Tusk to Tail: A weekend of blues, Bama and the ‘meat sweats’

It was a glorious October weekend for Tusk to Tail to wrap up its third road week David Rice has labeled the “Homewrecker” stretch of pork, booze, travel and gentlemanly body odor that causes one’s spouse to ask what you stepped in when you return home.

Unfortunately, the response “It’s just the meat sweats,” probably won’t win you any style points. How it’s worked for Craig May, the Godfather of Tailgating, the past 16 years I do not know.

For those with intestines of something less than anodized steel, it’s wise to make one road trip per year. Last year, my son Jake and I began an annual tradition to travel with the Delta Force of tailgating. I circled Friday with anticipation, expecting an early Fayetteville Departure with Dale Cullins, the General Patton of Tailgate logistics.

However, the Godfather advised we wouldn’t be able to leave Little Rock until 4 p.m. With all due respect, that was not acceptable. I have no right to question how these special forces of liver punishment do their job, but I had to plead with May for an alternative to cooling our heels in the Rock. Fear not; the Godfather deftly improvised an alternate plan to reroute his SUV with Mark Wagner, myself, Jake and Lawson May, to Helena’s King Biscuit Blues Festival, for a perfect Friday of Barbeque and pie in DeValls Bluff and a run in with an Arkansas State Trooper who waved off a yellow flag for going 74 in a 55 just short of Marvell.

I was giddy to incorporate some rich Delta Blues into our itinerary. The Godfather, David Rice, Chris May and I pass the offseason with a variety of musical ventures that included Widespread Panic, Phish and all three Grateful Dead concerts at Soldier Field this summer. In Helena, we hooked up Jack “the Sniper” Clark. We almost had to call Jack into active duty for reinforcement against mouthy Alabama fans during the game. But more about that later.

In Helena, we feasted on tamales, gator on a stick, brown bag beers and a delicious stew of authentic blues. Mark feasted through his camera lens. But we couldn’t linger, as we needed to meet up with Dale, David and Jackson Rice fresh off a day shadowing at our alma mate, Catholic High. Apparently David spent the day less constructively watching YouTube videos of  famous trash talkers. See previous paragraph about the need for back-up during the game.

The convoy converged in the parking lot of Isle of Capri casino, where the Godfather and I partnered up to throw some dice, while we left the boys with Uncle Mark – in a haze of blue smoke drinking Cokes outside the casino floor. We hopped, skipped and jumped to Clarksdale for steaks at the Ranchero and Larry’s for tamales for the tailgate.

Arrival time in Hoover, Alabama: 12:37 a.m.

Jake was able to hold back to contain his 1 a.m. nausea likely caused by an overdose of sugar, caffeine and cholesterol.

It was a joy to watch the efficiency of tailgate set-up and camaraderie at a local high school a few blocks from the Stadium. Tri-state food offerings including the aforementioned Mississippi tamales, hush puppies from Little Rock’s Oyster Bar and Archibald’s Barbeque in Tuscaloosa. You’ve heard it before – enough Sweet Tea Vodka, Jack Daniels, Gin and Beer to float, or sink, the SS Minnow. And enough peace and love among a few dozen Razorback Fans to ensure something less peaceful had to be around the corner. Special thanks to Chris May and Jeff Laman for picking up the barbeque.

The game started well. The Hogs mustered a 7-3 lead at half and reasonably well into the third quarter. Too well for the Alabama fans unfortunate enough to sit in the Arkansas section. Especially unfortunate for the few directly behind David Rice.

Witnessing an Alabama offense less potent than cotton candy in a rainstorm, one couple didn’t take kindly to Rice’s flailing arms and stage voice proclamation that it must “suck to be an Alabama fan in the Arkansas section tonight.” Profane slurs from a woman obviously inspired by Phyllis from Mulga followed, and at that point “IT WAS ON.”

The Godfather’s suggestion that we “hit the punter harder when we deflect it” was met with disdain from “Bill” two rows up. Bill apparently thinks Nick Saban coaches the Tide to “Hit them softer” under similar circumstances. May didn’t back down. Things were tense, and we suggested sending the Junior High sons to the upper deck in an even trade for reinforcement from Jack, Chris May, Dale, or someone, anyone, who would take their chances in a crowd of 100,000 pom pon waving Tide fans.

Alas, Coach B’s plan to out-Alabama Alabama wilted. Twelve carries for 26 yards from Alex Collins and 131 yards of offense before the Hogs’ final drive will rarely take down an Elephant. The Tide stacked the box, so we ran it right into the box. In the end, we filed out with another hard fought loss after shaking hands with Bill and many other collegial fans who, as they say, generally “acted like they had been there before.” As for the Tusk to Tail adventure, I dare anyone to show me a better Oct. 9-11, 2015, as a classic father, son and friends weekend for the ages.

Hopefully the Tusk to Tail Troops and the rest of Razorback fans are able to use this bye weekend to refresh for the homestretch.