Tusk to Tail 2014: Professional tailgating always trumps an ass-whoopin’

The atmosphere was electric as the sun shone brightly Saturday on the War Memorial golf course. Grills were grilling, children were throwing footballs on every green and tee, and drinks were flowing faster than Sherman passing through Atlanta.

Sure, the Razorbacks played dead against the Georgia Bulldogs for most of the first half in front of almost 55,000 fans fortunate enough to have overpriced tickets. But it looked like at least that many stayed on the course to soak up the rays and more booze, turning the links into Hog Heaven. If you are going to get your ass handed to you, at least do it on a beautiful fall afternoon.

Georgia will be the next-to-last conference game at War Memorial Stadium until 2018, when it is widely assumed the Little Rock games will cease altogether. Those of us raised on four games a year in Central Arkansas wouldn't miss this opportunity to throw down at the most underrated tailgating spot in the SEC. Besides, the sole game next year is against the mighty Rockets of Toledo, which seems destined for the dreaded 11 a.m. kickoff.

Game time Saturday was 3 p.m., but the Tusk to Tailgate was assembling by six that morning.  Jordan, Jarrod, and Jamey Johnson run a tight ship when they are there, and Jason Parker was having his first shot of whiskey once everything had come together shortly after sunrise. Dale Cullins rode down with the Godfather of Tailgating Craig May, because Cullins would likely choose to be waterboarded over missing the chance to setup a tailgate party.

Once tables are set and the bar has been stocked, the Johnson brothers inflate the "Beacon of hope," the enormous red balloon normally reserved for car lots that floats above our tent for first time guests to find us. Most people know the location. May, Parker, and the Johnsons have been setting up shop in front of the 18th tee ever since there were tails to gate, back when locations were claimed first come, first served.

Standard tailgating fare ruled the menu. Jamey's smoked brisket and shredded pork butt is always a hit, but the grilled fresh boudin sausage earned best in show Saturday. Dips, sides, and scrumptious desserts filled the rest of the tables.

Of course the majority of our capital was invested in the bar. Jarrod was recently named Little Rock's best bartender by a statewide reader's poll. His Bloody Marys are a work of art, with enough garnish to classify as a meal in a glass. A 5-gallon Igloo cooler filled with spiked ginger lemonade offered a new alternative to our signature blend of sweet tea vodka and lemonade.

Sales wizard Dave Griffin helped us pour amber waves of Diamond Bear Southern Blonde until shortly after kickoff. For the 40-somethings who wished to feel like they were back in college, Parker's cousin and friends doled out over 130 Jell-O shots, each one containing a gummy bear soaked in vodka.

We were far from the only ones having fun. Roaming the grounds with self-described photo Hog Mark Wagner, we first encountered the "fanbulance," an emergency vehicle converted to a mobile Razorback tailgate complete with draught beer, television, and other life-saving accessories. Not to be outdone in the large Hog-themed piece of equipment category, Allison Everhart, Leslie Bennett, and Lindsey Mitchell posed with a Razorback tow truck.

We turned from power machines to crafting extremes, drawn to the Thompson family's Shelter Insurance tailgate by Selena's handmade centerpiece. She had also wrapped each bundle of silverware in napkins with ribbon, displayed dozens of Shelter can huggers in a clear hanging shoe rack, and arranged all the drinks in the cooler alphabetically. I only made up part of that. I can only hope Ms. Thompson has a Pinterest page, Etsy account, and anything else these psycho-crafters are into. If tailgating was akin to fiddle playing in the song "Devil went down to Georgia," Tusk to Tail would have laid their golden fiddle at the feet of the Shelter tailgate.

Most tailgates kept it simple, but some were simply wild. Shane Knoernschild and Charles Clifton were hosting a literal sausage party, debuting their antelope sausage, killed just last month, to go with grilled bratwurst, peppers, and onions. Down the way, Conway firefighters Hugh Cooper, Jason Fulfer, and Chris Harris posed behind a massive mounted wild boar's head.

"You look awful comfortable straddling that thing," joked Wagner, because he sometimes forgets how it feels to have his ass kicked.

"How do you think it died," replied Cooper, easing the tension considerably.

The boys in blue, though still on duty, also seemed to enjoy the fall atmosphere. Patrick Hall and Jason Harris took a break from sweeping the course with their dogs Arco and Titan to chat and pose for a photograph.

Little Rock Catholic High and Mount St. Mary's were celebrating their 20th reunion in a neighboring tent. A beer pong table set up nearby looked like a great way to celebrate bygone high school days, but it belonged to the tailgate next door.

My proudest moment on the War Memorial golf course came at the tailgate hosted by the med school. Wagner first noticed the staggering array of champagne bottles lined along the fold-up table.

"Let's get a shot of that.”

Keep in mind, there were no signs indicating this was a UAMS party at this point. Imagine my surprise when I find the mastermind of this shindig is my nephew Logan Rice, who took over party planning duties as a first year med student.

The Hogs may have crapped the bed in the first half Saturday afternoon, but I left one of the last SEC games at War Memorial ever confident in the fact that Razorback football tailgating is secure in the hands of the future.