Tusk to Tail: A hot party, cool win and free birthday cake

“It’s not what happens, but it’s how you react to what happens,” new Razorback football coach Bret Bielema said in his season-opening press conference last week.

The Hogs bounced back from last year's tumultuous 4-8 season with an impressive return to a fundamentally sound, physical style of play. As the new era began Saturday (Aug. 31) in Fayetteville, Tusk to Tail responded by throwing an outstanding Cajun-themed tailgate party for nearly 100 friends and family members.

When I arrived at our tent in Victory Village at 9 a.m., the temperature had already reached 80 degrees. Tusk to Tail was blowing and going, led by the hardest working man in football, Dale Cullins.

Greg Houser's new trailer was unloaded by Cullins and Mark Wagner, and had already been parked. Craig May had plugged both big screen televisions into the satellite receivers, connecting them to the Tailgater dish. Industrial size electric fans were getting positioned for maximum air flow, while a booming Bluetooth speaker pumped out an iPod playlist designed by Todd Rudisill. The new bar was set up, and drinks were iced down. A mounted razorback boar's head was hung in the corner of our 600 square foot tent, overseeing the frenzied scene.

Tables were set with tablecloths and centerpieces as the food began to arrive. Tusk to Tail served 300 Cajun chicken tenders from Popeye's, 20 pounds of gumbo, and more than 30 pounds of jambalaya along with several trays of garlic bread. Sean Casey prepared four pounds of cheese dip to accompany the chips and My Brother's salsa. Houser grilled 40 bratwursts, and eventually an array of dips and desserts lined the tables.

Much of the heavy lifting was performed by our new able-bodied "walk-ons,” Forrest Acuff and Matt Forrest. Houser knew the Forrests from church, and offered them a place to tailgate and all they could eat if they would help us set up. It was over 90 degrees before anyone was able to relax, so we can only hope the young men found the arrangement worthwhile.

The whole affair was punctuated by the return of Craig's brother, Tusk to Tail's prodigal son, Chris May. Chris lives in Philadelphia, but generally joins our gang for a handful of games each season. He boycotted the entire 2012 debacle, at least partially in response to the firing of Bobby Petrino and subsequent hire of John L. Smith to coach what Tusk to Tail calls "the season from L."

Jack Clark's arrival rounded out the crew and led to the traditional group picture, coordinated by Wagner, our PhotoHog. Following the photo session, I accompanied Wagner through Victory Village, inviting tailgaters to show us their tents. The earlier kickoff and scorching weather may have cut attendance from last year's season opener, but the tailgating areas remained vibrant and spirited.

Before long it was time to amble across the street for the premiere of Bielemania. It was 97 degrees outside the stadium, and closer to 120 on the field, but Bielema led the team through the A wearing his lucky long sleeved pullover, and never took it off. The Arkansas Razorbacks and accompanying game day experience exceeded Tusk to Tail's expectations from the opening video montage until the final whistle.

The offensive line manhandled their Ragin' Cajun counterparts, creating wide lanes for running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. The powerful running game set up successful play action passes from quarterback Brandon Allen to wide receiver Javontee Herndon and tight end Hunter Henry.

The defense was strong up front, creating turnovers and keeping the Cajuns out of the end zone most of the day.  Bielema is known for his balanced offense, and it showed.  Following Williams' 75 yard touchdown down the left sideline to put the Hogs up 34-14, our run and pass yardage were split almost precisely evenly.

We returned to the tent, basking in victory's afterglow. Foraging for snacks, I discovered a professionally baked cake proclaiming, "Happy Birthday Jessica" in decorative Razorback icing. Jessica was long gone, but her cake was virtually untouched. None of the remaining tailgaters wanted to take the cake home, so it was about to be thrown away.

I was taught growing up that you don't waste food, and that is especially true when it comes to cake and you have been drinking all day. So I took the cake home to my wife and parents, who had the good sense to stay in the air conditioned house all day to watch the game on TV.

I have since learned an important lesson.

When you spend all day away from your wife, bringing home a partially-eaten cake with another woman's name on it may not be the best idea. Especially if the alleged party took place at your tailgate, but you can't recall meeting the birthday girl.

One of Tusk to Tail's mottos is that tailgating is life. But sometimes it is best to remember that what happens at the tailgate should stay at the tailgate. I will keep this in mind as the party migrates to my home town of Little Rock this Saturday.