get to hear much television commentary when I am at the games, but it was little surprise to hear that this week's announcers followed an identical script from our close losses to Texas A&M and Alabama. At this point I imagine Bielema and Allen reenacting the scene from Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams embraces Matt Damon crying, "It's not your fault. It's not your fault."

There is no doubt The Razorbacks are getting better, and one of these days, the conference losing streak will end. If it lasts too much longer, Tusk to Tail could make the San Francisco riots following their World Series win last week look tame. In the meantime, at least we can look forward to those political ads going away soon.